Monday, September 26, 2011

Credible Science

Recently a group of scientists with the European Organization for Nuclear Research reported that over a three year period they had fired 15,000 neutrino beams approximately 750 kilometers away to a lab in Italy and found that the beams arrived 6 billionths of a second faster than the speed of light. Before announcing what they had found, the physicists working on the experiment claim that they checked and rechecked their findings over many months eliminating anything that could have produced a misreading. They then presented their findings to a room full of skeptical scientists.

Rabbi Slifkin writes as follows:

A number of people wrote to me about last week's report that a group of scientists at CERN tentatively claimed to have measured neutrino particles traveling faster than the speed of light - which modern science, based on special relativity, deems impossible. "If scientists were wrong about this, then maybe they were wrong about everything!" Maybe the universe isn't really 14 billion years old - maybe it's only 5771 years old!

To this question, Rabbi Slifkin offers the following sagely response.

Of course, the correct view is that some scientific facts are better grounded than others. Scientists might have to change their mind one day about the universe being 14 billion years old, but they are not going to discover that it is only a few thousand years old… For the non-specialist, it might be difficult to determine how well-established different scientific facts are. But it should be relatively easy to find out that the issues which concern (some) Jews - the antiquity of the universe, the common ancestry of living creatures, the non-existence of a global Flood… are very well grounded and will not ever be overturned.

All I can do is shake my head in disbelief, or perhaps, despair. For those interested in the truth, here are some facts.

Albert Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity has been tested thousands of times in the past hundred years. It is hard to find a more solidly based “scientific fact” than Special Relativity (SR). The CERN report is startling! And if it turns out to be true, it has the potential of overturning the entire science of Physics as we know it.

Here’s another fact. Evolutionary Common Ancestry (ECA) has never been tested, not even once! The entire theory is based on wild and un-testable speculation, nothing else. Furthermore, there isn’t even a shred of evidence for ECA. On the contrary, the fossil record reveals the sudden appearance of life-forms, a scenario that is diametrically opposed to that of ECA.

Here’s yet another fact. The age of the universe (13.7byr) is based on a theory which is entirely speculative. Big Bang Cosmology (BBC) is based on assumptions that have never been proven. Its fundamental tenets are opposed by contradictory evidence which can only be reconciled by inventing hypothetical entities which have never been observed to exist.

To equate SR with ECA and BBC is the height of scientific folly. The former is founded on solid evidence and extensive experimentation. The latter two are not. The fact that Rabbi Slifkin is able to equate SR with ECA and BBC, indeed even consider the latter two more well-founded than the former, clearly demonstrates his lack of understanding regarding the level of scientific evidence attributable to these theories. The truth is Rabbi Slifkin’s readers are right. If even Special Relativity can be questioned this should serve as a wake-up call to people like Rabbi Slifkin who allow silly theories like ECA to mold their theology in direct contradiction to our well-supported and rational traditions.  

As far as the non-existence of the global flood, I would love to know how scientists are absolutely sure this phenomenon never existed. I would also like to know how Rabbi Slifkin accounts for the presence of marine fossils on the tops of mountains all over the world. This, of course, is only one of many lines of evidence for a global flood. The Christian creationists have done a lovely job documenting the evidence for a global flood and the evidence is compelling. And although they deserve a big yasher koach for their efforts, it’s really too bad. We should be the ones on the forefront of defending the Torah. Instead, we are doing our best to align ourselves with the speculative drivel of the atheistic scientific community in direct contradiction to our ancient and well-founded traditions. Shame on us...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Esrogim – More of the Same

In response to our previous post, Rabbi Slifkin posted a clarification of his original position. Unfortunately his elucidation did not provide any clarity. In fact, it had the complete opposite effect. Here are his words followed by our analysis.

Rav Ettlinger was well aware that there is no absolute frame of reference. Indeed, in formulating his question, he himself says that the same question applies the other way around… But in my view… this sort of question would not be asked today. It would be inconceivable to us to be concerned about the position of the tree in Australia relative to Israel, and vice-versa… This question was only asked by Rav Ettlinger because people at that time were still in the process of internalizing the knowledge of the shape of the world…

As they say in the colloquial, this is bubba maasos! Rabbi Etlinger penned his  teshuva over 350 years after mankind became aware that the world was round! On the contrary, it was this awareness, and its internalization, that was the very cause of Rabbi Etlinger’s halachic quandary. Since the world is round, therefore the derech gidul is different in Australia than it is in Israel and we now have a sha’ala; which frame of reference should be used to define the halachic requirement of derech gidulo? Should we use the geographical growth of the lulav, or should we use the geographical location of its owner? Without a round world, an upside-down lulav sha’ala would be incoherent.

All this is obvious to the unbiased individual. Unfortunately Rabbi Slifkin is on a mission. He is constantly on the lookout for examples which, to his mind, demonstrate the fallibility of our ba’alei mesorah. His eagerness to demonstrate the advanced sensibilities of the modern man over his predecessors is what caused him to pen his original erroneous post. And it is precisely this eagerness which caused him to defend his position with an argument that is as equally erroneous as his initial one.

