Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What's Wrong With Rabbi Slifkin's Theology - Part 3

In part one of this series, we explained that by comparing the miracle of Purim to the miracle of Creation, Rabbi Slifkin is improperly conflating Hashem’s role as Creator, i.e. Boreh, with His role as Administrator, i.e. Manhig. The former involves meta-natural processes whereas the latter involves Hashem’s administration via currently operating laws (unless in extreme exceptions). In Part 2 we expanded upon this while drawing a clear distinction between operational science and historical based science. In Part 3, we intend to illustrate what is perhaps the most objectionable element of Rabbi Slifkin’s approaches to ma’aseh Bereishis.

In Hilchos Avodah Zarah, the Rambam discusses the unfolding of Avraham Avinu’s career as the originator of Monotheism. Avraham was born into a world inundated with idol worship. No one (other than a tiny pocket of individuals living in Jerusalem) recognized the true One God. The Rambam writes as follows: (my translation with bracketed words inserted for explanatory purposes)

"As soon as this [spiritual] giant was weaned, his mind began to wander while he was still a young boy, and he thought by day and by night. And he wondered how it could be that the sphere continued to operate without an operator; who would cause it to turn? He had no one to teach him, no one to inform him of anything. Rather, he was steeped amongst the idiotic idol worshipers in Ur Casdim. And his father and mother and the entire nation were serving strange gods and he was amongst them [yet] his mind [continued] to delve and understand until he apprehended the true path and understood the "straight line" from his own correct understanding. And he knew that there was a unique Deity, and He causes the sphere to turn, and He created everything, and there is no other deity in existence other than Him."

The Rambam then goes on to recount Avraham’s history, his ongoing debates with the surrounding nations, and his ultimate achievement in introducing the knowledge of the One True God. It is clear from the Rambam’s presentation that Avraham reached an awareness of Hashem’s presence via empirical observation. This idea is clearly expressed in the following Medrash. (my translation)

"R’ Yitzchok stated: This can be compared to one who travels from place to place and notices a palace which is lit up. ‘Can we possibly say that this palace does not have a master’? The master looks out at him and says ‘I am the master of the palace’. So too, since Abraham was saying (i.e. thinking) ‘is it possible that this world has no master’? Hashem [therefore] looked out at him and said, ‘I am the Master of the world’" (BR 39:1)

Rashi (ad loc.) explains that Avraham reached an awareness of Hashem via empirical observation of the phenomena of the world.

Nature was formed via the asara ma’amaros (ten sayings) whereas the Torah was bestowed via the eser dibros (ten forms of speech). Both are manifestations of the Will of the Hashem. Consequently, a concerted study of either one has the inherent ability of leading one back to an awareness of their Source. Until the advent of matan Torah, the primary method of reaching an awareness of the Creator was via a study of nature. Once Moshe descended with the Torah, the study of nature took a back seat, at least temporarily. Matan Torah was such an extraordinary experience it eclipsed any other agent of Divine revelation, even nature itself. This situation obtained for several hundred years until Dovid haMelech re-introduced the study of nature to our nation. Ever since then, we have been using both forms of revelation as a means of gaining awareness of Hashem.

Rabbeinu Bachya ibn Pakuda – in his monumental work Chovos Halevavos – states that there are three primary ways of reaching an awareness of Hashem and His laws: 1) Through Torah 2) Through Nature 3) Through Tradition. He explains that although Torah may be superior to Nature, Nature is the surest, most direct method of reaching an awareness of the Creator.

In Slabodka they used to say that there are two batei medrash. There is the beis medrash of Avraham Avinu and the beis medrash of Moshe Rabbeinu. Both are equally valid. And both are equally necessary.

What’s wrong with Rabbi Slifkin’s theology? Simple. His approaches to ma’aseh bereishis have effectively eliminated Nature as a means of gaining an awareness of the Creator. Avraham Avinu’s beis medrash has become entirely irrelevant. How can one gain an awareness of Hashem via a study of nature when said study yields nothing but random chance mutations? If naturalistic explanations suffice to account for the presence of life, what meaning can Dovid haMelech’s enthusiasm in Barchi Nafshi, and countless other kapitlach Tehilim, possibly contain? If the very phenomena he describes can be understood as evolving over billions of years via naturalistic means, how do they possess the ability of demonstrating the greatness of Hashem?

Claiming that a hidden God is somehow causing the evolutionary process to unfold is entirely meaningless. It takes a pre-conceived notion and forces it upon an otherwise rationally acceptable materialistic process. Occam’s razor, which eschews unnecessary assumptions, considers the assumption of such a notion as unreasonable.

The pesukim are clear. We gain an awareness of Hashem’s presence from a study of nature as opposed to insinuating our pre-conceived notion of Hashem’s presence into the study of nature.

Evolution possesses no evidence whatsoever and yet Rabbi Slifkin feels the need to re-interpret the pesukim in order to satisfy a bankrupt theory. This alone is a serious breach of acceptable Torah interpretation. Unfortunately it pales in comparison to the true ramification of his approaches; the undermining of the very foundation of our religion i.e. the clear, unadulterated awareness of our Creator.

29 comments:

  1. Rabbi Coffer, you have perfectly illustrated the wisdom of Chazal's doctrine, Kol HaPosel BeMumo Posel. For it is not I that denies the manifestation of God in nature, but you!

    You claim here that if there is a naturalistic explanation of a phenomenon, it does not attest to a Creator. Now, even you would agree that there are naturalistic explanations of the daily events in nature, as well as the events of most of history and our daily lives. So according to you, one does not see God as manifest in these. This despite the fact that throughout Tenach, Chazal and the Rishonim, we see the idea that we are supposed to see God in the daily events of nature, and the daily events of our lives.

