Thursday, June 21, 2012

Rav Hirsch and the Science of Chazal

Here’s a question. Why is Rabbi Slifkin so anxious to demonstrate the fallibility of Chazal in the field of science? Anyone who has read The Science, Challenge, The Camel, Creatures or Monsters can easily answer this question. For those who haven’t, here’s the answer.

Rabbi Slifkin is a believer. He believes in Hashem and he believes in the Divinity of the Torah. He believes in both Torah she’bichtav (TSB) and Torah she’ba’al peh (TSBP). He understands that the leading sages of each generation are the recipients of TSBP and are charged with transmitting our oral traditions to future generations. Hence, he accepts the halachic pronouncements of our sages (as recorded in the Talmud) without reservation. But this is not the limit of Rabbi Slifkin’s belief system.

Rabbi Slifkin believes in Science. He believes in the pronouncements of the scientific world if they reflect the opinion of the global consensus of scientists in that field. These pronouncements need not be backed by hard evidence. He simply believes. Of course Rabbi Slifkin would deny such an assertion but anyone familiar with the posts on this blog knows that this claim has been proven time and again. For confirmation of Rabbi Slifkin’s unquestioning faith in science, see our analysis of his views in the online article entitled Defending the Mesorah.

So, Rabbi Slifkin believes in the authority of our sages and he also believes in the authority of scientists. When the opinions or statements of one group conflict with the other, a distressing mental state is generated in his mind. In psychology this state is referred to as Cognitive Dissonance. There is only one way to alleviate the mental stress associated with this condition. One of the “cognitions” (i.e. beliefs or premises) must be altered.

Rabbi Slifkin resolves his contradictory beliefs by modifying the nature of Chazal’s authority. When it comes to halacha, they are the final arbiters; but when it comes to nature, scientists are the final arbiters. If the majority of scientists adopt a certain theory, paradigm or description of physical reality, their opinion supersedes that of Chazal. This facile “resolution” is used extensively by Rabbi Slifkin in his books. Every time he encounters a stira between Chazal and Science, Chazal lose out. So for instance, if the consensus of science is that the universe is billions of years old, Chazal’s traditions are rejected in favor of the prevailing academic view.  

So, why is Rabbi Slifkin so anxious to demonstrate the fallibility of Chazal in the field of science? Simple. Because it reinforces his personal approach to the resolution of the Torah/Science loggerhead. That’s why he continuously attempts to attribute such approaches to the Rambam and other “rationalist” Rishonim, and why the quote from Rav Hirsch means so much to him. Here it is again.  
In my opinion, the first principle that every student of Chazal’s statements must keep before his eyes is the following: Chazal were the sages of God’s law – the receivers, transmitters, and teachers of His Toros, His mitzvos, and His interpersonal laws. They did not especially master the natural sciences, geometry, astronomy, or medicine – except insofar as they needed them for knowing, observing, and fulfilling the Torah. We do not find that this knowledge was transmitted to them from Sinai… We find that Chazal themselves considered the wisdom of the gentile scholars equal to their own in the natural sciences. To determine who was right in areas where the gentile sages disagreed with their own knowledge, they did not rely on their tradition but on reason. Moreover they even respected the opinion of the gentile scholars, admitting when the opinion of the latter seemed more correct than their own.
In Rabbi Slifkin’s mind, this quote supports everything he’s been saying for the past ten years! No wonder he likes it so much. But as we mentioned in the previous post, Rav Hirsch’s opinion of Chazal and Science is grossly misrepresented by Rabbi Slifkin. The quote Rabbi Slifkin chooses to delineate from Rav Hirsch’s letter (actually two disparate quotes stuck together to make it appear like one uniform paragraph) is preceded by the following section in the very same letter (my emphases).
What do we tell our pupils when they discover in the words of Chazal statements that do not agree with contemporary secular knowledge, particularly with the natural sciences which have made tremendous forward strides since ancient times?... we are not to keep the pupils from studying these subjects. On the contrary, we are to teach them the methodology of these subjects in a satisfactory and enlightening manner. For only the masses who neither know nor understand the methodology of these disciplines believe all the boasts of our contemporaries that this generation is the wisest of all and that all of nature - in the heavens and on earth - has been revealed to the contemporary sages who from the peaks of their wisdom look down upon all preceding generations.
But one who knows and understands how these disciplines function, knows and understands that while it is true that contemporary scholars deserve honor and glory in many matters that they have demonstrated - measured, weighed, or counted - that were unknown in earlier generations; nevertheless the theories built upon these observations are for the most part no more than very shaky guesses. New hypotheses are proposed daily. What is praised today as unalterable truth, is questioned tomorrow and then ignored. Each is different from the others, but they all have no solid foundation.
Similarly, there are statements in the works of the ancient nations that only 50 to 100 years ago were laughed at or denounced as lies by the wise men of the generation, whereas today’s scholars recognize that there is some truth in them. There are matters of wisdom that were known to the ancients which have been lost and are unknown to the contemporaries. Consequently if we find statements in the works of the ancients that contradict the estimates of our contemporaries, we cannot decide instantly that the former are lies and that the latter are definitely right.
This paints quite a different picture than the one Rabbi Slifkin would like his readers to believe about Rav Hirsch. In the following post we intend, bi’ezras Hashem, to provide an in-depth analysis of Rav Hirsch’s letter.

