Beyond BT

Spiritual Growth for Jews

How Would You Describe Your Secular Knowledge Integration Strategy

Posted on | May 11, 2011 | By Administrator | 128 Comments

How Would You Describe Your Secular Knowledge Integration Strategy?

a) I discard or ignore most secular knowledge

b) I accept most secular knowledge and only discard that which blatantly contradicts Torah

c) I carefully sift secular knowledge to see if it is truly consistent with Torah

d) Other

Comments

128 Responses to “How Would You Describe Your Secular Knowledge Integration Strategy”

  1. tzirelchana
    May 11th, 2011 @ 5:12 am

    Why is this such a problem? Chazal tell us “Chochma bagoyim ta’aminu Torah bagoyim lo ta’aminu.” Believe the wisdom of the nations but not Torah that comes from the nations. We orthodox Jews have always accepted secular wisdom. Why did the Rambam spend his time trying to reconcile Jewish philosophy with Aristotelean philosophy if he didn’t hold Aristotle in high esteem. Of course we stay away from apikorsus and pritzus, sadly a lot of what passes for contemporary culture but whatever wisdom doesn’t fall into those categories is open for us to explore.

  2. BB
    May 11th, 2011 @ 8:27 am

    Is this a joke? Was I supposed to forget all I learned in order to make my living?

  3. Mark Frankel
    May 11th, 2011 @ 8:32 am

    “Chochma bagoyim ta’aminu Torah bagoyim lo ta’aminu” doesn’t mean that we should believe everything from the nations.
    The question is how do we sift that information.

    Some who ignore most secular knowledge feel that sifting is difficult and Torah sources provide them what they need.
    Some who accept most secular knowledge either find sifting difficult or rarely necessary because they give a high level of credibility to secular knowledge.

    Sifting is difficult because it often looks like secular knowledge and Torah knowledge are in agreement. Deeply understanding the Torah view on a given subject is often beyond the knowledge level of the average Torah observant Jew.

    Some areas of concern are books on self-help, educational methods, parenting, relationships where the secular viewpoints are not in total alignment with the Torah view although they look similar.

  4. Mark Frankel
    May 11th, 2011 @ 9:38 am

    BB, most vocational knowledge does not conflict with Torah so I don’t think it’s a problem for even the rejectionists.
    What’s your approach for some of the other areas like self-help, education, parenting and relationships?

  5. ross
    May 11th, 2011 @ 9:50 am

    Secular Knowledge Integration Strategy–Sounds like fancy jargon for a much simpler word, but I’m not sure what it is.

    There are rabbis who recommend certain self help books (7 Habits, just to name one), and education books, and many other subjects. It never hurts to ask a Rav you trust…you might be surprised at what they all have read!

  6. David
    May 11th, 2011 @ 10:17 am

    Odd… you’re missing some options. What if secular knowledge “blatantly contradicts Torah,” but otherwise stands up to rigorous analysis? My inclination would be to keep the secular knowledge, and discard (or reinterpret) what I’d heard from Torah. Plenty of other folks do the same… did that one not occur to you?

  7. Ron Coleman
    May 11th, 2011 @ 11:11 am

    I can understand asking about rejecting assumptions, presumptions, dogma, unproved assertions, etc. But if it’s “knowledge” what is there to talk about? If it’s true it is not amenable to rejection.

    If on the other hand we’re talking about a theory with an objectively solid scientific foundation, that does not make the conclusion true. It makes it a working hypothesis, perhaps the best one. And if that contradicts our understanding of how the Torah explains something I simply file it along with the loads of other stuff I don’t understand in this world.

    The biggest false premise in the world is that living with paradox is either impossible or unique to religious believers.

  8. Mark Frankel
    May 11th, 2011 @ 11:13 am

    David, it’s a good point and as you allude to in your comment, it depends on the accuracy of both the secular knowledge and your Torah knowledge.

    I think this would fall broadly under sifting because it involves the process of analyzing the secular and the Torah knowledge.

  9. Steve Brizel
    May 11th, 2011 @ 11:18 am

    One has be aware of what passes for knowledge so that one can begin to think whether there will be an interaction or collision with Torah values.

  10. Ron Coleman
    May 11th, 2011 @ 11:29 am

    There’s a reason loshon hakkodesh has so many words for “knowledge.”

  11. Menachem Lipkin
    May 11th, 2011 @ 11:30 am

    I think that, while Torah is supreme, “worldly wisdom” or “Madda”, as Rabbi Lamm calls it, has intrinsic value and is a necessary component in both understanding Torah and attaining a better appreciation for God.

    I like Rabbi Lamm’s characterization of Madda as “textless Torah”. I believe that no information, whether Torah or Madda, should be absorbed uncritically.

  12. Bob Miller
    May 11th, 2011 @ 11:40 am

    With insight, a Jew can connect any truth he has learned with its basis in Torah.

  13. Shades of Gray
    May 11th, 2011 @ 12:11 pm

    “What’s your approach for some of the other areas like self-help, education, parenting and relationships?”

    Regarding these specific topics, one point is that any issues or conflicts are already dealt with by many. For example, I would imagine that Touro, Lander, and YU, which graduate many psychology students over the years have mentors, such as the frum professors, who deal with the halachic or hashkafic issues that arise in the course of study.

  14. Always a BT
    May 11th, 2011 @ 12:28 pm

    Knowledge is not the same as “information”. I believe that true knowledge is probably less of a problem than (what passes for)”information”. Knowledge is something that is studied & acquired after careful research, investigation or analysis (or all 3). That, in and of itself is a type of “sifting”.

    My scientist friends tell me that the more they learn about science, the more it upholds their belief in HKBH. I’ve heard this from academians & lay people alike in many different disciplines.

    There’s a reason why we have so much access to technology. It can be used for good or bad; it’s our job to figure out how much (but not all) can be used for constructive (Torah) purposes. Isn’t that the whole point of bechirah?

  15. Steve Mantz
    May 11th, 2011 @ 1:02 pm

    my feeling is that insularity will never be helpful, either to us as Jews or as people. i try to stay informed on issues which really matter. with that said, I feel that my Jewish values help me to avoid getting fixated on news stories which have no real meaning, such as celebrity news, and which would only distract people from the issues which truly matter.