    Every one of your claims about me could be used about you. For example:

    "Claiming that a hidden God is somehow causing the daily events in the world is entirely meaningless. It takes a pre-conceived notion and forces it upon an otherwise rationally acceptable materialistic process. Occam’s razor, which eschews unnecessary assumptions, considers the assumption of such a notion as unreasonable."

    Every Orthodox Jew saw the Hand of God in the events of the Six Day War and the first Gulf War. At least, everyone except you. After all, according to you, since these phenomena can be understood via naturalistic explanations, they don't demonstrate the greatness of God! Likewise, according to you, Purim really was just a chance sequence of random events, which didn't reveal God's hand at all.

    For more details, see
    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/10/anti-evolution-heretics.html

    Although maybe I'll reiterate these points in a new post: "What's Wrong With Rabbi Coffers's Theology: He Denies God's Role Post-Creation."

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  2. Hello Rabbi Coffer! I was eagerly anticipating this post and am happy that you finally put it together.

    The parameters of your theological position are not clear to me. Are you taking the position that belief in the natural unfolding of the universe and all it contains - to the state everything is in today - eliminates the need to explain the natural world in terms of HKBH being the Boreh U’manhig? (Obviously you don't.)Does your position apply solely to macro evolution? Or also to the unfolding of non biological phenomena? Or also to micro evolution? In other words: where you draw the line, and why?

    No matter the parameters, none of this has any effect on the conceptualization of HKBH’s role as Boreh. Even a naturalistic explanation of how things unfold doesn’t go to the question of Who originated “things” ex nihilo and set them in motion, which question cannot relate to the laws of nature (other than the starting point, that under the known laws of nature, nothing can be created ex nihilo).

    Those who believe in “Guided evolution” categorize this alleged phenomenon under HKBH’s role as manhig, as they (and you) do with regard to all other laws of nature. I don’t see a theological difference between a belief in macro evolution and, say, a belief in micro evolution (which has been proven to occur), or meteorology, or explanations as to why specific plants exist in specific places, or thousands of other phenomena.

    People in both camps agree that HKBH is the Boreh and Manhig. The only difference is in where each camp draws the line between those two roles.

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  3. Hi Nachum,

    I was in the middle of composing a Blog entry addressing Rabbi Slifkin’s brouhaha from the gemara in Pesachim and I noticed your comment. Naturally I stopped and took a break.

    You wrote: The parameters of your theological position are not clear to me. Are you taking the position that belief in the natural unfolding of the universe and all it contains - to the state everything is in today - eliminates the need to explain the natural world in terms of HKBH being the Boreh U’manhig? (Obviously you don't.)

    I’m not sure what you mean by “obviously you don’t”. The “scientific community” (yes, the one Rabbi Slifkin is wont to invoke) clearly maintains that our universe and all it contains, to the state it exists in today, unfolded naturally over a period of 13.7 billion years. Obviously I personally do not maintain this position. But this is certainly the prevalent view amongst scientists, at least the loudmouthed ones…

    You wrote: Does your position apply solely to macro evolution? Or also to the unfolding of non biological phenomena? Or also to micro evolution? In other words: where you draw the line, and why?

    I don’t understand your question. My position applies to all phenomena in the universe. Avraham Avinu looked at the phenomena of the world and deduced Hashem’s existence. The Medrash doesn’t stipulate which phenomena he focused on. All of them bespeak wisdom (kulam b’chochma asisa,).

    You wrote: No matter the parameters, none of this has any effect on the conceptualization of HKBH’s role as Boreh. Even a naturalistic explanation of how things unfold doesn’t go to the question of Who originated “things” ex nihilo and set them in motion, which question cannot relate to the laws of nature (other than the starting point, that under the known laws of nature, nothing can be created ex nihilo).

    You missed the entire point of my post. Avraham Avinu didn’t reach an awareness of Hashem and His laws because he contemplated creation ex-nihilo. Dovid haMelech never waxes poetic about creation ex-nihilo. The Chovos Levavos never mentions creation ex-nihilo as one of the elements of his sha’ar habechina, (the gateway of introspection regarding the phenomena of our world). In order for us to reach a constant awareness of Hashem as Boreh, we must study the current phenomena of the world which surrounds us at all times, not philosophize about how it must have been created.

    You wrote: Those who believe in “Guided evolution” categorize this alleged phenomenon under HKBH’s role as manhig, as they (and you) do with regard to all other laws of nature.

    This amounts to circular reasoning. The only reason (other than the Torah) that Hashem is understood as a Manhig is because He is first established to be the Boreh. Guided Evolution severely mitigates his role as Boreh thus directly affecting His role as Manhig.

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  4. Rabbi Slifkin –

    You claim here that if there is a naturalistic explanation of a phenomenon, it does not attest to a Creator. Now, even you would agree that there are naturalistic explanations of the daily events in nature, as well as the events of most of history and our daily lives. So according to you, one does not see God as manifest in these. This despite the fact that throughout Tenach, Chazal and the Rishonim, we see the idea that we are supposed to see God in the daily events of nature, and the daily events of our lives.

    You are putting the cart before the horse. Of course I see Hashem’s hand in the daily events of nature. You know why? Because I am convinced that there must have been an infinite intelligence which designed the endlessly complex phenomena of our universe for a plan and purpose. Once I am convinced of a Grand Designer with a plan and purpose, I am then able to take the next step and look for signs of His active involvement. But if even the most complex biological structures are able to be explained by appealing to materialistic causes, why in heaven’s name would I look for anything other than materialism in my daily life?