29 comments:

  1. Consensus in science is not a part of science. There is no force causing the brains of the majority of scientists to arrive at the truth. There is also no such thing in science as dismissing questions even if they are challenges in science. Rabbi Slifkin holds to a psuedoscientific belief promoted by some scientists and laypeople and spread amongst the masses who are not teaching how science works. Consensus is not going to cure a patient for instance nor does it turn nonsensical reasoning to brilliance. He is breaking with the tradition of those who were similarly great advocates of reconciliation between Torah and science who denied that something is true because so many say so. Rabbi Slifkin's protestations on behalf of consensus notwithstanding doesn't change the fact that neither nature nor modern science respects authority. He is a product of his age in lack of real understanding of what is behind science.

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  2. Hello Rabbi Coffer,

    Being a yeshivish guy and yet a supporter of Rabbi Slifkin, I have a very good "shtuch" against your opposition to evolution and the 13.7 billion years old universe theorem. In fact, I think this refutation of mine is so good that allowing it to be posted on your site might very well be an issur of מסייע לדבר עבירה !!

    Do you dare for me to tell you this shtuch?

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  3. Flora,

    Shalom Aleichem! Welcome to our blog and thank you for writing.

    Being a yeshivish guy and yet a supporter of Rabbi Slifkin, I have a very good "shtuch" against your opposition to evolution and the 13.7 billion years old universe theorem.

    I’m sure you do. Unfortunately you’ve got this blog all wrong. The authors of this site are interested in one thing; the truth. If you possess a compelling reason for me to reconsider my opposition to evolution and big bang, I welcome it. I don’t consider it a “shtuch”. However, I would request that you first search this blog for possible responses to your argument. There is a lot of material here about science and Torah, especially in the comment sections.

    In fact, I think this refutation of mine is so good that allowing it to be posted on your site might very well be an issur of מסייע לדבר עבירה !!

    You are contradicting yourself. If your “refutation” is “so good”, then it proves your point. If it proves your point, then evolution is indeed a valid scenario for ma’aseh bereishis. If evolution is a valid scenario for ma’aseh bereishis, then how can posting your refutation be considered מסייע לדבר עבירה?

    Do you dare for me to tell you this shtuch?

    You’re kidding right? You claim your “shtuch” may very well fall under the category of מסייע לדבר עבירה and you want to know if I dare you to use my site to reveal it?

    The answer is no! Please do not post anything on this site that you believe may be sinful. If you have sincere questions about the material presented here, by all means, ask away. But if your magama is to shtuch me out, I would respectfully request that you refrain from commenting on this venue. The “shtuching” position is already taken by my kids and they’re really good at it! They do not require any assistance from random digital “shtuchers”. As soon as all my children are married, I will issue a public kol koreh at which point you are welcome to apply for the position…

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  4. What I meant by מסייע לדבר עבירה was obviously לשיטתך קאמרינן - since according to you, believing that the world is millions of years old as absolutely kefira (although you try to cover it up with unconvincing apologetics such as "well the PERSON who says it technically isn't a kofer), providing a forum to others who promote evolution and an old-age universe is according to you, helping promote kefira, albeit reluctantly.

    But I'll get to the point - this is my "shtuch":

    In the summer of 2006, I spoke privately with the Bostoner Rebbe ztvk"l (Don't you just hate it when people who espouse kefirah can speak yeshivish just as well as you can?? Doesn't it just boil your blood that us pro-evolutionists are so firmly entrenched in the yeshiva world instead of just throwing off our yarmulkes and tzitzis to make it easier for you to distinguish the koifrim?! but I digress...)

    I asked him about the whole business with evolution and the age of the universe, and he answered me pretty much verbatim:
    "IT IS PERFECTLY MUTAR TO BELIEVE THAT THE WORLD IS MILLIONS OF YEARS OLD"
    I have a witness who was there besha'as maaseh (again, koifrim speaking yeshivish) who can verify that.

    Now you will probably respond to such a story by telling me that "we don't paskin" like the Bostoner Rebbe, or that "rov minyan u'binyan" of gedolim hold that it is kefirah, or that the Bostoner Rebbe "isn't as big a gadol" as Reb Elyashiv, etc.