  16. Yosh
    May 11th, 2011 @ 1:22 pm

    The more interesting question to ask is – what is your Secular Knowledge Acquisition Strategy?

  17. shmuel
    May 11th, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

    I find that a lot of areas of secular knowledge are helpful in understanding or appreciating Torah. Besides the obvious that studying natural sciences helps us understand and appreciate the world that God has created, the study of literature and philosophy can provide foils to Torah ideas that help us understand Torah better as well as potential applications of Torah ideas to life to think about.

    As far as strategy, I try to avoid lascivious material and then use whatever I find useful. I must admit that family and job responsibilities on top of a priority on Talmud Torah mean that I don’t spend much time on secular reading and I primarily rely on what I learned when I was younger.

  18. Ben David
    May 11th, 2011 @ 8:00 pm

    Yosh nails it:
    The more interesting question to ask is – what is your Secular Knowledge Acquisition Strategy?
    – – – – – – – – – –

    … and even more interesting – how does the secular/critical education of your frum children compare with the one YOU received?

    Do your children know how the scientific method works?

    Do they know how to critique the anti-Torah agendas presented as scientific “fact”?

  19. Judy Resnick
    May 11th, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

    Rabbi Avigdor Miller zatzal had a profound influence on myself and my husband during the first years of our marriage. We were members of his kehillah in Brooklyn from 1976 to 1987, when we moved to the Bayswater section of Far Rockaway. However, even after we moved away, our family kept up a relationship with the kehillah and with Rav Miller until his petirah in 2001.

    Rav Avigdor Miller was a brilliant man with a great store of secular knowledge. As his shul in East Flatbush (where he was Rav before moving to Ocean Parkway in 1975) was near the Downstate Medical School, a number of young medical students and residents came to be mispallelim (seeking a Minyan for Minchah, Kaddish, etc.). There were noted doctors and scientists who counted themselves among his followers, and they provided Rav Miller with scientific books and information on a wide variety of topics.

    Rav Miller zatzal pointed out that scientific knowledge does not convey ethics or morality, nor does it guide us in living our lives in the best possible way. He gave examples in his books of highly educated scientists who did evil or immoral actions. For instance, there were German scientists who aided the Nazi extermination plan.

    Rav Miller zatzal used science to gain an appreciation for the wonders of the Borei Olam. His books examine natural phenomena like the watermelon (with flesh sweet and juicy to attract an eater, but seeds being tough and slippery to get thrown out and planted again to make new melons) and apples (Rav Miller called them “cooked on the tree” and said that finding seeds inside an apple to get more apples was as miraculous as finding a coupon or a silver dollar for more apples).

    One’s knowledge of the world and how it works can increase, not decrease, our appreciation for the Alm-ghty. Following a Torah way of life does not mean being stupid; nor does acquiring a Ph.D. in the hard sciences mean that one must give up emunah and bitachon in the Aibershter.

  20. Yosh
    May 12th, 2011 @ 10:32 am

    How do you know that anyone actually supplied Rav Miller with scientific books and information? Or that the Rav actually read and understood them?

    I would not cite a watermelon’s slippery seeds as proof that Rav Miller used science to enhance appreciation for Hashem. It’s a cute observation, but quite lacking in scientific fact.

    It is well known that Rav Miller was completely wrong in his dismissal of scientific facts such as evolution and carbon dating in his books. For example, it is simply not true that carbon dating is based on prior assumptions about the age of the universe. So in misrepresenting science (whether inadvertently basing his conclusions on way-out-of-date information, or whether intentionally making up or misconstruing facts) I feel that he did a great disservice to his followers — and I counted myself among them until not so long ago.

  21. Michoel
    May 12th, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

    I’d imagine that many people that an outside observer would put in categories A and B would put themselves in category C.

    And that goes for me as well.

  22. Ron Coleman
    May 12th, 2011 @ 5:56 pm

    It is well known that evolution turns out to be true, Yosh?

  23. Judy Resnick
    May 12th, 2011 @ 6:03 pm

    To Yosh #20: This is a blog, not a court of law or a laboratory. The Federal Rules of Evidence aren’t in force here. Nor is it a peer-reviewed scientific publication.

    Everyone’s free to disagree, but demanding such high standards of proof in support of people’s viewpoints seems a bit extreme for a (supposedly) friendly discussion group.

    There is a famous story about a prospective convert who went to both Shammai and Hillel. Shammai tried to teach the man Alef-Bais. The man challenged him, “How do you know this is an Alef? Maybe it’s not an Alef,” and then, “How do you know this is a Bais? Maybe it’s not a Bais.” Shammai lost patience and threw him out. Then the man went to Hillel and tried the same trick. “How do you know this is an Alef?” Hillel grabbed the man’s ear. The man yelled, “OUCH! My ear! My ear!” Hillel asked, “How do I know this is your ear? Maybe it’s not.” The man replied, “Everyone knows this is my ear.” Hillel smiled. “Everyone knows this is your ear. In the same way, everyone knows this is an Alef. So sit down and you might learn something.” The man eventually became a true convert.

    Watermelon seeds are slippery. That subjective observation is easily verifiable by anyone who has ever eaten watermelon. Since that observation is replicable, verifiable and independently corroborated, it is a scientific fact. No, I do not have a hard number as to the “slipperiness” quotient of the average watermelon seed, measuring the surface at differing levels of ambient temperature, humidity and air pressure readings. I cannot tell you whether the watermelon seed is more slippery when measured at 95 degrees Fahrenheit in Louisiana or at minus ten degrees Fahrenheit in Alaska. In my humble opinion, and that of other eaters, the watermelon seed is, to use a subjective term, slippery.

    A plastic surgeon named Dr. Harold Weiss was one of several individuals who gave Rabbi Avigdor Miller scientific publications and books. I did not personally see Dr. Weiss or others giving these materials to Rabbi Miller. My affirmance of this fact is based upon my knowledge and belief that this event occurred, which in turn is based upon inadmissible hearsay.

    The fact that Rabbi Avigdor Miller had access to scientific materials and publications is self-evident from the citations to these sources in his books. His extensive writings on scientific subjects are the best refutation to the allegation that he never read nor understood scientific subjects.

    Carbon-14 dating has been wrong in a number of instances where the age of the object was known to the scientist, but the age derived from the ratio of Carbon-14 isotopes to regular Carbon-12 did not match the known date. I am stating a fact here. No, I do not have the citations to these experiments. You are free to not believe me when I say this.

