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Do I need to Reconcile Science and Torah?

Posted on | January 9, 2007 | By Rabbi Alter Klein | 101 Comments

Most people ask “How do they reconcile science and Torah?” I ask, “Do I need to?”

As a BT, I grew up in the secular, science-based world. I even went to Bronx High School of Science and got my undergraduate degree in archaeology.

You would think the question about science and Torah would be a burning issue for me. It isn’t. Why? Good question. I think the answer is that Chazal (our sages) have answers for us. My main focus in this article is the age of the universe.
Out of the two major answers, science jives better with one of them. However, I recognize what science is and what it isn’t. It isn’t perfect, far from it. Second, it consists mainly of theories that change by the day and I will take Rabbi Akiva over any scientist, any day.

One answer is that the universe really is 5767 years old in “real years” and everything that shows differently according to science is either mistaken or made to look that way by G-d to test our faith. Many of our sages held and do hold by this.

The second answer is that the universe is really 15 billion years old. The Jewish calendar only starts from forming of Adam, which is on the 6th day of creation. The previous days are not “our” days. Rather, each one represents thousands of years. This theory is well explained by some of our sages. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan has an excellent discussion about this in his book entitled “Immortality, Resurrection, and the Age of the Universe”. Professor Schroeder also discusses the issue in his book “The Science of G-d”. Numerous other authors have discussed tgis theory as well.

For me, either answer is valid and assuaging. If you “need” science and Torah to match then you have an answer. If you don’t, you also have a possibility. Yes, I lean a certain way, but if in the end of days I find out the answer was the other one, no big sweat. Hashem existed before anything, designed the world as he saw fit and that is ok by me. G-d is all powerful, so he could definitely make some rocks look older than they really are. G-d help me if I base my emunah (faith) on what scientists tell me.

Let’s remember that Moses received the Torah from G-d and Mr. Scientist received a grant for his research from so and so foundation. I know whom I trust more.

Comments

101 Responses to “Do I need to Reconcile Science and Torah?”

  1. elisheva
    January 9th, 2007 @ 5:17 am

    Fantastic article!

  2. Bob Miller
    January 9th, 2007 @ 9:02 am

    I’ve posted this piece on Mishmar, but I think it fits in well with the points above:

    In many postings on the web, I’ve seen various ways of understanding the interaction of miracles with “nature and history”. I’m beginning to think that the paradoxes associated with this interaction are a subset of the Big Paradox associated with the interaction between HaShem and the created world—that we associate with concepts like “tzimtzum”.
    Looking at it in this way, I marvel at the many weird solutions people feel they must advance to account for the apparent lack of “evidence on the ground” for past miracles documented in Tanach (e.g., the Mabul) and elsewhere. Because if HaShem, for His own reasons, including the maintenance of our ability to have free choice, conceals himself in varying degrees, why should it be impossible for them to understand that He “covers the tracks” of His miracles in varying degrees?

    People often rule out the rapid creation of a fully functioning world, saying that the scientifically observed age of the world (whatever that is, lately) has to be real, because otherwise these observations would be the result of deception! Have they not heard our Sages call this a world of “sheker”, while the afterlife is a world of “emes”? What do they suppose that means?
    And, just because we are granted enough reliable sensory input and analytical capability to carry out our daily tasks, that doesn’t mean we can have a complete model of how the whole world is run.

    Looking at the final paragraph of the Shema, I note that our hearts and our eyes should be disregarded if they provide input injurious to our mitzvah observance or faith. I don’t think this is limited to lustful thoughts and sights; there is reason to believe this applies also to very rational, scientific thoughts and sights.

    We are not cheated of accurate knowledge about HaShem’s miracles because of any missing or possibly misleading physical evidence. He gave us the Written and Oral Torah to supply everything we need to know about these events.

  3. Bob Miller
    January 9th, 2007 @ 9:34 am

    Also, for the period before the Creation process had been completed, there is no compelling reason to assume that today’s physical laws were all fully operative. Why do we refer to the Days of Creation (however defined) if we don’t believe that Creation was still going on then?

    See:

    http://www.toriah.com/wiki/index.php?title=Main_Page

    http://www.toriah.org/Torah/RZL/Our-Sages-on-Days-of-Creation.htm

  4. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)
    January 9th, 2007 @ 10:22 am

    תעלים עין מן הבעיות, that’s fine, as long as you recognize what science is — a useful method and tool for making sense of the physical world and how it works, and using that information to make predictions about hypothetical scenarios.

    I’m a big fan of science, and part of the scientific process *is* openness to being one-upped or contraindicated by later discoveries.

    What science is not, on the other hand, is a conspiracy of anti-God evildoers out to destroy our emuna.

    Speaking of conspiracies, the idea that God faked all the evidence to ‘test our faith’ is a fairly *recent* idea, first suggested by Philip Gosse.

  5. Menachem Lipkin
    January 9th, 2007 @ 11:33 am

    As a G-d-fearing Torah Jew who believes in an all-powerfull omnipotent Creator it would not be theologically problematic for me to be shown that G-d created the world as literally described in B’Reishit. As a rational human being with a modicum of curiosity, I see no reason, at this point, to discount my senses, my thoughts, and the body of knowledge we, as humans, are compiling.

    While science does make mistakes, taken over a long period of time it generally moves in the direction of truth. Its accomplishments in biology, medicine, astronomy, and physics testify to that. Combine that with the fact that many among Chazal, long before evidence for a Big Bang and an ancient world existed, posited non-literal interpretations for the Creation narrative.

    My real concern is for those who are being “guided” into a box of only believing the literal interpretation. What will happen to their emunah if incontrovertible evidence is presented to counter that interpretation? (According to many there already exists such evidence.) While science generally moves forward I feel that a large segment of our community has recently taken a step in the opposite direction.

  6. Menachem Lipkin
    January 9th, 2007 @ 11:43 am

    From Bob Miller:

    “Have they not heard our Sages call this a world of “sheker”, while the afterlife is a world of “emes”?”

    There’s too much in science that “works” for one to able to selectively apply this to just one dicipline.

    As for the the toriah.com site, I would just caution people that, while the information there is presented somewhat professionally, they have a very clear agenda and are quite selective in what and how they present their ideas.

  7. Bob Miller
    January 9th, 2007 @ 12:40 pm

    Menachem Lipkin said:

    “they have a very clear agenda and are quite selective in what and how they present their ideas.”

    People advocate and attempt to support their own positions, and the reader has to try to sort it all out. How far must we have fallen if we have to be reminded to read critically!

    Menachem Lipkin said:

    “As a rational human being with a modicum of curiosity, I see no reason, at this point, to discount my senses, my thoughts, and the body of knowledge we, as humans, are compiling.”

    There’s no need to check our brains at the door, just a need to be properly modest about our abilities and accomplishments. We were given the Torah (written and oral) for good reasons, including that we need vital information we could not intuit or discover otherwise.

  8. Steve Brizel
    January 9th, 2007 @ 12:55 pm

    Steg’s point is IMO, very well taken. We should all be very reluctant to confuse scientific and technological research and advancements which benefit all of mankind and demonstrate the complex nature of man and nature and the proof that only a Divine Creator could have set it all into effect with the secular religion known as scientism that posits that only an atheist can be a “true scientist.”

  9. DK
    January 9th, 2007 @ 1:20 pm

    Just a minor, editing note, R. Alter — you inadvertently deleted Rabbi Slifkin’s answer.

  10. Menachem Lipkin
    January 9th, 2007 @ 1:22 pm

    From Bob Miller:

    “There’s no need to check our brains at the door, just a need to be properly modest about our abilities and accomplishments.”

    Likewise we need to be properly modest about our understanding of cryptic Torah passages. That chazal had an array of interpretations of creation should humble us into NOT putting all of our money on just one.

    “We were given the Torah (written and oral) for good reasons, including that we need vital information we could not intuit or discover otherwise.”

    Similarly, Rabbis of the Gemorah were wise enough to know when to go to outside sources for information they could not get from their own Torah knowledge. It’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t be doing so today if they were around.

  11. IRA RESNICK
    January 9th, 2007 @ 1:37 pm

    When adam and eve were created, they were fully formed adults. The trees were created fully grown and sprouting fruit. Adam saw many stars in the sky that were thousands of light years away on his first night on earth.
    If G-D could create this, why couldn’t He create an earth that looked like it was millions of years old, complete with fossils, etc.

  12. David S
    January 9th, 2007 @ 1:48 pm

    I think that the this article hits the main point right on the head, but then fails to adequately explain why.

    I agree with Rav Klien that reconciling science and religion should not be a requirment of faith. If it was, we would have to wait an aweful long time to believe anything, because secular knowledge is still in the learning stage.