    Here is the problem with that, and this is the shtuch: What is allegedly a matter that is דבר העומד ברומו של עולם and is the pillar of Torah Hashkafa, is now essentially reduced to a matter of politics - whether the world is billions of years old or not depends on the tennis-star rankings of gedolim!!! So you can forget about all of your pseudoscience arguments and vert'lach against evolution - it's just a matter of whose the highest ranking gadol!! Because of the Bostoner Rov is legitimate, then all of your arguments againt evolution go out the window!!

    This doesn't actually prove you wrong, it just puts things in perspective. It reminds me of the quote attributed to Mark Twain - "Be careful about health books - you may die of a misprint"

    According to you though, unfortunately, it's not a joke: Be careful with sifrei hashkafa: you may lose your olam haba from a misprint.

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  6. Anyone with a real understanding of these topics knows that the age of the niverse is not necessarily connected to Evolution. One can believe in an ancient world and still believe evolution is kfira. Did the Rebbe also say it is perfectly mutar to believe in Evolution?

    -Dovid A.

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  7. To Dovid A. -

    I asked him specifically about the age of the universe, but of what difference is it to you - the Gedolim hold that the old age universe is equally kefira! As one of the signers on the cheirem wrote "He believes that the world is millions of years old - afra lepumei!!"

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  8. Flora religious arguments and certainly scientific or philosophical arguments against Evolution don't get reduced to finding an authority to allow it. You said you were Yeshivish and you say you are a Kofer. It's a contradiction and your kind is certainly not entrenched in Yeshivas. I certainly see no evidence you can follow an argument in Gemorah. A shtuch suddenly with you becomes no shtuch. It involves nothing said on Evolution perhaps you can extend what the Bostoner supposedly said (and maybe he did say what you said but I don't know you) to allowing belief in anything while your at it. Apologetics just means making an argument of defense but to you it means the defense loses automatically. You've made no coherent sense. As for talking Yeshivish I hardly think the author of this blog is envious, nor is it relevant to the argument.

    I have a question for you. If there would be no scientists would we have scientific laws or be able to say what they are? It appears you would be forced to answer no. To you all is authority right? Whatever the majority of scientists say that determines reality. So how does the process work? Do they get defined as scientists when they get a job? a diploma? What section of the brain is devoted to giving the majority of scientists the correct view? How did we discover this amazing truth? Why don't you stop wasting our time?

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  9. Unknown (Dovid A.),

    Shalom Aleichem! Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I have a comment to make.

    Anyone with a real understanding of these topics knows that the age of the niverse is not necessarily connected to Evolution. One can believe in an ancient world and still believe evolution is kfira.

    The term “Evolution” is not limited to Darwin’s theory of biological evolution. It can be used to describe the formation of galaxies and star worlds (cosmological evolution), the formation of basic elements (chemical evolution), the bonding of various elements to create molecules (molecular evolution), and the production of gases (gas evolution). “Evolution” is an idea. It is a philosophical doctrine which holds that the presence of the universe, its laws, its mass, and its dimensions; literally all of its phenomena (including abstract concepts such as human consciousness) can be accounted for via an appeal to materialistic causes.

    In order for this idea to possess even a shred of coherency, materialists need “time”. No one in his right mind would say that stars just formed instantly! Evolutionary cosmologists need time. They need 50 million years for the formation of a star. Evolutionary biologists need time. They need 575 million years for the current diversity of multi-cellular life to have evolved from unicellular life. Without time, Evolution never gets off the ground.

    On the other hand, our mesora does not require time. On the contrary, our mesora claims that the universe is recent. So do the pesukim in the Torah. Only the materialist requires time because he needs to explain the evolution of the universe without recourse to a Creator. Here’s a quote form the Rambam in the Moreh 3:50 (Friedlander translation – my emphases).

    “It is one of the fundamental principles of the Law that the Universe has been created ex nihilo, and that of the human race, one individual being, Adam, was created. As the time which elapsed from Adam to Moses was not more than about two thousand five hundred years, people would have doubted the truth of that statement if no other information had been added, seeing that the human race was spread over all parts of the earth in different families and with different languages, very unlike the one to the other. In order to remove this doubt the Law gives the genealogy of the nations (Gen. v. and x.), and the manner how they branched off from a common root. It names those of them who were well known, and tells who their fathers were, how long and where they lived. It describes also the cause that led to the dispersion of men over all parts of the earth, and to the formation of their different languages, after they had lived for a long time in one place, and spoken one language (ibid. xi.), as would be natural for descendants of one person.”

    So, according to the Rambam, “time” is intrinsically tied to “fundamental principles of the Law”. You can’t believe in an ancient universe. You must believe in a recent Creation.

    Now of course you can say that if the Rambam lived today he would change his mind. But that’s just empty speculation. To my mind, believing evolution is kefira is identical to believing that a billion year old universe is kefira. The belief comes from the same shoresh; our belief in the pesukim of the Torah and the mesorah of our sages combined with a total lack of any physical evidence to the contrary.

    Dovid, I did not do this topic justice. If you have questions on what I wrote, please write back.