    Rabbi Avigdor Miller wrote about a species of wood-boring beetle which has yeast plants growing near its egg-laying orifice. When this beetle lays eggs, deep within the wood, some of the yeast plants cling to the shell of the egg. The hatching beetle swallows some of these yeast plants on its way out of the egg. These yeast plants enable the soft hatchling to digest wood pulp and thereby make its way out of the wood.

    One could say that this was a random mutation, that yeast plants accidentally wound up assisting wood boring beetles. I personally IMHO find this more fantastic and mathematically unlikely than the suggestion that this was the design of the Creator.

  24. Menachem Lipkin
    May 13th, 2011 @ 7:05 am

    Judy, your beetle and so many other marvels of nature certainly help increase the believing person’s sense of wonder and appreciation for the apparent design of the world.

    However, we must beware of resting too much of our faith in these examples. Just because science hasn’t yet uncovered a “natural” mechanism does not mean that one doesn’t exist. That’s not to say that an understood phenomenon is any less wondrous, but it does reduce or eliminate its ability to be used as a “proof” for God’s existence.

    It’s the old “God of gaps” problem. We can’t pin our belief in God only on that which don’t understand.

    Interestingly this dove-tails into the topic here. Those who avoid worldly wisdom have a much easier time of retaining their “gaps” and thus face fewer challenges to their faith. It’s a simpler, yet more peaceful approach. Of course in today’s information age, it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain such a level of self-imposed “ignorance”.

  25. Ron Coleman
    May 13th, 2011 @ 11:44 am

    Menachem, I first, erroneously, scanned your comment to say, “Those who [acquire] worldly wisdom have a much easier time of retaining their ‘gaps’ and thus face fewer challenges to their faith.” And I was about to compliment you on that counter-intuitive but, I believe, accurate insight when I went back and read it again.

    I think the way I read it is, in fact, more correct. It helps not to mistake acquiring worldly wisdom with acquiring degrees or course credits.

    But what do I know?

  26. Bob Miller
    May 13th, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

    1. Ordinary stuff is pretty wonderful, when you think about it.

    2. What passes nowadays for “worldly wisdom” includes both truth and falsehood. Before one dives in too far, one’s internal falsehood detector needs serious attention and calibration.

  27. ross
    May 13th, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

    Sometimes after I read a book or a rubuttal to something which espouses a theory, I think, “That’s their answer?” And then I’m more likely to think it’s not true.

    An evolutionist wrote a book showing how a watch could’ve really popped up on the moon. After reading it, I knew evolution couldn’t be true. I felt the same way about the “rebuttal” of the Zionist organization included in the back of of some editions of “Perfidy”.

  28. Menachem Lipkin
    May 14th, 2011 @ 2:45 pm

    Ron, it’s “counter-intuitive” because the way you read it makes no sense. One cannot simultaneously retain age-old “gaps” in knowledge while at the same time acquiring the very knowledge that has filled many of those gaps.

  29. Menachem Lipkin
    May 14th, 2011 @ 5:54 pm

    An evolutionist wrote a book showing how a watch could’ve really popped up on the moon. After reading it, I knew evolution couldn’t be true.

    Really? So if you read a poor explanation of Torah Judaism you’d likewise “know” that it couldn’t be true?

    And the only thing perfidious about Perfidy is how some ignorant anti-Zionists have turned into their “bible”.

  30. Ron Coleman
    May 14th, 2011 @ 10:22 pm

    Menachem, your comment about Perfidy in “29” partly explains your comment in “28” — your concept of “knowledge” has a very considerable ideological component, and a broken irony detector too.

    As to the substance of “28,” I am arguing, contrary to your parody of my argument, that the testimony of many who operate at the most advanced levels in the sciences tends to support not the concept that knowledge gaps close as we obtain more tools for understanding our universe. Rather, the contrary obtains: those with the greatest mastery of a given science have a better grasp of the he true extent of what, in that field, is beyond explanation than would be appreciated by perusing a high school science text, bristling with certitude and neat explanations for everything.

    It is only by proceeding far, far up along a curve that one can have the experience, perspective and understanding to perceive that he is tracing the line of an asymptote.

  31. ross
    May 15th, 2011 @ 8:58 am

    Really? So if you read a poor explanation of Torah Judaism you’d likewise “know” that it couldn’t be true?

    If I was starting out learning at a kiruv center and I had what I considered strong questions, and then the people there answered in such a way that showed they didn’t know the answers either (e.g. “Well, how can you not see this is true? Are you stupid?”), then yes, I would say Torah isn’t true, and move on. But that’s not what happened, thankfully, and as I go on in life, the pieces and answers come even more together. Thankfully, I encounted people who could answer my questions. I haven’t found that with evolution.

  32. shmuel
    May 15th, 2011 @ 9:55 am

    I have a tangential question about the debate going on between others –why is it that some people feel that evolution (or secular natural science in general) is somehow at odds with or threatening to Jewish belief?

    Does anyone believe that God’s existence or presence is scientifically or empirically testable? If yes, I would be curious to hear why and how. If no, then all observations of the physical world demonstrate how God’s created world works and, to the believer, show some of God’s greatness and wisdom, irrespective of the religious beliefs or non-beliefs of the observer.

    I am a non-scientist, but every time I read about the wonders of the natural world, I am more in awe of God’s creation, and I have trouble understanding why anyone who is already a believer would see it differently.

  33. Judy Resnick
    May 15th, 2011 @ 10:07 am

    To Ross #27 and Menachem Lipkin #29: I read Perfidy many years ago and I have a copy of it at home. The author, Ben Hecht, was a member of the Bergson Group, trying to get support for saving the Jews of Europe. It is not pleasant to read Hecht’s allegations 70 years later that the Jewish Establishment in America was openly hostile toward his efforts. Nor is it pleasant to read his accusations that Haganah members in pre-Israel Mandate Palestine used torture on captured Stern Gang and Irgun members. Hecht is now dead and I am not aware that he had any other agenda other than his inner anguish and his journalist truth-seeking motives. I know that Kastner’s family have sought to tell their side of the story, that it was a miracle that Dr. Kastner was able to save anyone, let alone those sixteen hundred Jews on the train with the Satmar Rebbe that made it out of Hungary to Switzerland.