    I also believe that the two quests are meaningfully different. The quest of science is the quest for objective knowledge and the quest of religion is the search for meaning. To the extent that they both examine the same topics, they should still come up with different results.

    That said, it should not be the case that one should accept falsehoods just because Chazal said them. As we all know, there were many disagreements between Chazal on much less esoteric subjects and thus it is not hard to believe that they may have been wrong on some of the facts of our universe. This doesnt negate their wisdom or diminish it since in the search for meaning is separate and apart from the search for knowledge.

  13. David Linn
    January 9th, 2007 @ 3:01 pm

    DK,

    Where did the post mention Slifkin?

  14. BrooklynWolf
    January 9th, 2007 @ 3:08 pm

    I recently listened to a shiur from R. Gottlieb (I love my new MP3 player!) and he basically repeated the same two answers that you gave. He clearly leans toward Gosse as well.

    My problem with Gosse, very simply, is that if you are going to call science wrong, then you cannot invoke Gosse since it is, by definition, unscientific. By scientific standards, Gosse is indistinguishable from Last Thursdayism.

    If you want to maintain that Gosse or Last Thursdayism is correct, by all means, feel free to do so. But then don’t assail the scientific conclusion as being incorrect.

    The Wolf

  15. Steve Brizel
    January 9th, 2007 @ 4:15 pm

    David Linn-WADR, why would not a reasonable reader have thought that R Slifkin was included in what the author listed anonymously as “numerous other authors”?

  16. David Linn
    January 9th, 2007 @ 4:52 pm

    Steve:

    I’m not saying that a reasonable reader wouldn’t have thought that, but Alter didn’t discuss any of the “Answers” presented by even the authors he did quote by name. As such, I’m puzzled as to why DK would say that Alter “inadvertently deleted Rabbi Slifkin’s answer”.

    While sarcasm is difficult to detect in the written word, i do believe that DK’s point was veritably dripping.

  17. Bob Miller
    January 9th, 2007 @ 4:54 pm

    I think DK was being facetious in making the R. Slifkin reference in Comment #9.

  18. Michoel
    January 9th, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

    “If you want to maintain that Gosse or Last Thursdayism is correct, by all means, feel free to do so. But then don’t assail the scientific conclusion as being incorrect.”

    Why not? It could be that H’ created a finished world and it could also be that science is incorrect. Two seperate points.

    I happen to hold that H’ created a finished world and that the scientific data is largely accurate. The issue is what to do with that data.

  19. Michoel
    January 9th, 2007 @ 5:13 pm

    BTW, It is has become extremely au currant in some elements of the blogosphere to refer to the idea of a finished world as Gosse Theory. I find it very distasteful. That is the pashut p’shat in Chazal.

  20. Michoel
    January 9th, 2007 @ 5:16 pm

    Rav Aryeh Kaplan has also compared this concept to last Thursdayism (Wednesdayism actually). I honestly have trouble getting my head around it and would appreciate any non-condecending help. By what right to those that maintaim a billions year old briya have greater confidence in there perceptions? “The truth is that Mesora always existed. It began with G-d creating Adam and Chava as fully-grown in mind and body. They awoke that first moment already aware of their mission and the incontrovertible knowledge of G-d’s reality.” from Rabbi Tendler. This concept is found in Rambam and other sources. A finished world does not have to challene the reliability of our perceptions. We have confidence in our seichel which tells us (al pi mesora) that the world was created finished at a specific time.

  21. Menachem Lipkin
    January 9th, 2007 @ 5:32 pm

    Of course G-d could have done anything. We all believe that. I personally find it distasteful to think that He created false information when he created the world.

    -There are cave paintings that are older than 6,000 years. Did G-d draw these primitive images? Why?

    -Say you observe a supernova of star that is 10,000 light years away. If the universe is only 6,000 years old then you are seeing an image of event that never happened.

    -Why are there fossils of animals that never existed?

    One can answer that all these things are there to test our faith in the literal reading of the Torah. And if that works for some, then great. But it’s important, especially in this forum, to acknowledge that there are legitimate sources who allow us to accept that that these things are not “tricks” and that there are valid, less literal intepretations.

  22. Michoel
    January 9th, 2007 @ 5:44 pm

    “Of course G-d could have done anything. We all believe that. I personally find it distasteful to think that He created false information when he created the world. ”

    Menachem, is this some kind of “come back”? It wouldn’t be an aveira for you to completely disagree with the idea of a finished world and yet agree that we can respectfully attribute the idea to Torah authorities that preceeded Gosse by hundreds or thousands of years.

  23. Menachem Lipkin
    January 9th, 2007 @ 5:51 pm

    Michoel. Not sure what you’re saying.

  24. BrooklynWolf
    January 9th, 2007 @ 5:52 pm

    Michoel,

    OTOH, if we maintain that the idea is wrong, I’m sure you’d rather we attribute the wrong idea to Gosse than to Chazal. :)

    The Wolf

  25. Michoel
    January 9th, 2007 @ 5:53 pm

    Let’s just state up front that neither of us likely has time to do justice to this discussion:
    Paintings: How were they dated? Obviously that components of the paint are older than the paintings. If the world was created finished than it had carbon-14 depeleted substances etc.

    Supernova- to me is a complete non-issue. The purpose of stars is presumably that people should see them (as it says in chumash). Should G-d have created stars initially 6000 years ago that we would not see for millions of years? If He wanted us to see stars and He also wanted there to be a constant called speed of light, than He would create star-light that is already visible.

    Dimosaur fossils- Here I don’t share your (full) confidence in the science. But in any case I think there are true to mesora ways of resolving the issue. Shmittos etc.

    I don’t believe that H’ created phenomena to intentionally confuse us. I do beleive that he may test our faith in different ways. In fact, the Torah states explicitly that a navi sheker is to test us. I feel that it is importatn, especially in forums like this, that we do not shy away from expressing (what I feel is) mainstream pshat. I have to run. Maybe more later.

  26. Michoel
    January 9th, 2007 @ 5:55 pm

    Wolf,
    That is cute. But since I don’t know how the idea can reasonably be shown wrong with any certitude so I am not worried about it. I have never seen Gosse inside. I am only referring to the idea of H’ creating a finished world.

  27. Michoel
    January 9th, 2007 @ 5:57 pm

    Menachem,
    You seemed to quote my words “I find it distasteful” in a tit for tat kind of way.

  28. Bob Miller
    January 9th, 2007 @ 8:04 pm

    Some of my best friends are dinosaurs.

  29. Steg (dos iz nit der šteg)
    January 9th, 2007 @ 11:03 pm

    Wow, me and Steve Brizel agree about something! ;-)

    Of course, not *completely*…

    S.B. talked about scientific and technological research and advancements which benefit all of mankind and demonstrate the complex nature of man and nature and the proof that only a Divine Creator could have set it all into effect.

    I don’t see it that way; technological advancements and examination of nature to me aren’t a *proof* of the Divine Creator, since i’m not looking for proof — i already believe in the Creator. To me it’s more like more impressive *examples* of the Divine Creator’s artistry.

    When i cross the George Washington Bridge back and forth to work every day, thank God, in the midst of a beautiful panorama of natural and artificial scenery, i think “wow God, great job!”. I don’t think “see? take that you people who believe in randomness, you’re wrong!”

  30. zach
    January 9th, 2007 @ 11:06 pm

    [Science] “consists mainly of theories that change by the day”. Nonsense. This shows how little you know about science. But understandable given the typical yeshiva’s curriculum.

    “I will take Rabbi Akiva over any scientist, any day.” Like how he believed that the cruel Bar Kochba was moshiach? Do you really think that this “theory” of his didn’t change?

  31. Menachem Lipkin
    January 10th, 2007 @ 1:02 am

    From Michoel:

    “You seemed to quote my words “I find it distasteful” in a tit for tat kind of way.”

    Sorry Michoel, did not mean that at all. I was just responding generically to a bunch of posts.

    If I wanted to insult you I would have quoted you first. :)

  32. Menachem Lipkin
    January 10th, 2007 @ 1:26 am

    From Michoel:

    “Paintings: How were they dated?”

    There are a myriad of dating methodologies besides Carbon-14. But if you believe in the mature world theory, then dating is irrelevent.

    Another problem with finding ancient civilizations, as Rabbi Slifkin points out, is that according to the Gosse theory they would have to have been created with memories of things that didn’t happen. Again, “easily” explained by Gosse, but becoming an ever increasing web of deception.

    “Supernova- to me is a complete non-issue.”