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    1. To be honest, my comments were just relating to the Rebbes comments about believing in an ancient world. As you probably know, there are at least 8 explanations to explain the "age" of the universe. R Aryeh Kaplan and Gerald Schroder both explain the possiblity of the physical "evidence" of age being correct without need to take the six days of Bereishis from their literal meaning. In that sense, it is possible to beleive in an ancient universe and not be considered a kofer. None of the approaches address the theory of evolution, ie the development of life on earth (which is what most people refer to as evolution). And I agree, one who believes in 6 days k'peshuto, does not need any "addtional" time.
      Personally, I like the pshat of the Lubavitcher Rebbe whose explantation answers all the physical "evidence" and keeps Breishis literal.

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  10. To YA,

    The fact that you are even responding me means that I am not wasting my time; now that I have your attention, let me explain my perspective and hopefully this will clear up some misconceptions on your part.

    What particularly stands out about the Torah & Evolution controversy is that the adversaries of the "mainstream" Chareidi position are not fading away as quickly as other adversaries have in the past (I use the term "mainstream" for your convenience, as anyone with intellectual honesty realizes that turning meforshim into super-powered comic-book heroes who knew quantum mechanics by practicing kabbalistic gymanstics, as Rabbi Shlomo Miller implied in his letter against Rabbi Slifkin, is anything but mainstream)

    You see, until the Slifkin controversy broke out, the chareidi world seemed pretty much the winners over the ideological battles of yiddishkeit. All of the treife hashkafas seemed to have been defeated - Conservative & Reform were assimilating out of existence, Zionism was dying, the Mizrachi were persona non grata, and the Modern Orthodox were moving to the right. Even evolution, it seemed, was on its way out.

    All, that is, until Rabbi Slifkin proudly demonstrated otherwise. And that's the problem. To paraphrase George W. Bush, the chareidim just can't stand diversity! Kiruv literature is full of two second soundbites claiming to defeat kofrim as if they're all just bumbling idiots.
    It drives the apologists mad that there are yirei shamayim living amongst them that have hashkafas that they consider kefira. The yeshivish believers in evolution such as myself do not fit the caricatures of chazzer-fressing atheists that the chareidi media makes us out to be.

    That is why I am commenting on this site - to give a voice to the yeshivish crowd that still clings dearly to good ole' Torah uMadda values.

    As to YA's complete ignorance of what science is about, this forum is not the place to get an intellectually honest view of science. There are plenty of good books on science that I can recommend to you. Better yet, go to university :)

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  11. Flora I have been to university and plan to go back for more degrees. I know science very well. The scientific method doesn't include consensus whatever the fairies may have told you :).

    "That is why I am commenting on this site - to give a voice to the yeshivish crowd that still clings dearly to good ole' Torah uMadda values."

    The problem is you are not clinging to those values. Belief in Scientific consensus as the source of knowledge, as a belief in the Orthodox community is not at all the approach of Torah U'Madda. It is a corruption of the masses peculiar to our fast paced no time to think day i.e. believing in headline science and then congratulating oneself on one's "brilliance." Further Rabbi Slifkin hasn't demonstrated anything except differences of opinion. Evolution has more problems than ever, Conservative and Reform Judaism are dying out and the general Frum community Chareidi or not is more to the right at the very least because it is more informed. Rabbi Slifkin now has less influence in proportion to how much of the Frum community Chareidi or not sees his steady drift leftward. Modern Orthodox support to begin with has been a mixed bag for him. He has a knack for making enemies and alienating supporters. He has become about him as opposed to his cause.

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  12. "Flora

    To YA,

    The fact that you are even responding me means that I am not wasting my time;"

    No you're wasting you're time. You are relying on Ad Hominems and impressions. Tell me what is Yeshivish about you? What do you believe that makes you Yeshivish?

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  13. YA - Your comment --
    "Whatever the majority of scientists say that determines reality"

    underlines exactly how ignorant the anti-evolutionists are of science. Anyone who claims that scientists claim the above must have gotten a really bad education. The reality of my simian ancestry (and yours, too :) ) is not due to the "majority" of scientists" any more than the existence of electrons and quarks is.

    You repeat the constant refrain of chareidi apologists that the age old universe is somehow less of a science than other sciences. Tell me then - what if the "Gedoylim" paskined that the Earth is flat and brought rayas from medroshim to "prove" it (as the Shvus Yaakov actually did) - would you suddenly claim that celestial mechanics is not "real science"?

    The problem it seems, is that you project your own view of gedolim infallibility onto our view of the scientists, and that's what causes your mis-impression.

    I reiterate - this site is not the place to introduce science to ignoramuses who buy in to the claims of intellectually dishonest chareidi apologists lock, stock, and barrel. Evidence for evolution, and especially the age old universe, is not the issue, as there is abundant evidence already out there.