Please note: It is not my intention to highlight Rabbi Slifkin’s personal failings chs’v. This blog is above that (I hope). The purpose of this blog is to defend the validity of our mesorah against its attackers, foreign (goyim) or domestic (yidden). Rabbi Slifkin is a young, talented rabbi and a prolific writer. Unfortunately, he is on the wrong side of the fence.

Rabbi Slifkin writes as follows:

even we today have still not entirely internalized the correct view, and we feel uncomfortable with an "upside-down" map of the world.

This has nothing to do with the mandate of this blog but I’d like to comment on this statement.

First of all, we will always be uncomfortable with an upside-down map of the world. It is no different than trying to read a book upside down. We are used to seeing maps with North on top and South on the bottom. If one day they decide to make maps with South on top, then our previous comfort level will eventually change to conform to the new convention.

Second of all, I think I can offer an explanation as to why North was chosen as an absolute frame of reference (the other cardinal directions are defined as degrees from North) while simultaneously explaining why North is considered up and South down.

There are many stars in the sky and their seeming position changes over the course of the night as they appear to rotate around the earth’s celestial axis. Imagine a pole which travels through the center of the earth and upon which the earth rotates. This imaginary pole goes way up into the sky and the stars seem to change their positions at night as they rotate around this pole. Actually the earth is rotating and the stars are stationary but this is what appears to be happening. However, there is one visible exception to this rule.

The star Polaris remains relatively fixed above the North Pole. It is defined as the prominent (i.e. visible to the naked eye) star which lies directly overhead when viewed from the North Pole. Historically the North Star has served as an indispensible tool for purposes of navigation. This explains why North was chosen as an absolute frame of reference for the four cardinal directions and it also explains why North is synonymous with an upwards direction. How? Since North is identified as the direction which possesses a fixed star above it, it is thus used as the absolute direction from which the other directions flow. And since the defining element of the direction North is a star which is fixed above it in space, any point on earth below the North Pole is considered further below this star thereby making the direction North on earth an upwards direction.

I’m not such a chacham. I’m sure I read this somewhere, sometime. I just can’t find it right now. Maybe I’m wrong… comments welcome…

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lulavim and Rationalism

In his most recent post, Rabbi Slifkin tries to explain his rationalist approach to the statements of Chazal. He justifies this approach by pointing out that just because someone errs does not make him stupid. The adoption of this attitude is supposed to make it easier for the reader to swallow his rationalist approach to Chazal. It goes without saying that the authors of this blog possess a radically different opinion of the concept of "Rationalism" and how it interfaces with the statements of Chazal. But now is not the time and place. What I’d like to focus on is Rabbi Slifkin’s example. In his eagerness to demonstrate his point, he commits a serious blunder while simultaneously contravening his very own justification for Rationalism.

In reference to the halachic question of which direction an Australian lulav should be held by one who is celebrating Succos in the northern hemisphere, Rabbi Slifkin writes as follows:

No less an authority than Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, famed author of Aruch LaNer and a university graduate, discussed this question. He suggested that it was more reasonable that they should be held in the normal position. Others, however, apparently disagreed. To the modern reader, this sounds ludicrous. Australians are not "upside-down"! There is no absolute frame of reference! This case exemplifies the challenge that I have faced many times in teaching the rationalist approach to Chazal. Very few people are able to appreciate that errors made by people in very different eras and cultures do not reflect any sort of stupidity.

Wait a minute! R’ Yaakov Etlinger lived in the nineteenth century! He died just before Albert Einstein was born. He was aware of the law of gravity, he was aware of the vastness of space, and he was aware that the world was round. Concordantly, he should have been aware that people in Australia were not “upside down”. If his shaa’la hinged on the fact that Australians are "upside-down", it sounds pretty stupid, doesn’t it? According to Rabbi Slifkin, any “modern reader” understands the ludicrousness of this position. Why didn’t Rabbi Etlinger understand it?

The answer is, Rabbi Etlinger was not stupid at all. On the contrary, anyone who believes that Rabbi Etlinger committed such a serious faux pas is lacking in plain common sense. Rabbi Etlinger was not talking about Australians; he was talking about Australian lulavim and the direction they grow. When it comes to the concept of derech gidulo, there most definitely is an absolute frame of reference. It’s very simple. The direction a lulav grows in Australia is diametrically opposed to the direction a lulav grows in Alaska. Thus, an individual holding an Australian lulav in Alaska derech gidul of Alaska is holding the lulav upside down in reference to the derech gidul of Australia. This concept is simple. It requires a minimum of thought to grasp. So why didn’t Rabbi Slifkin pick up on it? There is a saying amongst our sages: ha’ahava mikalkeles es ha’shura. Loosely translated, "personal involvement corrupts common sense".