    The supernova is my own pet peeve. It’s not just a star who’s light G-d wanted us to see. It’s an event, the death of a star in giant ball of fire. So information is being transmitted to us about an event that did not happen to star that never existed. Yes, sure G-d could have done it that way, but the more of these “deceptions” one becomes aware of, the more it would seem like we are living in a “Matrix” and not a real world.

  33. Ora
    January 10th, 2007 @ 8:22 am

    Zach–You seem to have missed the first sentences of Rav Klein’s post. He majored in science. If you want to insult his background, insult his college, not his yeshiva.

    I would agree that “change by the day” is somewhat of an exaggeration. Most major theories change infrequently. But they do change. Cosmology in particular is a field with many wildly different and frequently changing theories. (And if you disagree, blame the professor who taught my Cosmology class. We didn’t do cosmology in sem).

    Menachem–For whatever reason, supernovas are a necessary part of creation and something that people need to see. Why does it matter how they were actually created? whether Hashem actually made a star and then made it explode and send light to the earth at exactly light speed versus just creating the light directly? Saying that Hashem created a world that appears mature doesn’t mean saying that He’s using “deceptions.” He has a purpose (us seeing supernovas), and how He accomplishes that purpose doens’t really affect us so much.

    That’s how I feel about the issue in general. As a bio major, I learn about evolution. Other than my lab work, the question of whether or not Hashem creates new species directly or through a natural-appearing process (there’s no such thing as “nature” either way IMO) affects nothing. No matter what the answer, it is a miracle from Hashem. And knowing the answer is completely unnecessary for my day-to-day living. Maybe the world was created in six of our days, maybe it was created in what we would think of as billions of years, either way I have to go make lunch and then do errands and study stupid Java.

  34. Menachem Lipkin
    January 10th, 2007 @ 8:56 am

    From Ora:

    “For whatever reason, supernovas are a necessary part of creation and something that people need to see. Why does it matter how they were actually created?”

    This further enhances my point. In the scenario I presented the supernova never happened. All we have is information indicating that it did. So accordingling, it was not “a necessary part of creation”. The word “deception” may be unduly negative sounding, but it accurately describes what many here are proposing.

    In the big picture Ora is correct, knowing these answers really doesn’t affect our day to day lives. However, on a practical level, especially in this forum, it’s important to show people coming into yiddushkeit from a background where much of this science is accepted as fact, that it’s possible to reconcile Torah and science.

    What matters to me then, aside from my own curiosity, is that this avenue not be closed down by those in certain segments of our community who are seeking to reject valid opinions of Chazal in an effort to put the Genie back in the bottle.

    So to answer Alter’s title question, maybe Alter doesn’t need to reconcile Science and Torah, but it is vitally important that people feel that they can.

  35. Bob Miller
    January 10th, 2007 @ 9:44 am

    Rav Shimon Schwab ZT”L’s approach to the timing of Creation is worth considering seriously.

    See this discussed in Item 2. of:

    http://www.simpletoremember.com/faqs/Science_and_Judaism.htm

    and its footnotes #17 and #18.

  36. Michoel
    January 10th, 2007 @ 10:05 am

    Mi: Paintings: How were they dated?”

    Me: There are a myriad of dating methodologies besides Carbon-14. But if you believe in the mature world theory, then dating is irrelevent.

    Adaraba. Correct that the entire school of radiometric dating may be irrelevant to dating SUBSTANCES, if we posit a finished world. However, I freely admit that the early dating of prehistoric cultures is still a very good question. So I would sincerely like to know by what technique these cultures are dated (independent of the substance dating) such that you have such confidence in them.

  37. Michoel
    January 10th, 2007 @ 10:22 am

    zach,
    I would like to just ignore your tone and address your point. You have heard of Richard Dawkins I’m sure. He stated (paraphrase) that those scienctists that reject the theory of evolution always have degrees that do not directly come to bare on the subjects that are relevant. He was refering, I believe, to the very long list of scientists associated with the ICR, which is a Fundamentalist Christian group. He is somewhat correct that many of them are MDs or PHDs in marginally related subjects. It is quite clear then that he considers a mere BS in bio-chem for example to be insufficient to “argue from rank” so to speak. So for someone with a bunch of college courses in the sciences or even a BS in bio-chem to argue from rank with someone with a yeshiva degree is silly. It is like someone with a that passed trigonometry arguing about Relativity with someone still learnig algebra. I happen to feel that non-professionals can say intelligent things about science and that formal science education can actually hurt a person’s ability to see the issues objectively. But according to your shita, why do you feel yourself qualified to comment?

  38. Menachem Lipkin
    January 10th, 2007 @ 10:29 am

    Dr. Schroeder talks about C-14 in his Dr. Schroeder talks about C-14 in his book, “The Science of G-d”. He explains that the potential problem with C-14 dating is that it depends on a constant intensity of cosmic radiation over a long period of time. He said that new methods of dating use other radioactive elements, uranium-thorium, which are not dependent on cosmic constants. According to Dr. Schroeder the newer method come fairly close to validating C-14.

    Both Dr. Schroeder and Rabbi Slifkin discuss other types of dating methods that involve more direct observation such as various types of layering.

    If one is willing to look beyond the Gosse-type explanation then are enough dating methods to gain a level of confidence of various “young” artefacts.

  39. Michoel
    January 10th, 2007 @ 10:32 am

    Supernova Never Happening

    While agree with Rabbi Slifkin and others that “nishtaneh hateva” is overused, when we have innumerable maamarei chazal that indicate the teva during the time of creation was radically different than it is now, it seems presumptuous to demand of Hashem that he play by our rules. Maybe super-nova happend and the speed of light was millions of times faster. Maybe the speed of light was the same but the expansion of the univers was vastly faster. Maybe some combination. Maybe some other factor that we cannot fathom.

  40. Menachem Lipkin
    January 10th, 2007 @ 11:11 am

    From Michoel:

    ‘Maybe super-nova happend and the speed of light was millions of times faster. Maybe the speed of light was the same but the expansion of the univers was vastly faster. Maybe some combination. Maybe some other factor that we cannot fathom.”

    Maybe, based on the theory of relativity, time passage in the rapidly forming new universe was vastly different than time passage from G-d’s perspective and several billion years elapsed in the 6 days of creation as measured on HIS calendar.

    Now you’re on the right track. :)

  41. Michoel
    January 10th, 2007 @ 11:38 am

    Gevaldig we agree! Especailly with the word “Maybe”. Maybe, Maybe, Maybe. “Limed l’shoncha lomar aini yodea.”

  42. JS
    January 10th, 2007 @ 12:53 pm

    “Maybe, based on the theory of relativity, time passage in the rapidly forming new universe was vastly different than time passage from G-d’s perspective and several billion years elapsed in the 6 days of creation as measured on HIS calendar.”

    Maybe, the passage of time during creation was different than the way we know it after creation, and many years were condensed into 6 actual calendar days.

    The Torah tells us the world was created in 6 days, and every word of the Torah is Emes. Six days in the way it means to man may have had many “years” condensed into them. Time is a creation of G-d, and He can manipulate it in any way.

    To Zach,

    This is a BT blog, and it is therefore a bit bewildering to see your scoffing at Yeshiva curriculum of posters here. Very few among us went through a Yeshiva curriculum. Something tells me you did, though.

    Having taken a number of graduate level science courses, I have at least a modicum of knowledge to converse with like-educated others. You made a snide comment about Rabbi Kleins knowledge of science (without even reading his background, as clearly written in the post. Elementary scientific investigation apparently lacking here…)but you did not offer a counter argument.

    Perhaps you do not have one, but feel the need to mock any and all of such perspective? Assuming you do have some credentials to suggest an alternate position, perhaps you should do just that, instead of posting an empty insult that reflects on your attitude more than on the topic.

  43. Illana B.
    January 10th, 2007 @ 1:39 pm

    I found this post appropriate and fair, and I like his main point. However, I agree with DK that Rabbi Slifkin’s take on evolution/age of the universe should have been included.

  44. Bob Miller
    January 10th, 2007 @ 2:21 pm

    “Rabbi Slifkin’s take on evolution/age of the universe should have been included”

    By now it’s included nearly everywhere under the sun. So everything anyone would want to know about it is out there. I don’t feel that every blog is obliged to rehash all this.

  45. BrooklynWolf
    January 10th, 2007 @ 2:46 pm

    I find it interesting that this conversation comes up the day before it’s announced that the Pillars of Creation have been destroyed (as discussed on my blog). Since the pillars are more than 7,000 light years away, does that mean that they never really existed and the image we see in the sky now is a complete fake?

    The Wolf

  46. Bob Miller
    January 10th, 2007 @ 2:52 pm

    Pretty nebulous to me.