    The issue is one of values - do you accept the truth as it is, or do you censor out inconvenient truths in Artscroll biography style? The choice is yours - "choose life" - especially life that evolves :)

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  14. "Flora

    YA - Your comment --
    ""Whatever the majority of scientists say that determines reality"

    underlines exactly how ignorant the anti-evolutionists are of science. Anyone who claims that scientists claim the above must have gotten a really bad education. The reality of my simian ancestry (and yours, too :) ) is not due to the "majority" of scientists" any more than the existence of electrons and quarks is."

    Flora you did not read correctly. I wasn't saying whatever the majority say is what the scientists say you must follow. I was saying that seems to be your belief and you are not alone as there are many who are ignorant concerning the foundations of science including some amongst the scientists who stoke the belief in scientific consensus as the base of science.

    "The problem it seems, is that you project your own view of gedolim infallibility onto our view of the scientists, and that's what causes your mis-impression."

    I have no belief in the infallibility of the Gedolim. I also did not talk of the age of the universe. I was talking more in general terms. The problem is you believe in the infallibility of scientific consensus. If the majority of scientists would say and at present they do so say, that the universe is flat and you would travel in a space ship in a straight line and arrive back from back from where you came from you would explain that somehow they were right despite your empirical evidence. The fact is though that science is an interpretation of reality so unless you could fit your trip into the broader frame you would either have shown data that doesn't fit in with scientific interpretation i.e. law, theory or it would fit. If I don't see the sun come up but by all the data it should have I'm no scientist if I just say it's not there. You like so many others who don't understand how science works confuse data with theory and law. As for apologetics your tone is a crude form of apologetics. You just give labels and make assertions and avoid answering your opponents questions and say what online place or not is for answering as if there is some logical criterion other than your cowardice. I've answered everyone of your points. I have answered all your questions.

    "Tell me then - what if the "Gedoylim" paskined that the Earth is flat and brought rayas from medroshim to "prove" it (as the Shvus Yaakov actually did) - would you suddenly claim that celestial mechanics is not "real science"?"

    Now is the point where I will distinguish between Torah U'Mada and what you advocate when you call yourself a kofer. If by the Gedolim you mean those who everyone is required to follow and you mean there is no one amongst the authorities that give a contrary view then Rav Hirsch, and anyone from Torah U'Mada would say that yes the earth is flat if the Torah is true. I wasn't there to meet Rav Hirsch and alternate history is not considered a provable science but I doubt that for one moment Rav Hirsch would have abandoned the Torah.

    I do like your :)s though I do loath your so called thinking process.

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  15. Rabbi,

    "To my mind, believing evolution is kefira is identical to believing that a billion year old universe is kefira."

    I have a question. As you know I was raised ultra orthodox in a Yeshivish household (so chalking up my belief in evolution as a sort of semi Tinok shenishba doesn't seem very compelling). After years of analysis and learning I have come to accept evolution. I have spent years of my life discussing this with kiruv rabbis from America, Eretz Yisrael, and yourself.

    I understand that bias is always and issue and it is something that needs to be accounted for, and I try to minimize my biases to the best of my ability.

    After all of this, it has become clear to me that the chances of my brain being convinced against evolution are abysmal at best, based on the current data available (although that can always change if new data becomes available in the future).

    Realistically, there comes a time when I need to put this topic on the back-burner and live my life. I simply don't have the time to spend years of my life dedicated to arguing this one topic out anymore. I have a life to live, medicine to learn (which takes pretty much all of your time up as it is), and eventually I will have a family to raise. Arguing about evolution with kiruv rabbis is not even intellectually satisfying anymore - it is tiring, exhausting, boring, and most importantly: time consuming.

    I understand that you think my belief in evolution is misguided. I understand that you think there is no evidence for evolution. I understand that you think evolution contradicts out mesora. But I do see overwhelming evidence for evolution and realistically we will probably never see eye to eye on this topic. I understand why it is an important topic but at some point I need to be practical when it comes to devoting my energies to this.

    So my question is as follows: At the end of the day, since I am most likely not going to change my mind about evolution and the age of the universe, am I a kofer? Do I lose my share in olam haba? Does it all not matter anyway?

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  16. Hey Avi. How ya doin'? if you're going to be a doctor I'll only want to go to you if you don't say whatever the majority of doctors say is correct. Now it's true that not being a doctor myself I could say as Rabbi Slifkin had done that consensus is the way to go even in medicine but I am willing to plead ignorance when I don't or can't follow a medical argument rather than make myself feel I know what is medically true. Are you sure that just because your profession will not be Evolution aside from survival of the fittest bacteria or something, that you are not just taking the easy way out of accepting authority in a field i.e. science where authority should not mean er...anything (to use language that is totally presentable).

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  17. YA, I am well thank you. How are you? I will be starting medical school soon, so I will address your questions regarding the nature of authority in medicine and evolution.

    My work actually was in the evolutionary field (think scientific research in a laboratory) for some time before I went to medical school.