    You’re right. “throughout Tenach, Chazal and the Rishonim, we see the idea that we are supposed to see God in the daily events of nature, and the daily events of our lives”

    You know why? Because Tanach Chazal and Rishonim took it for granted that a naïve observation of our world yields the unmistakable presence of a Divine Designer Who possessed a plan and purpose in His creation. Without this premise in place, I maintain that Tanach, Chazal and Rishonim would be incoherent!

    You wrote: “Every one of your claims about me could be used about you. For example:

    "Claiming that a hidden God is somehow causing the daily events in the world is entirely meaningless. It takes a pre-conceived notion and forces it upon an otherwise rationally acceptable materialistic process. Occam’s razor, which eschews unnecessary assumptions, considers the assumption of such a notion as unreasonable."

    Every Orthodox Jew saw the Hand of God in the events of the Six Day War and the first Gulf War. At least, everyone except you. After all, according to you, since these phenomena can be understood via naturalistic explanations, they don't demonstrate the greatness of God! Likewise, according to you, Purim really was just a chance sequence of random events, which didn't reveal God's hand at all.


    Ahhh… therein lies the rub. “Every Orthodox Jew”… What about materialists? What about scientists? Did they see the hand of God? Of course not! You know why? Because they have fanciful theories which explain the unfolding of the universe via naturalistic methods. If you can explain the existence of a protein by appealing to chance, the six day war is child’s play in comparison.

    On the other hand, Orthodox Jews understand (or at least they’re supposed to understand) that the presence of Hashem is implicit in the billions of phenomena of the universe. They just “couldn’t be” without intelligent design. Once you adopt this theology, seeing Hashem in the six day War then becomes a reasonable extension of this doctrine. Otherwise, it’s just plain incoherent.

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  5. Is there no difference in "daily events" and the briah?

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  6. "Once I am convinced of a Grand Designer with a plan and purpose, I am then able to take the next step and look for signs of His active involvement. But if even the most complex biological structures are able to be explained by appealing to materialistic causes, why in heaven’s name would I look for anything other than materialism in my daily life?"

    How do you know not to be a Deist? Maybe God created the world meta-naturally, and then left it to its own devices? Isn't there any way that you can look at history and decide if God is still involved?

    Creation is a completely separate topic from seeing God in our history and daily lives. You could theoretically say that God created the world according to the literal reading of Bereishis, but that the Six Day War is explicable purely in terms of materialistic causes. According to your reasoning, there's no way that the Six Day War points towards a Creator!

    Incidentally, as you ought to know if you read my book, I also believe that God created the universe with plan and purpose. And I think that the extraordinary nature of the laws of science attest to it. It's a pity that you're not sophisticated enough to grasp that. So your claim that it's only if one sees evidence of purposeful creation that one can see God in daily events would work even if you accept evolution.

    You're claiming that it's ONLY if the world was meta-naturally created that it is possible to see God in the Six Day War?! What on earth does one thing have to do with the other? Of course atheists did not see the Hand of God in the Six Day war. What does that have to do with anything? If you can only see God's Hand in those events by having already seen it in a meta-natural creation, then (a) your emunah is very small, and (b) you're not actually seeing God's Hand in the events of history at all!

    The fact is that I have shown you to be a hypocrite. You claim that if there is a naturalistic explanation of a phenomenon, it does not attest to a Creator. But you then say that despite naturalistic explanations of Israel's military victories, it does indeed attest to a Creator. This makes no sense.

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  7. I've have comments disappear after I submitted them as well. There must be some glitch--I thought it was just me doing something wrong...

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  8. How do you know not to be a Deist? Maybe God created the world meta-naturally, and then left it to its own devices?

    That’s a good question and I don’t mind exploring it with you. But it’s irrelevant to our discussion. The issue here is simple. I am criticizing you for maintaining that life evolved via naturalistic laws. I am claiming that such a position compromises our ability to “see” the Creator in the phenomena of life, as Dovid haMelech did. Even Deists would agree with me! Deists believe in a Creator. You know why? Because they believe that the world testifies to a Creator. Their issue lies with His ongoing involvement, not His existence.

    Isn't there any way that you can look at history and decide if God is still involved?

    If you’re looking for my personal opinion, obviously I would say yes. Is this sufficient to objectively refute the position of a Deist? I believe so. Is it enough to refute the position of an atheist/materialist? No. An atheist believes that the DNA molecule somehow managed to form over a period of 1-2 billion years. If one can believe such a thing, how can the exigencies of history make any impression on such a person? The mathematical improbabilities of DNA forming by accident are far greater than the improbability of, say, Samson defeating thousands of Plishtim. Samson’s triumph, and all other remarkable historical events, is nothing more than random chance events to such a person.

    You wrote: Creation is a completely separate topic from seeing God in our history and daily lives. You could theoretically say that God created the world according to the literal reading of Bereishis, but that the Six Day War is explicable purely in terms of materialistic causes. According to your reasoning, there's no way that the Six Day War points towards a Creator!

    Is there a halacha in Shulchan Aruch that the six day war must point to a Creator? Perhaps there is but this is not our issue! Our issue is the fact that without the minimum foundation that the phenomena of the world conclusively demonstrate that God created the world, you have no chance of ever arriving at the conclusion that the six day war points to His active involvement.

    You wrote: Incidentally, as you ought to know if you read my book, I also believe that God created the universe with plan and purpose. And I think that the extraordinary nature of the laws of science attest to it. It's a pity that you're not sophisticated enough to grasp that.