  47. JZ
    January 10th, 2007 @ 3:19 pm

    “Pretty nebulous to me.”

    Nebulae?

  48. Baruch Horowitz
    January 10th, 2007 @ 3:19 pm

    Regarding Slifkin, which was brought up by various commenters, I sometimes wish that we could simply go back to the status quo before his books, when some of the unconventional ideas were more acceptable in the broader yeshiva world.

    Three years ago, people were not so worried with the Age of the Universe or proving which Rishonim were correct regarding understanding the nature of chszal’s scientific knowledge(a separate issue). While the issues aren’t identical, it’s as if in 5767(however you understand that!), people have suddenly taken to decide the Maimondean Controversy, which for centuries was the Jewish equivalent of “to be or not to be”.

    I understand one must face the current reality after the recent events,and I am a realist, but it would be nice if we could somehow turn back the clock.

    “I’ve posted this piece on Mishmar, but I think it fits in well with the points above”

    Bob,

    Thanks for mentioning Mishmar(I know that we have exchanged views on that post).

    “Looking at the final paragraph of the Shema, I note that our hearts and our eyes should be disregarded if they provide input injurious to our mitzvah observance or faith. I don’t think this is limited to lustful thoughts and sights; there is reason to believe this applies also to very rational, scientific thoughts and sights.”

    To add to the discussion, I quote from Rabbi Bechhofer’s discussion of “Miracles, Nature History”:

    “It is axiomatic that “HaShomayim mesaprim kevod E-l…” and “Kevodo malei olam…” R’ Akiva put it succinctly – just as the garment testifies to the weaver, the beriah testifies to the Creator. We thus see that one (in fact, the primary) manner in which to achieve emunah is by in-depth examination of the Creation. Since such examination begins with the eyes, it follows that the Beriah must be true to the eyes that behold it. Thus, it is not possible that we are to disregard the wonders of Creation – they are the pathway to emunah! And, hence, since “Chosamo shel HKB”H emes,” the expression of history manifest in the Beriah must, perforce, reflect the forces HKB”H brought to bear in creating it, not be in conflict with it.”

    I’ve seen quoted from the Kuzari that “God forbid that something in the Torah should contradict a proof or demonstration”, even though the Kuzari is not in the Rambam’s way of stressing emunah al pi chakirah.

    One of my favorite quotes is from Rav Hirsch(Artscroll Biography, page 205, from Collected Writings):

    ” Only if one knows the essence of what is antagonistic to Torah can one resist and overcome these influences. That which looms as a fear-inspiring giant specter in the twilight zone of ignorance, will shrink into a pygmy before the shining light of thought.”

  49. Bob Miller
    January 10th, 2007 @ 3:33 pm

    “Ed” made this apt point from Rambam, in the same Mishmar thread:

    “…Rambam Avoda Zora 2:4 says:

    Any thought which causes one to uproot an Ikar from the Torah, we are warned not to bring these thought on our hearts and we shouldn’t follow “Hirhurei Halev”, for the intellect of a person is limited, and not all minds can reach absolute truth. If one does follow his thoughts in such circumstances, it will cause destruction because of his limited intellect.

    How? Sometimes he will ponder about Avoda Zora, sometimes about Yichud Ha’boray, if he exists or not, Mah L’maalah, Mah L’mattah, Mah Lifnim, Mah L’achor, sometimes about prophecy, whether it occured or not, SOMETIMES ABOUT TORAH, WHETHER ITS FROM SHAMAYIM OR NOT. One cannot always know the correct logic and knowledge needed to truly comprehend these matters, V’NIMTZA YOTZAY LI’DAY MINUS.

    And on this, the Torah warned V’lo Sosuru Achrei L’vavchem….. One should not follow his Daa’to Hak’tzora (in these matters) and think that he has attained truth…
    [end of Rambam quote---Bob]

    …And that’s why we do NOT trust our rational thought in these matters. As per the rational Rambam.”

  50. Baruch Horowitz
    January 10th, 2007 @ 3:50 pm

    “…And that’s why we do NOT trust our rational thought in these matters. As per the rational Rambam.”

    If someone is wrestling with an issue, one can not just glibly say “ignore rationality”. The Rambam is discussing not exposing one’s self to conflict, which is a different issue entirely.

    True, one must be prepared to accept a different level of rational thought if one can not reconcile Torah with a particular issue. Indeed Rav Schwab spends much time before suggesting his solution to the Age of the Universe establishing that.

    He does makes reference to “Akeidah of the Intellect”, but let us not take that lightly and mouth words! We rely on our sechel, although fallible and clearly limited by human capabilities, for our very existence. Regarding “Akeidah of the Intellect”, R Schwab says that fourtuntaly it may never actually occur, but one merely needs to be prepared to do so as a priori in discussing issues.

    Those with an appreciation for Jewish history and Orthodox thought know that the issue of rationality as interfacing with faith is an age old issue which is being rehashed now. True, the yeshiva world generally stresses emunah peshuta and there is a history for that, but I always emphasize that there is a place for a rational approach. Ein lecha davar shein lo makom.

  51. Bob Miller
    January 10th, 2007 @ 3:58 pm

    ” but I always emphasize that there is a place for a rational approach. Ein lecha davar shein lo makom.”

    Makes sense to me, but what do I know?

  52. Michoel
    January 10th, 2007 @ 4:00 pm

    “True, the yeshiva world generally stresses emunah peshuta and there is a history for that”
    Baruch this statement is itself very biased. The fact that the Yeshiva world does not feel the need to overturn every rock to address every seeming complication in our mesora does not show a lack of rationalism. They are just quicker to realize where some of the roads lead. Rabbi Avigdor Miller was an extreme rationist and not only in science issues. The fact that the blogosphere does not agree with his conclusions doesn’t make him less rational. Rav Dessler was not part of the MO world. Nor was Rabbi Kaplan. Even Rabbi Slifkin, for that matter, is a product of the Yeshiva world.

  53. Baruch Horowitz
    January 10th, 2007 @ 4:02 pm

    The Rambam is online here:

    http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/1402.htm

    How to put the Moreh in a historical perspective is discussed by many. Eg, see Michtav Meliyahu that the Rambam wrote the Moreh Nevuchim for people who needed an individual approach, and that this approach was acceptable for them as long as it was not against the Halacha (Michtav Me-Eliyahu, IV, page 354)

  54. Baruch Horowitz
    January 10th, 2007 @ 4:19 pm

    “True, the yeshiva world generally stresses emunah peshuta and there is a history for that”

    “Baruch this statement is itself very biased.’

    From my memory, a similar statement was made in the Jewish Observer, and I don’t see what is biased about it(if you e-mail me, I can give you the details)!

    My comments were about the role of rationality in Yiddishkeit and had nothing to do with the Slifkin issue per se, although some may see a certain connection. It’s a fact that the Yeshiva world stresses emunah peshuta, and there is strong basis for that based on the testimony of the Chasid Yavetz regarding its effectiveness.

    I wrote on the Mishmar blog two posts (“Two forms of Emunah” I and II), where I in fact strongly emphasized the benefits of the yeshiva world’s approach.

    Michtav Meliyau quoted above is a good source of understanding the topic of the Moreh Nevuchim as understood in the Yeshiva world(see also volume I, pgs 175-176 and Vol III, pg.177). R Elchanon(Kovetz Mamorim) in his famous letter to Rav Shimon Schwab has a different emphasis, but it’s the same basic approach.

  55. Michoel
    January 10th, 2007 @ 4:33 pm

    OK, could be I jumped the gun a little. I think the historical approach of The mussar yeshivos was rationalism. See the Alter of Kelm, Rav Yeruchem and others. The point I wanted to bring out, given the context of this string, is that beleiving in a finished world or being skeptical of the findings of science is not inherently less rational. According to me, it is MORE rational.

  56. Steve Brizel
    January 10th, 2007 @ 7:53 pm

    Let me advance a suggestion that has always inspired me in this regard. When you go on a trip in a jet airliner, nothing seems more clutzy than that long airliner at the gate waiting for its passengers. Yet, once you have taken off and reached cruising altitude, the amazing nature of being able to fly is IMO an exhilarating proof that HaShem inspired the Wright Brothers and their technological successors to develope the ability for man to fly long distances that had been previously only dreamed about. Likewise, the development of medicine, etc has decreased infant morbidity and mortality and led to an increased longevity. IMO, scientific discoveries and technological developments in many areas such as communications and medicine are presents from HaShem, if used properly.