    But yes, I agree with you regarding your distaste for appeals to authority and I can assure you that my belief in evolution is NOT a default to the majority opinion. It was a very long process that took years of analysis.

    From a medical perspective: if you were my patient and I was fully convinced that procedure X would be better for you than procedure Y, and the majority of physicians advocated procedure Y, I would inform you of the majority opinion - but I would still tell you that I disagree and I would do my best to illustrate my reasons why. If you could absolutely not follow the medical argument at all I would simply say that the majority opinion is X and my professional opinion is Y. At that point it would be up to you to take your pick. The sentient patient always makes the final choice.

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  18. Hello Avi Bitterman - and welcome to the club!! You and I are members of a growing chorus of yeshivish guys (and girls) who openly accept the good ole' fashion compatibility of Torah and evolution.

    Don't forget that in the olden days, it was acceptable to believe in evolution. Authors such as Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan zt"l, Aryeh Carmell zt"l and yblc"t Dr. Gerald Schroeder were bon ton (i.e. fashionable) until the Chareidi takeover banned them into oblivion.

    So don't worry about losing your olam haba - if you do, you're in good company :) Besides, I have proven in the 4th comment on this post that the entire validity of bashing evolution as apikorsus rests entirely on the tennis-star rankings of Gedolim - עיין שם.

    As to YA, he keeps on pushing the issue of majority endlessly again & again, and although I told him twice that science is not about majority rules, he turns a deaf ear and mumbles the same hogwash. You are right - your energies are better spend focusing on your medical studies.

    To YA - I must comment that your running sentences are extremely hard to follow. But there is a plus side to your improper grammar - it just demonstrates that the Chareidim are bad at secular studies.

    I always knew that the "Daas Torah" crowd is lousy with science. Now I also know that it is lousy with grammar, so thanks YA for validating my convictions.

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  19. Flora: I hate to brake it to you but 1.I am not Chareidi. 2.As Avi notes I do not believe in authority in science. It seems you don't read me well but he does. 3.While you may not understand my sentences that has nothing to with grammar. 4.You think I'm lousy with science. Ok. Recite for me all the postulates of Relativity theory. I'll tell if you're right and be happy to explain the concepts if you can understand my grammar. 5.Ad Hominems when unaccompanied by signs of any argument worthy of the name makes one look like one has no argument. 6.I wasn't arguing with you so much as to scientific content, as much as opposing your scientific methodology. 7.You mention great names in Torah U'Madda why don't you emulate them and argue for more than authority but content? So far I just see authority from you.

    Avi welcome! I am doing fine and feeling better (partially through being a partial health nut) and will G-d willing have a tech job that would still allow me to go to school. I am glad you are not a consensus believer although we all have to worry about how much we take for granted without being aware of it.

    I would use as my doctor. Much of the time it seems the patient is relying on trust as the next best option but majority opinion?! that can kill too. Hatzlacha Rabbah. As for Olam Habah and Kofer status I leave that to Hahsem and Rabbis. I have enough to worry about in life (what to eat for instance) :).

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  20. It's actually very good that you are becoming a health nut. If there is one thing that I can't even begin to describe to you just how different of a world you will live in when you make a body transformation like that. The best way to undoubtedly extend your lifespan and raise your quality of life - it's to engage in the life of fitness. It even has been shown in the medical literature time and time again.

    I have lived in both worlds. And I can personally attest that they are not the same worlds at all. Have a look:

    http://postimage.org/image/j1wblfn45/

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  21. Avi Bitterman,

    Dear Avi,

    I almost cried when I read your missive. You’re a great guy. You’re sincere, intelligent, honest and well-meaning. I’m sorry that you have to endure such internal conflict at such a young age and I hope I have not contributed to your troubled state of mind. Of course, being troubled about olam haba is a good thing. Ha’livai all Jews were as sincere as you. Nonetheless I sympathize with your situation. In your honor I will write a lengthy and scholarly post dealing with your question. It will be called “Am I a Kofer”. Unfortunately I cannot get to it for at least a week. All my sefarim are packed in boxes (I’m moving this week) and I need access to sifrei halacha and machshava in order to treat your question properly. Please hold on a bit longer. I suspect that by the time I finish with my presentation your situation will not look so bleak.

    May Hahsem grant you hatzlacha in all your worthy endeavors,

    SC

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  22. Avi you're encouraging and right about healthy living. Thanks! I mostly do not eat cake or junk. I take loads of spices and chicken soup with spices and hot sauce and I feel different. The Rambam the best doctor in Egypt advised to take chicken soup. Some things haven't changed.

    SC Hatzlacha Rabbah with the move! May your next move only be to Yerushalayim to see Mashiach.