  34. Judy Resnick
    May 15th, 2011 @ 10:26 am

    Evolution was taught like a religion. We were told in school to shut up and memorize dates for the final exam.

    We were told that dinosaurs lived during the Mesozoic Era, between 135 million and 65 million years ago. No science to back it up. Take it on faith.

    It’s one thing to say, “Professor XYZ of
    ABC University conducted experiments in nineteen-something where he radioactive dated n tons of dinosaur bones, and based on his calculations, arrived at an average age of seventy million years.” Then you know why and how that number made it into the textbooks. However, we were never told anything like this.

    What we were told was, “Dinosaurs lived seventy million years ago. Study it and know it for the Regents exam in June.”

    We were told that fossils are dated based on the age of the rocks, and rocks are dated based on the age of the fossils. This means that rocks found with dinosaur bones are seventy million years old because everyone “knows” that dinosaurs are seventy million years old.

    If I were to run rigorous experiments on dinosaur bones resulting in an age of 50 million years, I would be scientifically discredited because everyone “knows” that dinosaurs became extinct 65 million years ago.

    Darwin’s studies about the radiation of finches, that a new species of curved beak finches can evolve out of a population of straight beak finches, are fine science. The recessive genes for curved beaks expressed itself in the population. The issue is extrapolation from a difference in beak shape or wing shape in finches, to the evolution of all birds and all living things from some assumed primordial soup.

  35. ross
    May 15th, 2011 @ 12:03 pm

    I was only saying that after I read it, I didn’t know what to make of it. Who says that the author is correct? I don’t know, I wasn’t there.
    But, once I read the rebuttal at the end of my edition, I thought, “That’s how they answer the charges??” and I was more inclined to believe the author.

    Evolution isn’t a threat to Jewish belief. It’s fun to think that some believe that once upon a time there were two amoebas who declared war on each other, and as life went on, one developed quills and became a porcupine and one developed a sac full of terrible smelling chemicals and became a skunk. Evolution is wonderful!

  36. Menachem Lipkin
    May 15th, 2011 @ 12:26 pm

    Ross, that’s exactly my point. The validity of an an argument or theory cannot be determined based on the weakness if its critique. Especially, when one selects out a small number (or only one!) of critiques.

    Don’t confuse the process of evolution with theories as to how the process works.

  37. Menachem Lipkin
    May 15th, 2011 @ 12:32 pm

    Thank you Judy for helping clarify my quip. Hecht, a committed Zionist, did not write Perfidy to be an anti-Zionist screed. That, and the fact that Kastner help save hundreds including the Satmar Rebbe, makes the use of Perfidy by anti-Zionists like Satmar so ironic.

  38. shmuel
    May 15th, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

    Ross, in #34, it sounds as though you think that evolution is (a) incompatible with Jewish belief, and (b) no threat to Jewish belief because it is ridiculous (forgive me if I am misinterpreting what you wrote).

    Can you explain why you think (a)? That is what I was originally trying to understand with my first question.

    I have no comment on (b).

  39. Michoel
    May 15th, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

    “An evolutionist wrote a book showing how a watch could’ve really popped up on the moon. After reading it, I knew evolution couldn’t be true.

    Really? So if you read a poor explanation of Torah Judaism you’d likewise “know” that it couldn’t be true?”

    Perhaps not. But if I had come to conclude that Torah was true via whatever means personally worked for me, and then I came across a very silly work by an evolutionist, it certainly would serve to be m’ma’et in my need to make peace between Torah and evolution. And if the author of the evolution work was a much vaunted world famous professor, it was certainly make me question why others were so impressed.

  40. ross
    May 16th, 2011 @ 9:22 am

    “…it sounds as though you think that evolution is (a) incompatible with Jewish belief.”

    How is it in ANY way compatible? What part of it, or any fraction of it is compatible with believing that there is a Creator?

    “Don’t confuse the process of evolution with theories as to how the process works.”

    I’m confused…what does this mean?

  41. shmuel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 10:05 am

    Ross–

    If you think that evolution and Jewish belief are incompatible, can you please explain why? Especially if, as it appears, you think it is so obvious? If you re-read my original post # 32, you’ll see that I wasn’t coming to promote evolution or to have a debate on the subject, I was seeking to understand the thinking of those who believe that such an incompatibility exists. If Ross is unwilling to do so, is there anyone else who thinks similarly and can explain it?

    In the interest of comity, however, I am glad to explain in very short form why I don’t see an incompatibility. I don’t think any scientific observation or theory is incompatible with Jewish belief because I believe that God created the entire physical universe and also that God is non-physical. So by definition scientific observation cannot detect God, and any scientific observation serves (among its other purposes) to shed light on the intricacy of God’s creation (and thus to inspire us by showing us a small piece of God’s infinite greatness). Any statement by a scientist to the effect that “evolution proves there is no God” (chalila lachshov) is a statement of the scientist’s religious beliefs, not a scientific statement.

  42. ross
    May 16th, 2011 @ 10:31 am

    “any scientific observation serves (among its other purposes) to shed light on the intricacy of God’s creation (and thus to inspire us by showing us a small piece of God’s infinite greatness.”

    I’m lost. I know you weren’t coming to debate evolution, and everything you said above is true. But I’m missing the connection between what you said and that there is no imcompatibilty with evolution. What does one thing have to do with the other? What process of evolution do you see? There is no process of evolution that testifies to the Creator because there is no process of evolution. The fact that creatures have mechinisms to survive is because they were created that way. To say that they evolved into what they are from any other thing is testifing that there is no Creator.

    Is this just semantics?

  43. Yosh
    May 16th, 2011 @ 11:05 am

    ross, if Hashem Himself told you that He created the evolutionary process, would you believe Him? If He took the time to explain to you the Great Chochma that evolution represents and how the complexity of the bria and the shalsheles of the oilamos and the malachim hakedoshim which don’t change serve as a foil to the physical bria which does change, and the Rambam came down from shamayim and read to you out of his Moreh Nevuchim which you could have read yourself, where it says black on white that the first two perakim of Maaseh Bereishis are to be understood as a spiritual hierarchy and not a creationary chronology, and all the other Rishonim who support the Rambam on these issues, would you believe any of them?