  57. Steve Brizel
    January 10th, 2007 @ 8:52 pm

    Let me add a counterpoint to my last observation-The same company that manufactures a 747 or 767 also manufacturers a B-1 bomber. The SS high command was staffed by people with at least a college education and it was well known that the personnel in the death camps saw nothing contradictory between their unspeakable work in furthering the Final Solution and then listening to a live concert of classical music. Even medical doctors used their training to further the Final Solution. Obviously, while all of technology has the potential to be used for good or evil, one can argue that HaShem gave mankind the innate anbility to advance in a good way. I can think of no greater hymn to the complexity of man’s innermost functions than the brachah of Asher Yatzar.

  58. Jaded Topaz
    January 10th, 2007 @ 9:27 pm

    Steve Brizel, its way more complicated then simple use for good or bad. Its sometimes a question of initial usage. Aside from the real complicated stuff like preprogrammed neuronal circuitry systems cancelling out the lofty lovely free will fantasy.Even simple everyday examples like ADHD medications.Is it Gds will to be hyperactive and run around doin high energy kiruv related activities in thrilling places and innovative venues. Or does Gds Will involve ritalin and àdderall and a kiruv çubicle coordinater position complete with activities that involve a hi back mesh task chair a laptop and quark express. Or does Gds will really involve natural earthy spiritual herbal remedies like focus factor and rabbi position. That would be generally involving sermons and endless pleather covered chapel chairs complete with book baskets and peanut gallery. Did Gd create hyper high ènergy impulsive individuals for a specific reason or did he expect end üsers to work hard and obtain àdderall prescriptions so they can be skinny and robotic. Does one’s soul mission statement need the shortcomings it was born with to complete mission statement. Or are shortcomings just distractions that need to be medicated away.it gets tricky if the spiritual mission statement can only be accomplished and upheld with shortcomings being medicated away thanks to the wonders of Pharmacology.Sometimes you do need to réconcile and create a perfect fusion of science and spirituality. Especially with pharmacology , neuroplasticity’and all related psychiatry and psychology related activities. Çuz the way you experience spirituality can be tweaked and or depend on how you integrate pharmacology related advances.

  59. Baruch Horowitz
    January 10th, 2007 @ 9:41 pm

    Steve,

    I have always wondered if we are better or worse off for technology: medicine versus wepons of mass destruction, and/or spiritual problems.

    In the ideal world, discoveing the complexities of creation are good in the spiritual sense as well, as per the Rambam Yesodei HaTorah, 2:1:

    “What is the path to loving Him and fearing Him? When a person contemplates His works and His awesome and mighty creations, and sees in them incomparable and endless wisdom, immediately he will love, praise, glorify, and greatly desire to know his Great Name, as Dovid wrote, “My soul thirsts for G-d, the Living Almighty”

  60. Chaim G.
    January 10th, 2007 @ 10:44 pm

    I guest posted on this topic here:

    http://dovbear.blogspot.com/2006/12/boundaries-of-rationality.html

    too lengthy to repeat in this thread.

  61. Baruch Horowitz
    January 11th, 2007 @ 1:37 am

    Chaim G,

    What is the trick to posting and getting 108 comments? I think I will experiment with a new style, an admittingly poor imatation of Jaded Topaz, who causes me much cheer and a higher serotonin level–true simchah, the real MDMA(Ecstasy). I hope that I can carry some of this style, if proven successful, over to Mishmar.blogspot.com, and thereby increase traffic.

    Here goes(I await with some trepidation Bob Miller’s reaction to my attempts at changing my weltanschauung into something more ‘with it’ :) )

    “Aside from the real complicated stuff like preprogrammed neuronal circuitry systems cancelling out the lofty lovely free will fantasy.”

    It really is complicated,and I leave those aspects in the hands of the spiritual and philosophical experts, of which there are many. But all this stuff about cerebral circuitry and causality really, like, touches on the soul, the nekudas habichirah.

    JD’s interests obviously are in pharmacology and psychiatry– but how about psychology? One influential American psychologist and pioneer in self-esteem development(he predates Dr. Twerski), emphasizes responsibility, and making a decision to be consciously aware of the reality of our outer environment as well as our inner world-—“A thousand times a day we must choose the level of consciousness at which we must function”. I think that Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler would feel at home with the idea that it remains our decision, how much awareness we want to, like, bring to the decision- making process.

    This is all about raising of the consciousness. Not in terms of war protests or protecting the external environment from pollution or decay, but consciousness about our inner environment, which helps us to make moral and ethical decisions, or even seemingly unimportant ones, like when to stop blogging and get out into the real world…

    It is based on the fact that we are more than a collection of electrons. Using the words of a recent NYT article, the idea is that the soul “stands independent of the physical universe and yet reaches from the immaterial world and meddles in our own, jiggling brain cells that lead us to say the words “molten chocolate.”

    This is not about SSRI’s when you are down, or methylphenidate(Ritalin) if you need to slow down, although it is about focusing, happiness and fufillment. It is reflective of a true higher, independent entity which chooses it’s own direction, similar to the one Above, as it were. It is true that the circuitry can make such choices more difficult in some cases, but we do need to do our best in all cases.

    Previous commenter Steve Brizel(comment # 57) mentioned the Asher Yatzar blessing. One explanation of the last sentence, which speaks about amazing, totally awesome wonders, is the G-d fuses the body and soul. We might add that the fact that the independent soul is able to interact with the material brain cells and direct them, is another manifestation of this fusing, different from any drug or chemical interaction. I indeed see this as being totally awesome…

  62. Bob Miller
    January 11th, 2007 @ 8:57 am

    Steve Brizel said, “…The same company that manufactures a 747 or 767 also manufacturers a B-1 bomber…”

    B-1 bombers are also good, properly used by the right people.

  63. Bob Miller
    January 11th, 2007 @ 8:59 am

    Baruch Horowitz said, “I hope that I can carry some of this style, if proven successful, over to Mishmar.blogspot.com, and thereby increase traffic.”

    That is OK if traffic is the main thing. But is it?

  64. David Linn
    January 11th, 2007 @ 9:30 am

    Bob,

    While traffic is not the main thing, it is, IMHO, imortant for at least two reasons:

    1. If the message you are trying to get across is important, the more people who see it, the better; and

    2. The amount of time and effort that goes into daily blogging is tremendous. If the hits simply aren’t there, a blogger may decide that it’s simply not worth the effort.

  65. Bob Miller
    January 11th, 2007 @ 9:34 am

    “It is based on the fact that we are more than a collection of electrons.”

    This reminded me of this classic piece (much-plagiarized) about the supposed discovery of a new element containing some unlikely atomic particles:

    http://www.lhup.edu/~DSIMANEK/administ.htm

  66. Steve Brizel
    January 11th, 2007 @ 11:32 am

    Of course, technology has its pluses and minuses. On the issue of phramacology, psychology and psychiatry, I reccomend “Listening to Prozac” as a fascinating insight into how psychiatry and an anti depressant can change one’s personality. FWIW, I doubt that it can be proven that Chazal or Rishonim would want us to be morose, depressed, OCD, simply because one cannot be close to HaShem without having a sense of simcha which then allows one to be “Lifnei HaShem.”

  67. Menachem Lipkin
    January 11th, 2007 @ 11:52 am

    From Baruch Horowitz:

    “I have always wondered if we are better or worse off for technology: medicine versus wepons of mass destruction, and/or spiritual problems.”

    I hope you really don’t mean that. Would you really want to be living in a world where people around you are dying and/or being cripled from smallpox, measles, polio, etc.? A world where most people you know lost one or two babies shortly after birth? Where there are several motherless families in your community because so many women used to die in childbirth?

    Sure technology presents chalanges. We’ve certainly always had spiritual challanges. Not sure today’s are any worse than those of the past.

    As for WMDs, one could say that, at least until now, they may have prevented major war for the last 60 years. Of course living in close proximiity to that lunatic in Iran makes me somewhat weary of that proposition. :0

  68. Menachem Lipkin
    January 11th, 2007 @ 12:09 pm

    Steve,

    I share your wonder at flight. (I happen to think that jets are rather beautiful, actually).

    You said, “the amazing nature of being able to fly is IMO an exhilarating proof that HaShem inspired the Wright Brothers and their technological successors to develope the ability for man to fly”

    This may be getting too far off the topic, but do we really have to say that Hashem inspired this? In this specific example the Wright Brother’s flight was the culmination of centuries of incremental progress by many people. But in general, do we have to say that Hashem inspired such things or can we just say that He created us with the intelligence necessary to do them on our own?

  69. Chaim G.
    January 11th, 2007 @ 2:05 pm

    Biruch, Bob and David

    Don’t be so impressed A) about 1/2 the comments were mine. If I hadn’t defended my POV do vigorously there’d probably have been about 10 comments (the first one said “boring”)

    B) I’ve posted many other times here with minimal commenting. Guess this is just a hot button issue.