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  23. Rabbi,

    Thank you for taking your time to write such a post. I am honored. Though I must caution you that just as we both have our biases in the matter of evolution, I am sure we both have biases on this topic as well. The fact that you almost cried already shows that you are emotionally invested in the matter. This is not to say that that is a bad thing, on the contrary - it's a wonderful sign of compassion. But I just don't want these emotions to sway your analysis of the sifrei halacha and machshava. I am not asking for swayed reassurance that I will get olam haba or that I am not a kofer, I am just asking for the truth.

    I look forward to reading your post in the future and I trust that it will be as objective as possible.

    All the best with the move, safe travels!

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  24. In addition to Rav Hirsch's letter, there is a Teshuvas Hageonim which states the exact same view, that Chazal had no mesora on science and merely recorded their own observations. Will try to find exact source.

    There is also a Rambam Hil Kiddush Hachodesh 17, 24 woo states that any scientifically or mathematically proven fact, even by a non-Jew has the status of divrei neviim, since we look at the truth of the issue, not who said it.

    Rabbi Slifkin does have support for his derech. We look for the emes. Since many areas of science are emes, (your phone works, your car, your computer, etc.) he trusts that all areas of science are emes. It is known that bacteria do mutate, and thus some use this as support for evolution. However, the theory as a whole is not proven. But whatever has been firmly established by science, such as the orbits of the planets, is emes. If this contradicts Chazal or Rishonim, then what are you going to do? The Rambam says there are glass spheres in which each planet is embedded (that prevent them from falling to Earth). Yet our rockets to Mars never crashed into any of them. Clearly, the Rambam would have said go with the science of your times, not with my incorrect version.

    So the Rishonim clearly had incorrect scientific facts. Are you going to distinguish between the Rishonim and Chazal? Do you recommend applying a blood-sucking leach to your arm because the gemara mentions it? Please don't oversimplify complex problems. Aside from denying the existence of a Creator, arguing over the details of Maaseh Beraishis is not kefirah. And telling intelligent people to disbelieve the truth of the enterprise of science which has been quite successful won't wash. (Did Metlife stadium collapse during the siyum? Thank an engineer. Did the video system work? Thank another engineer.) Rabbi Slifkin works hard to provide harmony between the Torah and science. Telling people that they are required to follow primitive ideas, and not what they see in front of their own eyes, which is that we have rockets, cars, TV, computers that work because of science, will likely backfire and cause intelligent people to go off the derech.

    Just today I saw in Rabbi Slifkin's work on sheidim that he cites a Bais Shmuel in Even Haezer siman 6, os katan 17 that discusses the case of a sheid or ruach that had relations with a woman. Have you ever had to pasken on such a matter? Do you think it could ever happen or has ever happened?

    Don't trivialize these difficult matters and blame Rabbi Slifkin. Whether you agree with his approach or not, you need to grapple with the very real problems he raises. One can always bury his head in the sand and live blissfully, but that won't work for many other people.

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  25. Phones, cars and computers don't work because of evolution or big bang cosmology. These are entirely different branches of knowledge. As for rockets, we use Newtonian physics, instead of Einstein. Einsteins work showed that Newtons view of the universe is wrong, yet we still use his equations because they work well enough. Just because it works it does not mean the theory behind it is true.

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  26. Barry Jacobson,

    Shalom Aleichem! Welcome to our humble blog and thank you for sharing your views. Before I respond I need to inform you of the following. We have an open-comments policy on this blog which means that all comments post immediately. However, the protocols are set to a 45 day max. After that, comments automatically get routed to the moderation folder. I activated your comment when I became aware of it but in general I like to culminate discourse after 45 days. Now to your comment.

    In addition to Rav Hirsch's letter, there is a Teshuvas Hageonim which states the exact same view, that Chazal had no mesora on science and merely recorded their own observations. Will try to find exact source.

    Great. I’ll respond when you provide the quote.

    There is also a Rambam Hil Kiddush Hachodesh 17, 24 woo states that any scientifically or mathematically proven fact, even by a non-Jew has the status of divrei neviim, since we look at the truth of the issue, not who said it.

    I’ve quoted this Rambam numerous times on this blog. If memory serves, the first time I treated this Rambam (on this blog) is here. Please see my comments there.

    Rabbi Slifkin does have support for his derech. We look for the emes. Since many areas of science are emes, (your phone works, your car, your computer, etc.) he trusts that all areas of science are emes.

    You are correct in your assessment. Unfortunately, it seems you haven’t had much exposure to this blog. I have discussed this idea countless times. I’ve explained that there is a fundamental distinction between operational science and historical (or: origins based) science. You need to familiarize yourself with the literature that deals with the philosophy of science before attempting to dissect this sugya. Otherwise, you’re flying in the dark. If you want the quick tour, check out my latest blog on this issue here.

    It is known that bacteria do mutate, and thus some use this as support for evolution. However, the theory as a whole is not proven.

    Agreed.

    But whatever has been firmly established by science, such as the orbits of the planets, is emes.

    Is there any material on this blog that leads you to believe that any of its members reject firmly established science as emes?