    Don’t be silly. It doesn’t require “sophistication” to “grasp” this notion. As it happens, Chapter 2 of the Challenge (the one you are obviously referring to) is excellent and I have no issues with it. But it’s not enough. Here’s why.

    No matter how remarkable the order of the universe might be, no matter how objective, no matter how aesthetically pleasing, no matter how comprehensible, no matter how mysterious the origin of the laws of nature might be, no matter how lucky. All of this pales into insignificance when considering the reality of one single fly. The endless wisdom inherent in even one cell of one cross-vein of one wing of one fly dwarfs anything you were talking about in your book. I know a little bit about biology and I can tell you that notwithstanding the sophistication associated with the physical sciences, life is by far the most complex phenomena in the universe.

    continued...

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  9. If you, Rabbi Natan Slifkin, or anyone for that matter, is capable of ignoring the open testimony of hundreds of billions of witnesses (i.e. biological organisms apparent to the naked eye) and instead adopt a ridiculous, unsupported theory for the presence of life, anything else you say about the universe is irrelevant. You may aver that you believe in plan and purpose but your claim is irrational. Once you adopt the scientific view which claims that all of the phenomena recorded in the bible on day 3, 4, 5, and 6 of ma’aseh bereishis unfolded naturally over hundreds of millions of years, you’ve aligned yourself squarely with the materialist weltanschauung. You can’t then appeal to the “beauty” of the universe, or other such things, as support for Intelligent Design. It sounds ridiculous. It contradicts your position regarding the “beauty” of life which is far more beautiful than the beauty of the universe.

    Does Dovid haMelech talk about fine-tuning coincidences? Does Chovos Levavos talk about the “comprehensibility” of the universe? They talk primarily about life! Why? Because life is the most amazing phenomenon in the universe! It is the surest way of reaching an awareness of the Creator. And here you come and sully this age-old, time-honored facility for the acquisition of true knowledge. And for what? For nothing! Evolution is stupid! It’s nothing plus nothing. It’s less than nothing. Don’t you realize that by claiming evolution one can never look at a bush, at an apple, at a cow, at a tree, or at any countless phenomena, and deduce Hashem’s presence? My issue with your theology is exactly this; you’re making it difficult for me to see Hashem for no good reason whatsoever.

    You wrote: You're claiming that it's ONLY if the world was meta-naturally created that it is possible to see God in the Six Day War?! What on earth does one thing have to do with the other?

    You know, you really need to read my posts a bit more carefully. I am claiming that only if the phenomena of the universe testify unequivocally to the presence of a Supreme Creator can we then go on and surmise that it was He who effected our victory in the six day war. I’m not sure why this concept is eluding you…

    You wrote: If you can only see God's Hand in those events by having already seen it in a meta-natural creation, then (a) your emunah is very small, and (b) you're not actually seeing God's Hand in the events of history at all!

    Well, I guess you understand that I disagree. The fact is anyone who claims that life can be explained via natural processes has no real basis for his emunah (other than the Torah of course). As far as your accusations per se, you’re right! I accept your mussar. I do need to work on my emunah. But it sure won’t be strengthened by utilizing your approaches…

    You wrote: The fact is that I have shown you to be a hypocrite

    In your opinion Rabbi. Actually, this is a first for me. I’ve never been accused of hypocrisy before…

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  10. Rabbi Coffer, you and I both agree that nature attests to a Creator. You see His Hand in the formation of animal life, while I see it in the design of the laws of nature. You claim that the latter is dwarfed by the former. Personally, I think just the opposite. But either way, you and I both claim that nature attests to a Creator, so don't pretend otherwise.

    Meanwhile, you claim that only phenomena that cannot be explained in terms of natural causes can actually attest to a Creator. You said this formulation and similar ones on numerous occasions. So according to you, events such as Purim and the Six Day War and the survival of the Jewish People over the millennia DO NOT attest to a Creator. Sure, they involved humans, and the marvels of a human body attest to a Creator. And because you have an a priori belief in a Creator for this reason, you will "stick Him in" to these events and attribute them to Him. But the actual events themselves can be explained in terms of naturalistic causes, and thus according to you, these events DO NOT in any way attest to a Creator. You'll stick Him in to them, but you do not see them as actually attesting to Him. That is contrary to Judaism, which certainly sees such events as attesting to God.

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  11. "Evolution is stupid! It’s nothing plus nothing. It’s less than nothing."

    You should really read about the 19th century Flat-Earthers. They talked in the exact same way as you, insisting that there is absolutely no evidence for the sphericity of the world. They claimed to be wholly scientific about it.

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  12. Actually, come to think of it, they were a little more scientific than you. I don't think that they wrote that "A spherical earth is stupid! It’s nothing plus nothing. It’s less than nothing."

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  13. Rabbi Coffer, you and I both agree that nature attests to a Creator. You see His Hand in the formation of animal life, while I see it in the design of the laws of nature. You claim that the latter is dwarfed by the former. Personally, I think just the opposite. But either way, you and I both claim that nature attests to a Creator, so don't pretend otherwise.

    You're the one who's pretending. Don't try and convince me that you feel that the design in the laws of nature impresses you more than the design of living things. You're the Zoo Rabbi, remember? Not the Cosmo Rabbi. Your sheer wonderment at living things oozes from your books and your websites. I honestly believe that your respect for living things surpasses my own! The reason you keep on pushing evolution is because you are a victim of current academic opinion. You’re impressed by numbers and degrees.

    Meanwhile, you claim that only phenomena that cannot be explained in terms of natural causes can actually attest to a Creator. You said this formulation and similar ones on numerous occasions.