  70. Baruch Horowitz
    January 11th, 2007 @ 2:32 pm

    “I have always wondered if we are better or worse off for technology: medicine versus wepons of mass destruction, and/or spiritual problems”

    “I hope you really don’t mean that”

    You are correct– I prefer the modern world for the purposes which you state. I am now taking accelerated antibiotics with my lunch for a touch of bronchitis(I hope that physicians will not over-prescribe them to create resistant bacteria).

    In school, I remember my literature book asked the following(from a secular perspective): would you rather be a factory worker today, or a king or nobleman in the middle ages? Obviously, the former is preferable, unless perhaps the factory is a sweatshop.

    Perhaps people living in Hiroshima, or the Kurdish villages, would prefer to give up the benefits of technology if they were asked the question.

    There are benefits and detriments to technology. We have bitachon that the world will not be destroyed. And to be honest, I am probably less concerned with the spiritual problems of technology than with it’s benefits.

    But one can still ask in a theoretical sense, is it overall better or not? To borrow Rav Aryeh Kaplan’s phrase, if you were G-d, would you give over the keys to technology to people? Can you separate between medicine and biological warfare, nuclear energy and nuclear bombs? One might say that if Hashem willed it to be discovered, then it is indeed better for mankind to have those tools.

  71. Baruch Horowitz
    January 11th, 2007 @ 2:42 pm

    “That is OK if traffic is the main thing. But is it?”

    The term “increasing traffic” can have a negative connotation, but my point was like David said in the following comment.

    There are decisions which responsible bloggers need to make, even if they get halachic/hashkafic guidlines and consult with rabbonim. On my most recent post, I’ve edited and deleted comments because I’ve anticpated that they will lead to negative threads. Nevertheless, certain topics I find it easier to write about on other people’s blogs, such as this blog, and on Cross Currents. Let *others* have the moderation headaches. :)

  72. Menachem Lipkin
    January 11th, 2007 @ 3:03 pm

    “But one can still ask in a theoretical sense, is it overall better or not?”

    Often when learning various passages in gemorah that talk about what things were like in talmudic times in terms of physical living, hygiene, etc. I feel that we should have a daily bracha thanking Hashem for letting us live in these times!

  73. David Schallheim
    January 11th, 2007 @ 5:02 pm

    I also have an undergraduate degree in a science field (Physiological Psychology, which Jaded Topaz seems to thrive on, although the little I remember seems to be considerably outdated tome to follow the topics of her free associations). At the beginning of my “Yeshivah career” I would stay up until 3:00 in the morning to argue about evolution, age of the world, etc. with the ‘older guys,’ (i.e., someone that had been there a few months already!)

    I found these issues were initial blocks that prevented me from taking Torah seriously from my educated perspective, although at the same time I appreciated the 3000 year tradition of practical wisdom for living. I needed to break through these blocks; in those days Rav Avigdar Miller type of ‘evil atheist scientists’ bashing was all the vogue.

    Relatively quickly I became emotionally uninterested in these issues, as Ora described so well (although to me Java is coffee, so it’s actually quite beloved, not a programmer’s nightmare).

    With the maturing of the BT movement, the tendency has been more to sidestep the issues with fancy song and dance ala Dr. Schroeder or Rabbi Slifkin. I call it song and dance because I really don’t see their answers honestly fitting into Chumash and Chazal, so they don’t adequately reconcile Judaism with science.

    There certainly is a value in helping potential baalei teshuvah to get over the hump, but we cannot use intellectually dishonest means.

    The gedolei Torah I have spoken to (most extensively with Rav Moshe Aharon Stern zt’l) all stressed that we have a mesorah of Hashem’s word and that’s that. Science cannot challenge the Creator’s direct word.

    However, we’re not fundamentalists and we rely on the Torah She Baal Peh (Oral Law) to explain those words of God. For that reason I resonate best with approaches like Reb Dovid Brown in The Mysteries of Creation, which is very similar to that initiated by the Tiferes Yisrael, mentioned in Challenge, about earlier worlds and what not. Then you can have your dinosaur bones and (not) eat them too, without Gosse-type speculations.

    (Which I simply cannot find a way to seriously defend, except to say the question why God made an old world with dinosaur fossils of dinosaurs that never existed is a meaningless question for a finite human being to ask, akin to asking why God created the universe with atoms).

    The bottom line is that the Torah says, “God created man from the dust of the earth.” Did He make a golem of mud and blow into his nostrils, or did He use billions of years of a Big Bang and guided evolution to form molecules (dust) into the pinnacle of creation? I won’t know until they show me the video tapes 120 years from now in Heaven. In the meantime, the important message is that “God created…”

  74. Baruch Horowitz
    January 11th, 2007 @ 6:02 pm

    That link(comment # 65) brought a smile to my face(I assume administratium is related to manage-isium).

  75. David Schallheim
    January 11th, 2007 @ 6:13 pm

    After re-reading I realized it’s important to correct what I meant to say.

    I feel that certain approaches don’t fit into the words of the Chumash or intent of Chazal, so I honestly cannot use those approaches, even for kiruv. That’s what would be an intellectually dishonest appraoch.

    I did not mean to say that anyone is being intellectually dishonest, as they are writing and teaching what they really believe to be true (although they may be wrong, and so of course I may also be wrong).

  76. Baruch Horowitz
    January 11th, 2007 @ 10:35 pm

    “I feel that certain approaches don’t fit into the words of the Chumash or intent of Chazal, so I honestly cannot use those approaches, even for kiruv”

    I understand this point. My comments on this thread were regarding rationality in general, and as far as the Age of the Universe, I just commented about going back to the status quo before Slifkin, whatever that was.

    You make a good point, and I agree that one must be intellectually honest both to the Torah, as well as, I might add, to secular sources(l’havdil); ie, to fully present a particular question, if one decides to deal with it.

    Rabbi Slifkin has been praised for attempting to be intellectually honest. I have not read his books besides excerpts, but I do trust people such as Rabbi Weinreb and others who say that he is honest. I assume that they are correct in this, whether or not Rabbi Slifkin is actually correct in his ideas.

    I would also note that the approach which you describe as “sidestep the issues with fancy song and dance” doesn’t satisfy everyone, especially if they have other questions as well. At Rabbi Slifkin’s book launching in Queens, I overheard someone ask one of the speakers, “fine, you’ve solved this, but what about issues X, Y, and Z ? ”

    So bottom line, as you say, the way to approach any issue is first and foremost that one can not challenge the Creator’s direct word, and only then to attempt a resolution.

    As I said, I just think it’s unfortunate that these issues are being brought to public attetion now–mah nishtana hayom hazeh, from the past thirty years ? Whether you like the way some kiruv people dealt with the issue or you don’t, at least some people did ask a sheilas chacham for their approach, and it’s a shame, in my opinion, that the public needed to put energy into deciding whether or not their approach was or is correct, instead of focusing on other more important things(I am not taking sides as to whose fault the situation is).

  77. Marty Bluke
    January 14th, 2007 @ 10:53 am

    A while back i posted about this on my blog Could Shlomo Hamelech have invented cars?

    Rabbi Sander Goldberg in his defense of R’ Slifkin (THE SLIFKIN AFFAIR – ISSUES AND PERSPECTIVES) wrote essentially the same thing:

    …most certainly if Chazal wanted to invest the time into scientific research, after a generation or two, they could have invented an atomic bomb. But it didn’t happen. First, they spent their time plying the depths of Dvar Hashem, but second, they saw no net advantage to man. Just the opposite, although we communicate and travel more easily nowadays, and have better medicine and air-conditioned homes and have mechanical slaves to do back-breaking work, the very same technology has been abused and utilized to murder millions of people, caused a segment of mankind to live in misery and has freed up time for mankind to get into all kinds of mischief. Accordingly, perhaps Chazal, privately, were skeptical of some accepted scientific “facts and theories” of their times. However, perhaps they did not want to even hint that those facts and theories would eventually be discarded; they felt it was healthier for the world to remain in the dark and not to develop technology at too rapid a pace

  78. Dale
    January 15th, 2007 @ 3:23 pm

    By the same token, is all that is taught in Torah lost when one does decide to favor modern over ancient cosmological myths? Can we not read Torah as a source for spiritual wisdom and ethical insight while dismissing it as a source for scientific fact and social mores?

    The writers of Torah did not care about scientific (or for that matter) historical fact…it never entered their mind. That’s not to say that their explanations of who they were, where they came from and where they were going were not “true”..

    The big bang is just a current myth, replacing older myths, and will be replaced by newer myths yet to come. And there are modern sages.