  44. Michoel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 11:10 am

    Shmuel,
    It would be impossible to do your question justice in a short format but I’ll give it a stab anyway.

    The idea that the Torah conveys actual history and facts in language that is understandable to readers of regular intelligence is self-evident. This idea is actually the yesod ha’yesodos before any deeper understanding of Torah can even begin. If Breishis bara Elokim really can means Mary had a little lamb, then words are meaningless and nothing means anything. The early Chritians based themselves on a mis-translation of almah (I think) to mean a virgin instead of its proper translation which is a young woman. The Torah has another word for virgin which is besulah. But if words can mean anything, than their translation is as good as ours. Until here, I assume I have not said anything radical and we can all agree. Good?

    That being said, we also understand that the Torah is sometimes using allegorical or other non-literal language, sometimes hiding deep ideas in simple langauge, where the simple language is not necessarily un-true but does not convey the entire meaning, or other areas where the Torah’s intent is unclear. We are still all together I’m sure.

    There are yet other areas where an honest reader would say that the Torah clearly means A. And there is no reason based on the text alone, to divert from the simple meaning. However, our perceptions about the natural world suggest or tell us clearly that A is not true. So now we need to re-read what the Torah says in light of our understanding of the natural world. Since Hashem gave us our ability to understand, suggesting that we should deny our perceptions doesn’t make sense. Because, just as it is true that if Breishis bara Elokim and can mean Mary had a little lamb than nothing means anything, so too, if a percieved tree is really a rock, than nothing means anything.

    So we have two yesodos that are really one. 1. Words are words and carry meanings (IE we can perceive accurately the Torah’s basic intent most often). If not, nothing means anything. 2. And we have a right and obligation to believe our senses. If not, nothing means anything.

    Now we come to the question of what to do with apparent conflicts between the words and our perceptions.

    If we feel very strongly that the text of the Torah is saying that exactly one man and one woman existed in the recent past, and our perception of evolution (or other related parts of the sciences) as not being strong in their contesting A, so we will conclude that our reading of Torah is correct and scientists are wrong. If the factors get weighed out differently, we can come to a different conclusion. There are many parts of the Torah that, on a simple reading do not work well with Evolution. Probably Parshas Noach is more in conflict than even Parshas Breishis (to my understanding).

    All this attempts to answer the question of what is the Torah saying. But not necessarily the question of “What is forbidden to say”.

    Highly incomplete but I am out of time.

    Michoel

  45. Menachem Lipkin
    May 16th, 2011 @ 11:24 am

    “Don’t confuse the process of evolution with theories as to how the process works.”

    I’m confused…what does this mean?

    There is ample evidence for the process of evolution. As Yosh pointed out, there does not have to be a conflict between the process of evolution and the Torah if you believe that God directed the process.

    To say that they evolved into what they are from any other thing is testifing that there is no Creator.

    Only if you take the first handful of pesukim of the Torah literally, which you don’t have to.

  46. Michoel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 11:39 am

    Yosh,
    There are exactly ZERO rishonim, including the Rambam whose general approach works well with evolution or whose written words, even allow for it. One can argue, and this is Rabbi Slifkin’s approach, that the Rambam’s “main vort” is what he writes in the Moreh and that he himself would not have written his other statements that do not allow for evolution where he to live in modern times. However, that is highly speculative because the Rambam takes on very clearly that there is a mesorah, ish m’pi ish from Adam down to Noach down to Avraham Avinu. You have a right to be convinced of evolution and then re-interpret based on that understanding, but to make it seems as if it works just fine, is not honest.

  47. ross
    May 16th, 2011 @ 11:40 am

    “There is ample evidence for the process of evolution.”

    Don’t keep me in suspense…where are they? This might help me with “He created the evolutionary process”.

  48. Michoel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 11:42 am

    R’ Menachem writes:
    “Only if you take the first handful of pesukim of the Torah literally, which you don’t have to”

    Not true at all. There are lots of problems with Evolution aside from the first handful of pesukim. Believe in Evolution if you must, but do it honestly.

  49. Menachem Lipkin
    May 16th, 2011 @ 11:52 am

    Ross, there is a world of information out there about evolution. Scratch below the “populist” surface, read serious articles in serious scientific journals.

    Yes, Michoel, there are “problems” with evolution, but those problems don’t testify to a literal reading of the creation narrative. You too, must approach that honestly as well.

    I recently attended a lecture by Dr. Schroeder. He said quite clearly, and with the reshut of two recent gedolim (I’m not mentioning the names because I’m not 100% sure of which brother one was.) that it’s possible within the framework of Bereishit to say that Adam had parents.

  50. shmuel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 11:55 am

    oh goodness, I was trying to avoid this kind of debate that has sprung up, which doesn’t interest me (though if it interests you guys, please enjoy). Part of the reason it doesn’t interest me is that a resolution on one side or the other wouldn’t have any impact at all on my religious beliefs as I alluded to above.

    Ross, separately from the debate that has started, you keep answering my question with more questions. Can you just say in a short form statement why you think evolution is incompatible with Jewish belief?

    It would help me understand this position. Thanks

  51. shmuel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 11:58 am

    Michoel –thanks for your stab at explanation.

  52. Yosh
    May 16th, 2011 @ 12:28 pm

    to make it seems as if it works just fine, is not honest

    What’s not honest is for a lay person to claim that thousands of PhDs and research scientists are all a bunch of idiots.

  53. Michoel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

    1. More than one thing can be dishonest.
    2. It is not dishonest to claim that thousands of PhDs and research scientist have deep biases.

  54. ross
    May 16th, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

    “thousands of PhDs and research scientists are all a bunch of idiots.”

    No, not at all! No one is claiming that a person’s IQ has anything to do with seeing that Torah is true and evolution isnt. I used to wonder about Albert Einstein…he’s a genius, how could he not have become a frum Yid?
    How silly. People have inner reasons of why they don’t want to belive in a Creator, even though the creations testify to it. Based on that, they choose a number of other avenues, and they interpret the results based on the smartest avenue they chose.

    I just never heard anything, even in college, as “proof” to any process of evolution. These scientists have data, and when trying to apply a resoning to the data, they say it must be evolution. Because in their world, what else is there? There must have been a big bang…it’s the smartest explanation in their scientific world!

    They’re certainly not idiots…they just won’t think out of the box, because that’s not what science is. But that’s where the answers are.