    No! What I claim is that phenomena that cannot be explained in terms of natural causes serve as the foundation for our belief in an Intelligent Cause possessing plan and purpose. However, once we have this foundation God can also be reasonably implicated in other things.

    So according to you, events such as Purim and the Six Day War and the survival of the Jewish People over the millennia DO NOT attest to a Creator.

    This of course is wrong. But not entirely. These events, in and of themselves, do not attest to a Creator. But they definitely attest to a remarkable “coincidence” which can only be rationally explained via Intelligent intervention. Thus, they attest to Hashem’s hashgacha, not His role as Boreh.

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  14. Don't try and convince me that you feel that the design in the laws of nature impresses you more than the design of living things. You're the Zoo Rabbi, remember?

    Make up your mind. You know that I accept evolution. But now you're claiming that it's still possible for me to see God in nature? So does evolution prevent one from seeing God in nature, or not?

    And, yes, I do feel that the design in the laws of nature is far more extraordinary than nature itself. Just as an engineer who designs software that can innovate all kinds of different robots is a more impressive engineer than one who designs all kinds of different robots.

    once we have this foundation God can also be reasonably implicated in other things

    Great, we are making progress! Earlier, your comments had indicated that God CANNOT be seen in phenomena that are explained naturalistically, and Dr. Ostroff made many statements to that effect. Now you agree that, provided one has an a priori belief in God, He can be seen as playing a role in phenomena that are explained naturalistically. Hence there is nothing about evolution which precludes seeing God as working through it. I'm glad that you've conceded that; it puts you light years ahead of Dr. Ostroff.

    These events... definitely attest to a remarkable “coincidence” which can only be rationally explained via Intelligent intervention.

    So fortuitiousness alone is enough to attest to a Higher Intelligence - even if there is a naturalistic explanation for events.
    Why, then, is the fortuitousness of the laws of science - which is vastly more extraordinary than the events of Purim or the Six Day War - not enough to attest to a Higher Intelligence?

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  15. Rabbi Coffer:

    You say that one who has an a priori belief in HKBH as the Boreh should have no problem in seeing Him as the Manhig, from the study of nature.

    According to your shitta, from a theological perspective the study of evolution should be fine for people with a religious background!

    I don't understand how you conceptualize Avraham Avinu and David HaMelech discovering HKBH through nature. Specifically with regard to "what makes the sphere turn" we now know that it is related to laws of gravity. Is it your position that had they known that gravity causes the sphere to turn they would not have seen the hand of HKBH? If so, then their discovery of HKBH is based on error!

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  16. Make up your mind. You know that I accept evolution. But now you're claiming that it's still possible for me to see God in nature? So does evolution prevent one from seeing God in nature, or not?

    There’s nothing to make up. Evolution definitely prevents one from being aware of the Creator via a study of nature. However, if it makes you feel any better I will acknowledge your position that the fortuitousness of the laws of nature themselves allows you, personally, to be aware of the Creator through a partial study of nature. I say you, personally, because I think your theology is incoherent and for anyone else its adoption would not only prevent, it would eliminate entirely an awareness of Hashem. On the one hand, you claim that the fortuitousness of life is not sufficient to see the direct Hand of Hashem. When questioned regarding this obviously irrational doctrine, you appeal to the global community of scientists in your defence. Yet, when it comes to the fortuitousness of the laws of nature, all of a sudden you become bold and declare that the scientists are wrong and the fortuitousness, in this case, points incontrovertibly to a Creator. What happened to the scientists?? They claim that the universe and all of its laws can be understood rationally as unfolding in a purely materialistic fashion! How dare you adopt a position that is contrary to the global community of scientists!

    The upshot of all this is that anyone adopting your position is obviously not seeing Hashem in the study of nature. The fortuitousness of the laws of nature is an abstract concept. Mathematics needs to be invoked just to grasp it. On the other hand, biological phenomena are tangible. They’re empirical. They can be seen and felt. They can be studied under a microscope etc. etc. If one denies the testimony of his very own eyes, what chance does he have of internalizing the presence of Hashem via a study of abstract concepts such as the fortuitousness of the LON. Such a doctrine amounts to pure sophistry. Anyone claiming adherence to it can rightly be suspected of being intellectually dishonest (although as I mentioned, in your peculiar case, I acknowledge your position that you do see Hashem from the LON)

    Continued…

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  17. Me: once we have this foundation God can also be reasonably implicated in other things

    RNS: Great, we are making progress! Earlier, your comments had indicated that God CANNOT be seen in phenomena that are explained naturalistically, and Dr. Ostroff made many statements to that effect. Now you agree that, provided one has an a priori belief in God, He can be seen as playing a role in phenomena that are explained naturalistically. Hence there is nothing about evolution which precludes seeing God as working through it. I'm glad that you've conceded that; it puts you light years ahead of Dr. Ostroff.

    Very clever Nosson. But not clever enough. I am too seasoned to fall for your smooth prose. You are mischaracterizing my position (and Dr. Ostroff’s). I never said that “God CANNOT be seen in phenomena that are explained naturalistically”. What I said is that if the phenomena of the universe, including, but not limited to life, can be seen as unfolding in a materialistic fashion, then a study of nature cannot yield the rational conclusion that God must be implicated in their Creation. And that’s exactly what evolution (stellar, chemical and biological) states! You, Miller, Collins, the lot of you are all irrational. Check that. Your doctrine is irrational. You claim to see God behind evolution and yet evolution, by definition, is nothing but chance materialistic processes. So you guys see design as the underpinning of chance! And you actually want people to accept that! And you actually wonder why people like Dr. O and I become irritated with your views…

    Me: These events... definitely attest to a remarkable “coincidence” which can only be rationally explained via Intelligent intervention.