  79. M
    January 15th, 2007 @ 4:34 pm

    “Can we not read Torah as a source for spiritual wisdom and ethical insight while dismissing it as a source for scientific fact and social mores?”

    That depends on who (or Who) wrote the Torah. Since we believe that G-d wrote the Torah, none of it is dismissable.

  80. Baruch Horowitz
    January 15th, 2007 @ 4:37 pm

    “By the same token, is all that is taught in Torah lost when one does decide to favor modern over ancient cosmological myths?”

    The Orthodox Jewish belief is that the Torah is Divine, and that the Torah is a single, organic whole; there can not be a contradiction between God’s word anywhere in the Torah and what is demonstrated to be scientific fact.

    There are guidelines given by rishonim (earlier authorities),in general, when not to take verses literally. Specifically, the account of creation in Bereshis is defined by it having a a major element of Sod(mysticism), and according to everyone, there is therefore significant meaning beyond the literal interpretation. The controversy over the permissibility of recent interpretations, is whether there is room in the Mesorah(tradition), which chazal, rishonim, and later authorities have distilled for us, to shoehorn current scientific theory into the verses of Bereishis.

    Many, if not most, authorities in the Orthodox world feel there is no room in the Mesorah to countenance such interpretations, but even those who do allow for a reading of some elements of evolution into Maseh Bereshis, believe that this might have been included in the meaning of the Sod tradition, as opposed to superimposing their interpretation on a Divine verse, against the intention of the Giver of the Torah.

  81. Dale
    January 15th, 2007 @ 4:46 pm

    Yes, which in turn depends on how you “define” yourself, the world and G-d. Could G-d not be the Ineffable, and Torah be one attempt among many to express in words that which cannot expressed in words?

  82. Baruch Horowitz
    January 15th, 2007 @ 4:57 pm

    “Could G-d not be the Ineffable, and Torah be one attempt among many to express in words that which cannot expressed in words? ”

    Because the Torah is Divine in can not be merely one attempt amongst many to express truth. There are interpretations which clearly go against the meaning of the verses, and which leave Orthodoxy(there is a famous incident mentioned in Teshuvos HaRashba about this).

  83. Dale
    January 15th, 2007 @ 6:20 pm

    Some might interpret the statement “Because the Torah is Divine”, as a belief statement. But is it possible to prove or disprove such belief statements? Is such a statement any more provable than, for Muslim to say, “the Quran is Divine”?

    And, as we know, there are interpretations of Quranic texts which clearly go against the Orthodox meaning of them as well.

    Could it be that our definitions, rooted in personal beliefs, traditions and emotional experience about Torah and “G-d” are preventing us from realizing that It and She are intrinsically beyond such belief statements?

  84. Mark
    January 15th, 2007 @ 6:45 pm

    Dale, The fact that something is not provable via measure-oriented means of proof, does not mean that it is not true. Philosophers have shown that it is impossible to prove beyond all doubt that we exist, but that does mean the fact of our existence is not true.

    The Torah statement is more verifiable because of the national Divine Revelation experience at Sinai which is unique to Judaism and Torah.

    The Torah itself tells us how to reach the path of “knowing” there is a G-d.

    Rabbi Noson Weisz has an excellent piece on this here. Highly recommended.

  85. Dale
    January 15th, 2007 @ 7:52 pm

    Mark,

    Thank you for the recommendation…the article was interesting.

    I am quite aware that just because something is not provable via rational human thought does not prove that it is not “true”. This was the basis for my earlier statement that Torah was “true”, since it explained that which needed explaining for those who wrote it. And, right or wrong (or should I say believed or not believed), I continue to hold to the position that Torah was just possibly written by wonderfully insightful human beings seeking to explain the mystery of their own existence.

    That the Torah statement is more verifiable because of the “Divine (here again your belief statement, not necessarily one rooted in historical fact, and certainly subject to other than historical interpretation) Revelation experience” is hardly any more unique than faith statements concerning the “divine revelations experience” of other faith traditions. The stories are different…the traditions are different…the experiences of the Holy are different, but “the Holy One” underlying those stories remains the same.

    Certainly, Torah provides a path of “knowing” the G-d described in Torah. The problem is that other faith traditions have other stories and traditions that provide a path towards “knowing” the “G-d” of their writings as well.

    In the end, perhaps a healthy respect for the other “paths of knowing” is worth considering.

    We can agree on one statement for sure…the “Holy One” is “true”.

    Thank you again for the recommendation and for engaging in discussion.

  86. M
    January 15th, 2007 @ 8:29 pm

    Hi Dale,

    Your writing is thoughtful and insightful. If I may add something to the discussion, I think there is a fundamental difference that perhaps bears mention.

    Public revelation is not claimed by any religion other than Judaism. No other religion makes similar claims, because you can’t make something like that up!

    If you were born in Tibet, you might believe in Buddhism, which asserts that approximately 2,500 years ago, a wise man decided that was Truth. He had, for various reasons, rejected Hinduism (a religion which claims it never started because it always existed…) and he decided that his theory was the “real deal”.

    If you were born Catholic, you’d believe that J died on a cross to atone for man’s sin, and salvation is only possible by accepting him as Savior. Let’s look at his miracles: The people who knew him best rejected him and what he represented. Much of his teaching is not directly from him, but from his disciples, who claim they saw all sorts of miracles…to be taken on belief.

    Christian Scientists… Mary baker Eddy had this vision that if sick people read her writings they’d get better. Nuff said.

    Mormons… John Smith met this angel Moroni who gave him a book of the teaching of Mormon. He studied it, but — aw, shucks, he lost the thing!

    Mohammed, the great “prophet.” Who saw him pull off stunts? No one we know. Who saw him get the Koran? No one. He said he got it.

    In short, there is only one religion that ever claimed to have a public revelation. Only the nation of Israel stood as a group at Sinai. Judaism is the only religion that claims public revelation.

    The other religions honestly transmit their beliefs as well, but their belief never involves their grandfather saying he was part of a miracle or present at a revelation; our tradition is not simply another inspired way of understanding G-d “as we know Him”, but a public acceptance and transmittal of G-d’s manual for living- the Torah.

    There are others on this blog who are much more knowledgeable and learned than I, and would likely do a better job continuing to clarify these issues.

  87. Bob Miller
    January 15th, 2007 @ 10:26 pm

    The books “Permission to Believe” and “Permission to Receive” by Rabbi Lawrence (Leib) Kelemen address the above issues systematically.
    See: http://www.targum.com/store/Kelemen.html

    Also see:
    http://www.dovidgottlieb.com/publications.htm and other relevant writings at Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb’s website.

  88. Dale
    January 16th, 2007 @ 4:50 am

    Hi Mark,

    I was once on a flight from Los Angeles to Chicago. At one point, the captain announced to the passengers that if they looked out the right side of the plane, they would see Arizona. Several passengers took advantage of the moment and did look out their windows. Then, satisfied that they had seen what they were supposed to see, calmly returned to reading their books, eating their snacks and chatting with their cabin mates. I suspect that few, if any, realized that what they had seen was not “Arizona”, but was actually mountains and roads and rivers and fields.

    In the world that we all share, there is no “Arizona” since that world does not come “stated” (using “stated” as a verb). There were and are no natural boundaries that separate “Arizona” from the next state. There were and are no giant letters ARIZONA embedded in the landscape as there are on a map.

    Sure, we can agree that a real area of land, correlating to a set of points on a map, can be given a name. We can create governments to care for and protect that land. We can pay taxes to that government that we created and we can tell stories about how those who now occupy that land came to do so. But in the end, “Arizona” is nothing more than a shared idea.

    The nation of Israel is also such an idea. The Earth does not come “nationed” (using “nation” as a verb) any more than it comes “stated”. So, to speak about a “national divine experience” is to engage in the same sort of illusion as those in the airplane…that is IF, by “nation”, we mean a particular plot of land. But if, by nation, we mean a shared purpose to return self to God and the world to Godliness, then I humbly bow to such an enterprise and hope that all the world will soon become enamoured with the idea of Israel, and will share in its national divine experience.

    Take care!

    Dale

  89. Bob Miller
    January 16th, 2007 @ 9:09 am

    It’s clear from the writings of Rav SR Hirsch ZT”L and others that the Jewish nation has different characteristics from the others and continues its mission even when (temporarily!) exiled from its land. Nevertheless, the Torah gives our land boundaries and special characteristics and a special purpose of its own (which we, too share in), which can’t be brushed aside rhetorically.

  90. Michoel
    January 16th, 2007 @ 10:13 am

    As a supplement to my comment on the speed of light in comment #39: This from the Toriah.org website. Please note that all the statements are carefully footnoted and supported by mainstream researchers.