  55. Michoel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 2:27 pm

    Hello Menachem. BTW, I hope you are still doing well and shteiging in Beit Shemesh. I have Dr. Schroder also. He said in the name of Rav Yaakov Weinberg that one can believe that Adam had parents and went on to explain certain conditions. But yes, agreed, that this would provide heavy duty support for allowing for evolution. I live in Baltimore and had the great pleasure of hearing Rav Weinberg speak. He was just an unbelievable intellect and incredible talmind chacham who was conversant in the sciences. However, he said this to one or two individuals in a private conversation when asked point plank if one may believe in evolution. He knew beforehand that the sho’el was convinced of evolution. So certainly if truly held that it is assur to believe in TOE, he would not have said it is muttar, chas v’shalom. But on the other hand, if he held it was mutar al y’dei hadchak, and if portraying it that way, might just cause the shoel to conclude that rabbis don’t know anything, he might express as “yes, it is fine”, while not really having too much enthusiasm for it. If you take a look at the english sefer on Chinuch that was put out by a young man names R. Frank. It is a collection of Rav Weinberg’s comments at the Torah U’mesora conventions over the years, when he was asked many questions on chinuch. Around page 56, (I haven’t seen it in a while), it is very clear that Rav Weinberg did not believe in evolution and did not see it as generally compatible with Torah. Certainly he also did not think it was k’fira as I mentioned.

  56. Michoel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

    Menachem,
    I don’t know how to read the maaseh of Noach more honestly. When I try to squish in Evolution, it sounds to me much less honest. Actually, completely untenable. And I don’t know how ANYONE can read it honestly and fit in evolution. If you have a way, I’d like to hear it.

    I am working, very slowly, on my own approach that I hope will become a sefer some day. It is roughly based on the Radal on Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer, as well as some of the ideas of Rabbi Isaac Mozeson and others. If anyone would like to here more, they can contact me via the blog administrators.

  57. Michoel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 2:38 pm

    should say Dr. Isaac Mozeson, not Rabbi.

  58. Yosh
    May 16th, 2011 @ 3:00 pm

    These scientists have data, and when trying to apply a reasoning to the data, they say it must be evolution…. They’re certainly not idiots…they just won’t think out of the box, because that’s not what science is. But that’s where the answers are.

    As if evolution itself wasn’t one of the greatest, most out-of-the-box theories ever proposed. As if anyone ever had an inkling about anything like the big bang before the data showed that the cosmos was flying apart.

    Drug efficacy is also based on “applying reasoning” to data. Did you ever hear anything, even in college, as “proof” as to how acetaminophen brings down fever? Because there is only data and reasonable explanations, but there is no “proof”. But it is hard science; it is a fact.

    People have inner reasons of why they don’t want to believe in a Creator

    People have “inner reasons” for why they want to believe in a Creator. In Creationism. But rigorous archaeology and paleontology doctorate programs, peer review, and all the scholarship that goes with it, scholarly journals and symposiums, independent verification of data, a thousand years of scientific method and methodology — and you want someone to hand you, as an undergrad in college, an easily digestible proof. All “these scientists”, all these Einsteins. Let me tell you something, maybe the reason that Einstein didn’t become frum was because he didn’t believe in any religion of which its followers could be so shallow when it came to topics of intellectual rigor. You claim to be religious? You claim to believe in God? And yet you don’t believe in the world He created, nor in the people He created to study it and to reveal its secrets?

  59. ross
    May 16th, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

    Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking said this yesterday in an interview:

    “I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

    I just wanted to throw that in. Anyway, I don’t get the connection of not believing in the compatibility in evolution, and the statement: “And yet you don’t believe in the world He created, nor in the people He created to study it and to reveal its secrets.” In your mind, these are synonymous, but I just don’t understand why.

    “…he didn’t believe in any religion of which its followers could be so shallow when it came to topics of intellectual rigor.”

    Fine. I’ll stick with waving my tambourine in airports and handing out flowers. Who needs to think?

  60. Michoel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 3:28 pm

    Yosh,
    You need to cool down a bit. Please come to Baltimore so we can pack down a few l’chaims and chulent and have a normal conversation about this. Are you married? Bring your wife and kids also.

    Maybe the reason Reb Chaim Brisker didn’t become and evolutionist was because he didn’t believe in any religion of which its followers could be so shallow when it came to topics of intellectual rigor.

    There are some major points to consider vis a vis your being impressed by the scientific establishment. I offer a few talking points below:

    1. The likelihood of an atheist or agnostic DIS-believing in evolution is exceedingly small. Very close to nothing actually.

    2. Although a certain percentage of biological scientists profess belief in God, I have never seen that belief clearly quantified. Before I was frum, I also said of myself that I believed in God. But it is very clear to me now that I did not. I would like to see that quantified. I suspect that the percentage of evolutionists that believe in a creator (that “could have” created the world by any means he chose), to such a degree that they would give up their lives for that belief, is very tiny. If so, the likelihood of any given evolutionist to come to different conclusion is minuscule.

    3. Those “wearing the pants” in the evolutionary science field, tend to be the most, virulent, evangelical athiests, and they have a large hand in defining the terms of engagement with foreign ideas, and social cohesion. Yes, it most definitely effects scientists.

    4. When an aspiring scientist shows up for the first day of class, you can be quite certain that they don’t start off with a year long course called “Evolution, Is it really true?”. There is an assumption that it is true and vieter gegangin.

    5. Rabbi Miller’s basic idea, that you need to be extremely foolish to believe that, for example lice accidentally developed cement that only solidifies when exposed to the air and not before, is certainly true. You’ll claim that if Hashem wanted that to happen via a guided process of evolution than it could. But still, to look at such phenomena all day long, and attribute to PURE ACTUAL accident, does show an impressive level of (bias to the point of) stupidity.

  61. Menachem Lipkin
    May 16th, 2011 @ 3:42 pm

    “I don’t know how to read the maaseh of Noach more honestly.”

    I can’t really see this as being anything but allegorical, or at least localized. Let’s leave it at that.

  62. ross
    May 16th, 2011 @ 4:02 pm

    “Maybe the reason Reb Chaim Brisker didn’t become and evolutionist was because he didn’t believe in any religion of which its followers could be so shallow when it came to topics of intellectual rigor.”