    RNS: So fortuitiousness alone is enough to attest to a Higher Intelligence - even if there is a naturalistic explanation for events. Why, then, is the fortuitousness of the laws of science - which is vastly more extraordinary than the events of Purim or the Six Day War - not enough to attest to a Higher Intelligence?

    Because you’re speaking out of two sides of your mouth. On the one hand, you claim that fortuitousness is enough to see design (LON) and from the other side you claim that it is not enough (evolution). In and of themselves, the LON are enough to demonstrate the presence of a Creator to the rational mind. But you, Rabbi Slfkin, cannot ta’anah that. You’ve already proclaimed that when it comes to the fortuitous nature of life, you are willing to forgo the highly unlikely nature of their composition and adopt a materialistic view. So claiming that the fortuitousness of LON are suddenly sufficient to attest to God is arbitrary, contradicts your view re evolution and is thus irrational. The problem is not the LON per se. I already told you that your Chapter 2 is an excellent presentation of the marvels of the laws of nature and actually opened my eyes to certain things I hadn’t considered before. The problem here is you! It’s your peculiar view on ma’aseh bereishis that is problematic, not the LON.

    Rabbi Slifkin, notwithstanding our characteristic bickering (reminds me of our old days… :-)) I must admit that, as usual, debating with you has caused me to clarify my view in my own mind. This current interchange has served to deepen my understanding of my creationist view and, believe it or not, to understand your view too. I think I have now pinpointed the exact nekuda where your shitta breaks with rationality but it is too important to delineate in the comment section. I will bl’n dedicate an hour sometime after licht-bentching to a new blog entry outlining my issue clearly. On the one hand, my post will defend your shitta from a logical perspective. Nonetheless, I will strive to demonstrate that your shitta cannot be adopted because it is irrational. You will probably be asleep by the time I post so look for it tomorrow morning.

    A freilichin Chanukah…

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  18. What happened to the scientists?? They claim that the universe and all of its laws can be understood rationally as unfolding in a purely materialistic fashion!

    No, they don't. Didn't you read my book?

    The fortuitousness of the laws of nature is an abstract concept. Mathematics needs to be invoked just to grasp it. On the other hand, biological phenomena are tangible.

    Well, you don't need to know any math, but I agree that it's a more subtle way of perceiving the Creator. So I guess that people who don't grasp it, such as yourself, are less sophisticated.

    In and of themselves, the LON are enough to demonstrate the presence of a Creator to the rational mind.

    Finally! So you've finally conceded that you can conclude the existence of a Creator from the laws of nature alone, without having to insist that there are no naturalistic explanations for how the laws of nature produce the diversity of life.

    You’ve already proclaimed that when it comes to the fortuitous nature of life, you are willing to forgo the highly unlikely nature of their composition and adopt a materialistic view.

    I have never proclaimed any such thing, and I don't have any idea what you are talking about. Are you talking about the statistical improbability of evolution? I thought that you were averse to proving God from math? Besides, as you know, many scientists disagree with this statistical improbability that you claim. Personally I have never taken any sides on it. If it's statistically improbable, then, gezunte heit, we have more evidence for a Designer. And if it's not, then it doesn't matter, since the laws of nature are enough on their own.

    The way I see it, by forcing you to clarify your position, you have had to back down from much of your rhetoric. You now conceded that fortuitiousness alone is enough to attest to a Higher Intelligence, and that the laws of nature do this. So one no longer needs to deny evolution in order to see the universe as attesting to a Creator.

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  19. Nachum:

    Sorry for the delayed response. I’ve been busy. I had some time today so I composed a new blog entry clarifying both my position and Rabbi Slifkin’s while adding some additional elements. Check it out and let me know what you think. Meanwhile I will respond to your current comment.

    You wrote: You say that one who has an a priori belief in HKBH as the Boreh should have no problem in seeing Him as the Manhig, from the study of nature.

    No, you got that wrong. Here’s what I say. Anyone who has already established the presence of a Boreh via a study of the beriah then has the intellectual right to see the Borah as the Manhig too.

    According to your shitta, from a theological perspective the study of evolution should be fine for people with a religious background!

    Why? My issue is that evolution eliminates our ability to utilize a study of the beriah to establish the presence of a Boreh. How is that theologically fine?

    I don't understand how you conceptualize Avraham Avinu and David HaMelech discovering HKBH through nature. Specifically with regard to "what makes the sphere turn" we now know that it is related to laws of gravity. Is it your position that had they known that gravity causes the sphere to turn they would not have seen the hand of HKBH? If so, then their discovery of HKBH is based on error!

    Why? Do you think that we are any more sophisticated than Avraham Avinu or the Rambam because we have now formulated the law of gravity? Do you understand why gravity should work? Of course not. The law of gravity is merely a law based on our empirical observation of how bodies of mass interact with each other. It is entirely incapable of explaining why they interact in this fashion. What breathes life into this law? What makes it function the way it does? This was Avraham’s essential question except the Rambam explained it using the scientific paradigms of his day. Today, the only thing that changed is the paradigm; the question itself remains relevant even in modern times. In fact, as we advance in the knowledge of the beriah, Avraham’s question comes into increasingly sharper focus.

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  20. Why? My issue is that evolution eliminates our ability to utilize a study of the beriah to establish the presence of a Boreh. How is that theologically fine?

    Because you conceded that one can establish the presence of a Borei from the laws of nature. Indeed, you say it yourself: "The law of gravity is merely a law based on our empirical observation of how bodies of mass interact with each other. It is entirely incapable of explaining why they interact in this fashion. What breathes life into this law? What makes it function the way it does?" Bingo!