    If this contradicts Chazal or Rishonim, then what are you going to do?

    Write a blog… (yeah, I’m a wise guy…)

    Continued in the next comment…

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  27. The Rambam says there are glass spheres in which each planet is embedded (that prevent them from falling to Earth). Yet our rockets to Mars never crashed into any of them. Clearly, the Rambam would have said go with the science of your times, not with my incorrect version.

    For an excellent treatment of Talmudic and Rishonic cosmology, please see Rabbi Lampel’s posts on this blog entitled The Nature of the Rakia.

    So the Rishonim clearly had incorrect scientific facts. Are you going to distinguish between the Rishonim and Chazal?

    That’s a hard-hitting question and I applaud you for broaching it. See my next comment.

    Do you recommend applying a blood-sucking leach to your arm because the gemara mentions it?

    No. There are certain refuos in the gemara that are not understood by us today. One approach is to dismiss them as vestiges of Hippocratic medicine. Another approach is to try and reconcile them with modern medicine. Yet another approach is to attribute a certain tentativeness to Chazal’s statements re medicine. There are many approaches. But all of them are speculative. When I run into a ma’amar Chazal that I don’t understand, I try and reconcile it with reality as I understand it. If I can’t, I say tzarich iyun. I feel this is the most circumspect. But I never ignore modern medicine. In my opinion, it is assur to do so.

    As far as Rishonim, my personal shita is that if they make any statements that are clearly based on contemporary science, we are not mechuyav to adopt them. So for instance, Rambam maintains that citrus fruits are deleterious to your health. In my opinion one is not mechuyav to accept this opinion.

    Please don't oversimplify complex problems.

    With all due respect, I do not understand where this comment is coming from. I spend a lot of time and effort researching my material. If you feel there are issues with my presentations, please be specific. I will gladly accept constructive criticism.

    Aside from denying the existence of a Creator, arguing over the details of Maaseh Beraishis is not kefirah.

    Maybe yes, maybe no. But who cares? Wasn’t it you that wrote that “we look for the emes”? That’s what this blog is about; emes. I challenge you to run a search on my posts. Type in the word kefira (or kefirah). You will look in vain for allegations of kefirah against Rabbi Slifkin.

    And telling intelligent people to disbelieve the truth of the enterprise of science which has been quite successful won't wash.

    Agreed! But only as relates to the enterprise of science that has been successful.

    (Did Metlife stadium collapse during the siyum? Thank an engineer. Did the video system work? Thank another engineer.) Rabbi Slifkin works hard to provide harmony between the Torah and science. Telling people that they are required to follow primitive ideas, and not what they see in front of their own eyes, which is that we have rockets, cars, TV, computers that work because of science, will likely backfire and cause intelligent people to go off the derech.

    As I mentioned before, it is obvious that you have not read very much on this blog.

    Don't trivialize these difficult matters and blame Rabbi Slifkin. Whether you agree with his approach or not, you need to grapple with the very real problems he raises. One can always bury his head in the sand and live blissfully, but that won't work for many other people.

    Not only do I not trivialize difficult matters of hashkafa, I maintain an online blog with well over 100 articles that “grapple” directly with the issues at hand. And this you consider “burying my head in the sand”??? Your comment is mystifying.

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  28. The Rambam says there are glass spheres in which each planet is embedded (that prevent them from falling to Earth). Yet our rockets to Mars never crashed into any of them.

    This is a widespread misconception. I pointed this out in my series, The Nature of the Rakia, but here are more complete quotations of the Rambam that make the point even stronger:

    ...אינם כמו החומר הזה אשר בנו, ולפיכך אין אנו יכולים לתארם אלא בשמות בלתי מוגדרים לא בחיוב המוגדר. שאנו אומרים כי השמים לא קלים ולא כבדים ולא מתפעלים, ולפיכך אינם מקבלים רשמים, ואינם בעלי טעם ולא בעלי ריח וכיוצא בשלילות אלו, כל זה בגלל אי ידיעתנו אותו החומר.

    …they are not made of the same matter that is with us, and we are therefore only able to describe them in terms negating the properties they lack. Thus, we say that the heavens are neither light nor heavy; they are not subject to outside influences, and therefore are not subject to impressions; and that they do not possess the sensations of taste and smell, and similar negations of attributes. All this us due to our lack of knowing that substance. (Guide For the Perplexed, 2:48)

    רמב”ם הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ג הלכה ג
    כל הגלגלים אינן לא קלים ולא כבדים ואין להם לא עין אדום ולא עין שחור ולא שאר עינות וזה שאנו רואין אותם כעין התכלת למראית העין בלבד הוא לפי גובה האויר וכן אין להם לא טעם ולא ריח לפי שאין אלו המאורעין מצויין אלא בגופות שלמטה מהן

    All the spheres are neither light in weight nor heavy, and they have no color...We only see them as bluish because of the height of the air.... (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 3:3)

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