    Aargh…I’ll kick myself for days for not thinking of this line.

  63. Michoel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 4:04 pm

    sorry to cause you pain

  64. Yosh
    May 16th, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

    Thanks for the invitation Michoel :)

    A few thoughts on your thoughts

    1. The likelihood of an atheist or agnostic DIS-believing in the second law of thermodynamics is exceedingly small. See point 4. Yet, on the other hand, the likelihood of the Baal Shem Tov in believing in the law of gravity is ZERO because he held that when a leaf falls from a tree it is because God willed it to happen and NOT due to any chukas teva.

    2. I don’t think that belief in God needs to be quantified, but there are different types of beliefs. Obviously our belief is in a God that wants something from us, so I agree, belief without action is close to meaningless. But I think that most people at least try to adhere to some code of ethics, a few of the 10 commandments, and combined with a fuzzy belief in some kind of creator — that’s not much worse in terms of fuzziness than what we lay people have to offer a paleontologist in terms of our thinking about paleontology.

    3. Creationists are loud as well, and often frame the debate in similar ways as their bnei plugta, the evangelical evolutionists, with similar detrimental effect to their coreligionists.

    4. Yes, the “assumption” is that in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence, evolution is a fact.

    5. I’m not arguing for completely random evolution. I believe there is a Creator and a purpose to our lives. I’m fine with guided evolution, but I’m not sure of the need for it. However, from a purely scientific perspective matter can neither be created nor destroyed, and assuming that the universe is an oscillating model, there is literally an eternity for these things to happen. But a scientist is supposed to be rational and study the physical world; I don’t think a scientist is ever required to invoke super-natural explanations. In fact, probably the most foolish thing I’ve ever read about is Crick’s famous belief that aliens must have seeded the earth with DNA because it is too complex to have evolved. I believe that if Crick had instead claimed that God created DNA, then we should have viewed that as equally foolish from a scientific perspective. If you’re a scientist, be a scientist and leave the theology to the theologists. And if you’re a theologist, don’t argue against scientific fact. And if you’re neither like me — then trust the experts in their respective fields.

  65. Michoel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 4:38 pm

    OK, Yosh, We can probably find a lot to agree on. Maybe I can write more later this week.

  66. shmuel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 4:58 pm

    As I mentioned, I don’t wish to participate in the debate on evolution, but I would like to point out a few interesting things I have noticed:

    1. the reason given as I understand it for rejecting evolution is its purported incompatibility with pshuto shel mikra. This is surprising to me because I rarely encounter people interested in pshuto shel mikra.

    2. those who are rejecting evolution are not merely saying “that may be the best scientific theory out there, but I cannot accept it because I believe it conflicts with the Torah,” they are saying “the scientific approach that is universally accepted in all the world’s universities is stupid and no objective person would believe in it, and it also conflicts with the Torah as I understand it.”

  67. Michoel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

    Puleeese! Shmuel, Oy, I’m about to go home for the night and you are making me late to see my wife and kids! Of course I am mochel. Please don’t write charicatures of other people’s views. “I really have no interest in this debate but I just out of the goodness of my heart I just want to point out how silly those that disagree with me are.” Not nice!

    It is not “purported” incompatibility with p’shuto shel mikra. It is ACTUAL incompatibility with p’shuto shel mikra. Further more, it is largely incompatible with remez, drush and sod as well. Rabbi Slifkin, for example, takes a very honest approach of saying that, in effect, the Torah is just not a history book. Fine. But nearly all the written m’koros that we have in all aspects of Torah that deal with (explicitly or implicitly) the development of the natural world, do not work well at all with evolution. “Shmittos” does not work well, long first days is a stretch for many reasons, and there is much more to say on this. I have to run

  68. Judy Resnick
    May 16th, 2011 @ 6:15 pm

    I have a lot of problems with evolution from a purely mathematical and scientific basis. For example, I’ve never heard an explanation for milk. All mammals have it, whales, bats, cats, humans, cows, but why? Reptiles and amphibians and birds feed their young fine without it. Mammals could have chewed their food and then regurgitated it for their young to eat. It is not necessary for survival to “invent” this whole new kind of feeding system, so to speak.

  69. shmuel
    May 16th, 2011 @ 7:10 pm

    Michoel–

    I think you may have confused some of the things that others (who are arguing in favor of evolution) said with what I said –I have no horse in this race. I don’t think I am qualified to decide whether evolution took place or not, and as I’ve said, whether it did or not has little impact on my religious consciousness. (for that matter, neither do quantum theory or string theory or any other scientific theory I may have read about in the newspaper’s science section –I confess to having been a humanities major!) So I wasn’t trying to caricature anyone, least of all those who don’t agree with me.

    I said “purported” incompatibilty precisely because I am not taking a side (I frankly wouldn’t regard myself as qualified to take a position other than to say “this rishon or acharon says this or that”).

    As for Rabbi Slifkin, I’ve never read anything he’s written (though I am aware that some or all of his books were banned in certain quarters a few years ago) so I cannot comment on what you wrote about him.

    Let me put the one of the observations I made a different way –I believe in krias yam suf. If a physical oceanographer told me that it was impossible, I would feel sure that he is wrong, because in fact it happened. I wouldn’t say that he knows nothing about the properties of the waters of the seas, I would just say “well, all of his professional work is probably up to snuff, it just so happens that God changed the rules in a way that he is unable to study.” I wouldn’t say that he is a crackpot in his own field.

    Now I have said all along that I don’t see why evolution is incompatible with Jewish belief (neither have I said it is definitely compatible and certainly not definitely compatible according to all views) –that is the issue I was interested in hearing people’s perspective on when I first floated my question to the group. But if you were to convince me tomorrow that evolution is totally incompatible with the Torah, I think I would adopt a position similar to what I wrote about krias yam suf –the science is probably correct on its own terms, but it fails to take into account God’s change of the rules, which scientists are unable to study. At least some of those who have posted on the subject here don’t seem to be taking such an approach, but rather attacking evolution on scientific terms. People are certainly entitled to do what they like, I was just pointing it out because I found it interesting.

  70. Mark Frankel
    May 17th, 2011 @ 9:54 am

    Shmuel, Yasher Koach on the last comment and your examples.

    To make explicit one of your points, both science and Torah Judaism start with a set of assumptions.