    “The constancy of the speed of light was an obvious “fact” – until 1998. Since 1999, multiple groups of researchers have started to actively investigate variable speed of light theories with a variety of cosmologists looking at theories in which the speed of light might have been 60 orders of magnitude faster than the current value in the early history of the universe. For a young universe, a more conservative 12 orders of magnitude would suffice! Variable speed of light theories are reported to be provoking a “simmering debate” between cosmologists especially as such theories may require fundamental changes to Einstein’s theory of relativity”.

  91. Mark
    January 16th, 2007 @ 12:12 pm

    The nation of Israel is also such an idea. The Earth does not come “nationed” (using “nation” as a verb) any more than it comes “stated”. So, to speak about a “national divine experience” is to engage in the same sort of illusion as those in the airplane…that is IF, by “nation”, we mean a particular plot of land. But if, by nation, we mean a shared purpose to return self to God and the world to Godliness, then I humbly bow to such an enterprise and hope that all the world will soon become enamoured with the idea of Israel, and will share in its national divine experience.

    By nation we ultimately mean a shared purpose of returning the entire world to God and Godliness.

    The route to that return does involve a process of santification and elavation of the physical world. And therefore the land of Israel and the understanding that there is a concept of kedusha (holiness) of physical place is necessary for that return.

  92. Dale
    January 16th, 2007 @ 2:10 pm

    Hi Mark,

    I might be inclined to think that kedusha or “holiness” is much more than just a concept. Nations are concepts. Names of nations are conceptual tools we use to divide those concepts. Concepts dividing concepts. Words…parts of speech, not parts of reality.

    But, Holiness, if we use Exodus as our pointer, is none other than G-d herself…Ehyer asher Ehyer…the non-dual source and substance of All That Is…the Holy One (but not by number).

    Now, All That Is includes quite a lot…even our “selves” and the physical world, which happens to be where we live in the here and now.

    Could it not be that Genesis, rather than being a historical/scientific treatise, is actually, in ancient mythic form, a metaphor about man’s consciousness, and how we (all of us) proceed from a child’s conscious state of wordless Oneness (no separate self, no separate others, no separate God, no knowledge of good or evil) to a conscious state of perceived duality (separate self, separate others, separate God, knowledge of good and evil). Could Genesis not be a metaphor for a process that constitutes the human condition itself…a story about what happens when I Am, the unspoken and undifferentiated Oneness (Holiness) of a child, becomes “I”, the fragmented “self” or “me” of an adult.

    Isn’t “wholeness” the root meaning of “holiness”? Does G-d admit of parts?

    Just wondering!

    Take care!

  93. Mark
    January 16th, 2007 @ 2:40 pm

    Holiness actually means separate, as in separate from the mundane.

    The concept of oneness and how G-d can be one and we can exist in some independent sense, falls under the kabbalistic concept of tzimzum and is beyond the scope of this blog (and most probably beyond the scope of me).

    Generally we try to explain the Torah in its plain/simple sense wherever possible and only turn to metaphor (ie deeper methods of interpretation) as the primary understanding when there is no plain/simple explanation (which is rare).

    There usually are deeper explanations along with the simple explanations, however the simple explanation is still true.

    Therefore we are taught that the events in Genesis and Exodus did happen and G-d does want us to do mitzvos including settling and attributing the necessary Kedusha to the Land of Israel.

  94. Dale
    January 16th, 2007 @ 2:44 pm

    Hi Mark,

    I can certainly accept your explanation. Thank you.

    Take care!

    Dale

  95. Bob Miller
    January 16th, 2007 @ 3:18 pm

    “Concepts dividing concepts. Words…parts of speech, not parts of reality.”

    Are concepts less real than rocks are? If the rocks are less eternal than the concepts, maybe no.

  96. Dale
    January 16th, 2007 @ 5:20 pm

    Hi Bob,

    “Rocks” is a word. Specifically, it is a plural noun. It is a kind of tool, created and used by humans, to cause another, it’s hearer or reader, to mentally (conceptually) separate the “thing” that word represents from all other possible “things” that all other words represent.

    Now, when we use the word “rocks”, we want another to think of “things” called rocks. And, for example, when we use the word “chickens”, we want another to think of “things” called “chickens”. And we both understand that “things” called “rocks” are different than “things” called “chickens”.

    But what about “God”? Is “God”, just another word meant to cause us to “conceptualize” another “thing”? Is “God” just another thing? How exactly, does one define the Infinite? Should we do so?

    I suspect that this is the reason that we are prohibited from either “naming” or “creating an image” (which is always a mental act before it is a physical act) of “God”.

    Daniel Matt, I think, puts it well…”God is the oneness of the cosmos, the interconnectness of All There Is. But, “GOD” is a name that we attach to that Oneness.”

    Take care!

  97. Bob Miller
    January 16th, 2007 @ 5:29 pm

    I meant physical rocks, not the word “rocks”.

  98. Dale
    January 16th, 2007 @ 5:46 pm

    Yes, I know. You maybe never gave a thought to the fact that the word and the thing that word represents might be different. And so you maybe also never gave a thought to how deceptive words actually are.

    The word that can be spoken is not the eternal word. The name that can be named is not the eternal name. The unnameable is the eternally real. Naming is the origin of all particular things. Tao-Te-Ching 1 (and of course Genesis 1, if you read it that way).

    Take care!

  99. Ora
    January 16th, 2007 @ 6:11 pm

    In response to Menachem, way back at number #34:
    I see that I didn’t explain myself very well. I’ll try again.

    The purpose of creation is for people to live by Torah (long story short, of course). So supernovas exist, if they do, only for the role they play in the lives of humans. The goal is not to have a supernova, it’s to have people see a supernova (obviously i have no inside info on the purpose of creation, i’m just explaining what i was thinking in post #33). That can be accomplished in a variety of ways, and I don’t see why any is more “fake” than any other.

    Ultimately, as there is nothing but Hashem, the entire physical world is “fake.” Why should supernovas be any different? What is the difference between a “real” supernova and a “fake” one when in both cases we’re talking about Hashem manipulating some Divine energy to make a certain thing appear to be–but really, everything is still Hashem?

    I’m not talking about a “haha you suckers believed in physical reality” kind of fake, btw. I’m sure there’s a good purpose.

  100. Bob Miller
    January 16th, 2007 @ 8:20 pm

    Our Torah (written plus oral) is the product of the Author who can convey truth to human beings on their various levels, as appropriate, irrespective of the limitations of language.

    This form of communication is immeasurably superior to Tao-Te-Ching, Cha-Ching, or whatever.

  101. JS
    January 17th, 2007 @ 11:45 am

    Dale,

    I hope you don’t mind my butting in here, but I want to point out that every time someone speaks of something tangible, observable, and very much in possession of the physical attributes that comprise “reality” in our world, you seem to miss that and speak instead of words, the significance (or not) of words, and appear to (at least to me) avoid any idea that is rooted in the concrete.

    Bob’s rock is a rock. He wasn’t talking about the meaning of the word, or the significance of the word vis-a-vis the physical scientifically verifiable atoms that make up the rock.

    You are right that G-d is an intangible. However, we have a very tangible Torah that teaches us about G-d and His attributes. The question is not, is everything you see or speak about all a mirage, or a series of “words”, but rather, is this thing called the Torah really authentic. And that is where we come to M.’s post. He wrote about a physical gathering of Jews as they accepted the Torah, thereby making them into a nation, with shared goals and specific instructions that apply only to them.

    What occurred at Sinai was not a collection of verbs and nouns- it was an event. You mention flying on a plane- what is flying? Did you engage in an illusion, and were actually reading a book on your sofa? Is there any reality associated with your plane ride experience? The Jewish people, in the flesh, stood, (not conceptually, or even symbolically, but with their feet)on the ground near Mount Sinai and received the Torah. It’s not a Theories of Language class or Linguistics class in college, it’s history.

    Sometimes, we humans tend to make the simple, complex, and the complex simple. It’s important, and even necessary, to analyze and dissect. But first, one needs to acquire a basic understanding of what we are analyzing, beyond a collection of words, verbs, conceptions, and engaging in illusory experiences.

    If you and I were to have a business meeting, and sign a critical contract, we may both certainly do some research on the project, even get our respective lawyers involved on a point of dispute.

    But if we use all sorts of semantics to say that we really didn’t have the meeting, the word contract is full of innuendos and meanings that you would never have imagined, and people don’t really get together and sign contracts, they just think they do, this would be silly, to put it mildly.

    And those coffee mugs we used in the office are quite deceptive- since they’re nameable, they’re not really real. At least this will save us the washing out of the mugs :).

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