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  21. Rabbi Slifkin:

    Sorry for the delay. I couldn’t get to the blog for a few days.

    I wrote: In and of themselves, the LON are enough to demonstrate the presence of a Creator to the rational mind.

    To which you responded: Finally! So you've finally conceded that you can conclude the existence of a Creator from the laws of nature alone, without having to insist that there are no naturalistic explanations for how the laws of nature produce the diversity of life.

    I did not! I specifically wrote that once you reject the ability of the fortuitousness of the diversity of life to point to a Creator, you no longer have the right to claim it for the laws of nature. Why are you misquoting me?

    I wrote: You’ve already proclaimed that when it comes to the fortuitous nature of life, you are willing to forgo the highly unlikely nature of their composition and adopt a materialistic view.

    To which you responded: I have never proclaimed any such thing, and I don't have any idea what you are talking about. Are you talking about the statistical improbability of evolution? I thought that you were averse to proving God from math? Besides, as you know, many scientists disagree with this statistical improbability that you claim.

    Many scientists? Like who? Like Richard Dawkins who tried to prove that evolution was possible by coming up with a computer-simulated mathematical model? His model was roundly destroyed by true mathematicians! He should have stuck to zoology. Mathematics is simply not his field.

    The statistical improbability of random chance mutations producing the endlessly purposeful and specifically complex phenomena of life can easily be grasped by anyone with average intelligence. If you actually believe that evolution is not improbable, you truly do not understand anything about the parsha.

    Personally I have never taken any sides on it.

    Have you read your book? Of course you’ve taken sides on it. By claiming that evolution can rationally account for the diversity of life, you’ve taken the side that it is not hugely improbable.

    If it's statistically improbable, then, gezunte heit, we have more evidence for a Designer.

    Gezunte heit? That’s all you have to say? Do you understand the implications of your theology? Do you understand that in your books you have rejected our longest-standing tradition regarding the most crucial event of history, ma’aseh bereishis? And now you come along and say that if evolution is indeed improbable, then “gezunte heit”, we can switch tracks and indeed see direct evidence of special design? Is this parsha so minor to you that you don’t even bother to take the time to study the improbability of evolution? In fact, you haven’t even taken the time to study the viability of the mechanisms of evolution either. If you studies these two things in depth, perhaps you would change your mind about evolution and reverse your egregiously anti-massoretic views regarding Creation.

    The way I see it, by forcing you to clarify your position, you have had to back down from much of your rhetoric.

    I have no idea what you are talking about.

    By the way, I wrote an additional post clarifying both our views and introducing another element into the fray…

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  22. Natan Slifkin -

    Because you conceded that one can establish the presence of a Borei from the laws of nature. Indeed, you say it yourself: "The law of gravity is merely a law based on our empirical observation of how bodies of mass interact with each other. It is entirely incapable of explaining why they interact in this fashion. What breathes life into this law? What makes it function the way it does?" Bingo!

    All that is fine and good for someone who chooses to question the beriah in the first place. But for someone such as yourself who chooses to accept the virtually impossible regarding the diversity of life, questioning gravity, or anything else, loses any relevancy. I've made this point to you already. I was talking to Nachum and thus far he hasn't said anything that would make me think he wouldn't question the diversity of life too. If eventually he does, I would tell him the same thing I am telling you. Your thesis is irrational.

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  23. Rabbi Coffer:

    "Anyone who has already established the presence of a Boreh via a study of the beriah then has the intellectual right to see the Borah as the Manhig too."

    What thought process must one go through in order to "establish the presence of a Boreh", which evolution or other laws of nature rule out?

    "My issue is that evolution eliminates our ability to utilize a study of the beriah to establish the presence of a Boreh."

    But you're wrong! Especially for one who accepts the obvious notion that the laws of nature cannot have been instituted without a "push from beyond." Evolution, as one of those laws of nature, eliminates nothing. I especially don't understand why you single out evolution.

    I still don't understand how you conceptualize Avraham Avinu and David HaMelech discovering HKBH through nature.

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  24. Nachum Boehm –

    "Anyone who has already established the presence of a Boreh via a study of the beriah then has the intellectual right to see the Borah as the Manhig too."

    What thought process must one go through in order to "establish the presence of a Boreh", which evolution or other laws of nature rule out?

    That’s simple enough. Just look at the contraption tied to your left wrist. What thought process must you go through in order to establish that it had an intelligent creator? Now, imagine that many important looking scientists came along and told you that the watch, as is, evolved naturally over millions of years. What if you were tempted to believe them? Would there claim now “rule out” or at least mitigate your thought process regarding the watch? Now, just transfer the mashal to the beriah.

    "My issue is that evolution eliminates our ability to utilize a study of the beriah to establish the presence of a Boreh."

    But you're wrong! Especially for one who accepts the obvious notion that the laws of nature cannot have been instituted without a "push from beyond." Evolution, as one of those laws of nature, eliminates nothing. I especially don't understand why you single out evolution.

    Nachum, I think you need a bit of education in certain fundamental concepts. The problem is, the comment section is a very poor venue for such a venture but I’ll do my best. When Rabbi Slifkin and I discuss the laws of nature, we are not referring to things like evolution. Evolution is not a law of nature. What we are referring to is the forces which describe the interactions of all of the simplest particles in the universe. These interactions are fundamental because the described particles cannot be understood to interact without these forces in place. These forces are fine-tuned to accommodate and compliment each other, and nature i.e. the properties of the various phenomena found in our universe, is fine-tuned to react and be sensitive to these laws of nature. Without this fine-tuning in place, nature would be chaotic. It just wouldn’t function the way we understand it and in fact you and I wouldn’t even be around to discus this.

    Scientists have identified four fundamental forces: gravity, electromagnetism, the strong and the weak nuclear forces. Each one of these forces possesses a constant. A constant is a specific physical quantity which is believed to apply equally regardless of location and remains constant in time. Now let’s take an example that Rabbi Slifkin himself discusses in his book. Let’s take the nuclear force and the gravitational force. The nuclear force is greater than the gravitational force by a factor of 1 followed by 38 zeros. As Rabbi Slifkin notes, “With such inconceivable disparities in the magnitude of the forces, the fact that a slight change in either would result in a chaotic universe is all the more staggering” Rabbi Slifkin thus argues (correctly I would note) that this fine-tuning is highly fortuitous (a fancy word for highly unlikely) and thus the fortuity points unmistakably to an Intelligent Designer, or Creator.
    Continued…

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  25. The reason I am attacking evolution per se is simple. In 1859, Darwin came up with a supposed mechanism which could account for the staggering diversity of life present on earth without recourse to an intelligent cause. He called it Natural Selection. Coupled with the reality of variation in the species, he felt that this was sufficient to account for the presence of life. The problem is, Darwin knew nothing about how variation (i.e. change) was accomplished in the species and he knew nothing about the microscopic properties of life. Today scientists understand that the variation which occurs within a species is attributable to the general properties already present in the gene pool of that particular species. In order to effect a fundamental change in the species, you need to have millions of random beneficial (beneficial means a property which gives the organism a higher likelihood of survival) changes in the gene sequencing and each one of these changes is opposed by billions and billions of non-beneficial changes, referred to as mutations.

    Continued…

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  26. In order for you to begin to grasp the incredible level of specified complexity associated with even one single cell in your body, here’s a nice little description by biologist Michael Denton. Mind you, this description was supplied twenty five years ago. Imagine how much more we’ve learned about the cell since then and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface.

    Quote
    “To grasp the reality of life as it has been revealed by molecular biology, we must magnify a cell a thousand million times until it is twenty kilometers in diameter and resembles a giant airship large enough to cover a great city like London or New York. What we would then see would be an object of unparalleled complexity and adaptive design. On the surface of the cell we would see millions of openings, like the port holes of a vast space ship, opening and closing to allow a continual stream of materials to flow in and out. If we were to enter one of these openings we would find ourselves in a world of supreme technology and bewildering complexity. We would see endless highly organized corridors and conduits branching in every direction away from the perimeter of the cell dome leading to the central memory bank in the nucleus and others to assembly plants and processing units. The nucleus itself would be a vast spherical chamber more than a kilometer in diameter, resembling a geodesic dome inside of which we would see, all neatly stacked together in ordered arrays, the miles of coiled chains of the DNA molecules. A huge range of products and raw materials would shuttle along all the manifold conduits in a highly ordered fashion to and from all the various assembly plants in the outer regions of the cell.

    We would wonder at the level of control implicit in the movement of so many objects down so many seemingly endless conduits, all in perfect unison. We would see all around us, in every direction we looked, all sorts of robot-like machines. We would notice that the simplest of the functional components of the cells, the protein molecules, were astonishingly complex pieces of molecular machinery, each one consisting of about three thousand atoms arranged in highly organized 3-D spatial conformation. We would wonder even more as we watched the strangely purposeful activities of these weird molecular machines, particularly when we realized that, despite all our accumulated knowledge of physics and chemistry, the task of designing one such molecular machine – that is one functional protein molecule – would be completely beyond our capacity at present and will probably not be achieved until at least the beginning of the next century. Yet the life of the cell depends on the integrated activities of thousands, certainly tens, and probably hundreds of thousands of different protein molecules.

    We would see that nearly every feature of our own advanced machines had its analogue in the cell: artificial languages and their decoding systems, memory banks for information storage and retrieval, elegant control systems regulating the automated assembly of parts and components, err fail-safe and proof-reading devices utilized for quality control, assembly processes involving the principle of prefabrication and molecular construction. In fact, so deep would be the feeling of deja-vu, so persuasive that analogy, that much of the terminology we would use to describe this fascinating molecular reality would be borrowed from the world of late twentieth-century technology.

    What we would be witnessing would be an object resembling an immense automated factory, a factory larger than a city and carrying out almost as many unique functions as all the manufacturing activities of man on earth. However, it would be a factory which would have one capacity not equalled in any of our own advanced machines, for it would be capable of replicating its entire structure within a matter of a few hours…”
    End quote

    Continued…

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  27. The phenomenon of life is, by far, the most remarkable thing in the universe. Its fortuity dwarfs the fortuity of the laws of nature. That’s why Dovid haMelech speaks about it the most in Tehilim. He learns to see the wisdom and kindliness of Hashem from the “fortuity” of life. All I’m saying is that if Rabbi Slifkin can ignore this fortuity and attribute it to random chance mutations, his claim that he sees Hashem from the laws of nature is contradictory and irrational.

    I know this must have been a lot to grasp in one shot and actually there is a lot more to say but unfortunately I must bring this comment to a close for now. Please think about what I wrote and let me know if it helped you to understand my Blog entry any better.

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  28. I have responded to your comments in the new thread.

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  29. Rabbi Coffer:

    Thank you for taking th time to explain this. As you can probably see, while I am pretty good at thinking in a linear logical manner, science is not my strong point. (My Yeshiva education has a large share of responsibility both for this noted strength and weakness.)

    I'm moving over to the other thread as well. See you there!

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