    – In Torah, the starting assumption is that there is a G-d who created the world and still controls the world.
    – In Science, the existence (or non existence) of G-d is not part of the set of assumptions since science is dealing with that which is physically observable and therefore the existence of G-d does not come into the picture.

    I do want to point out a downside to this approach, which Michoel alluded to with the phrase “pshuto shel mikra”. In the quest to avoid unnecessary conflicts between Torah and Science, sometimes even Orthodox Jews will possibly distort the Torah viewpoint to accommodate the scientific view.

    A prime example is the flood. Because of the prevailing scientific view that a global flood never happened at the time described in the Torah, some Orthodox Jews say that the Torah’s account of the flood is allegorical. According to most Torah sources, the flood was a physical event.

    The approach you advocated would say that the scientists are wrong in this matter. However, the overall approach of always trying to reconcile Torah and Science can lead to distortions in understanding the Torah.

  71. Menachem Lipkin
    May 17th, 2011 @ 5:36 pm

    While it’s certainly a person’s prerogative to believe that God performed a near endless number of miracles to make the flood narrative happen as a “physical event”, there are other legitimate approaches for those who need something more “rational”.

    Here’s one:

    http://www.traditiononline.org/news/_pdfs/0041-0048.pdf

  72. Mark Frankel
    May 17th, 2011 @ 5:47 pm

    A person has the prerogative to define “legitimate” and “rational” any way they want, but my understanding of Judaism is that it goes beyond individual prerogatives to Mesorah.

    Menachem, how are you defining “legitimate” and “rational”?
    Are you using the same definitions as those whose Mesorah you are following?

    Do you think it’s “legitimate” to reinterpret every “beyond natural” event in the Torah in a “rational” manner?

    Do you think it’s beyond the realm of the “rational” to assume that G-d can perform miracles?

    PS-The source you linked cites David Shatz as a primary source of his hypothesis. David is a friend and hopefully I’ll have the chance to ask him if he thinks the application of his insights/chiddushim as support for the “flood as allegory” is consistent with his understanding and that of his Rebbe, Rabbi Soloveitchik.

  73. shmuel
    May 17th, 2011 @ 9:05 pm

    Mark Frankel–

    –regarding trying to reconcile Torah and science, I agree with you. One of the issues it raises is that someone will come up with a brilliant way of reconciling the two and then the science will change with new discoveries or theories and then what to do with the interpretations one came up with.

  74. Menachem Lipkin
    May 18th, 2011 @ 5:51 am

    Good questions Mark. This is stuff I grapple with a lot. Obviously, I was using the word prerogative within the context of orthodox Judaism. I’ll give it a shot.

    “Rational” is an offshoot of what we’re discussing here, ie how/if we integrate extra-Torah knowledge. If one is of the direction to value such knowledge intrinsically, then it becomes part of how one interacts with and views the Torah. Such a person must deal with the fact, for instance, that there are well over a million species of non-aquatic life with regard to the Flood narrative.

    This brings us to “legitimacy”. Within our framework a person then must seek out “legitimate” sources to help resolve the issues raised by “rational” thought. Legitimacy, IMHO, devolves to those who have a mastery in “Torah”, now and through the ages. “Legitimate” ideas can be propagated directly by such people or via those who can present the ideas of such “masters” in cogent and rational manner.

    Nothing I’ve said so far is outside the “Mesorah” I follow.

    Do you think it’s “legitimate” to reinterpret every “beyond natural” event in the Torah in a “rational” manner?

    This question has inherent bias built in. It assumes that there are events in the Torah that must be “beyond natural”. The Torah describes a “process” for the creation of the world, that a strong wind blew all night before the splitting of the sea, and even the plagues were all plausibly natural events. In other words the Torah can easily be interpreted (not RE-interpreted as showing that God works through nature.)

    So, are we left with any miracles? Of course! Timing is everything. Scientists recently demonstrated that a strong wind blowing for 8 hours in certain area of the Red Sea, suspected to be where they crossed, would cause the same effect. But it was one heck of a miracle that it happened when it did! Same with all the plagues, etc.

    The bottom is this, and it’s what gives this line of thinking a huge psychological advantage. I believe that God exists and is all-powerful. So, if when Mashiach comes he shows me a YouTube video of a million and half creatures happily sailing on the Ark, I’m cool with that because I know that God could have done it that way. But I’m not so sure some of the literalists would be able to handle the reverse so well, ie the video shows a local flood with just a relative handful of animals on board. And the Atheists would totally freak out.:) In the meantime, the cat is out of bag and I can’t but help to look at things through “rational” eyes.

  75. Mark Frankel
    May 18th, 2011 @ 11:21 am

    Menachem, thanks for the thoughtful reply!

    The definition of rational is dependent on the field of study and it is a term whose definition has been debated throughout the ages. In the scientific/physical world, rationality is constrained by that which can be observed or derived from that which is observable, so belief in G-d does not fall in the realm of rationality. In the philosophic/metaphysical world, belief in G-d would be considered a rational belief.

    I think a lot depends on your starting point. If you start from Torah Judaism, the first three axioms are:
    1) There is a G-d
    2) He communicated the Torah to man
    3) He controls this world and the next through divine providence

    All three of these axioms would be declared irrational or irrelevant from a scientific/physical perspective. So every believing Jew starts in the camp of scientific irrationality or irrelevancy in their primary beliefs.

    It might be helpful to look at science from the framework of the Ramchal in the Book of Logic and the Ways of Reason. He describes three processes of the human mind:
    1) Understanding the basic premises. This is Chochma. In science this would be uncovering and defining verifiable premises.
    2) Deriving new ideas from the basic premises through logic/syllogisms. This is Binah. In science this would be hypothesis based on the verifiable premises.
    3) Accepting or rejecting new ideas by examining the premises and logic/syllogisms. This is Daas. In science this would be be peer review or communal acceptance of hypotheses.
    (Note: the Ramchal does not use the terms Chochma, Binah and Daas in “Reason” and “Logic”)

    Hypothesis and its examination rest on the basic premises so I think the Torah-first viewpoint which includes the existence of G-d has an advantage from the Science-first viewpoint for Torah Jews.

    In regards to interpretation, I’m not comfortable with your use of the term “literalists”. Should we call those not in the “literalist” camp, “allegorists”. The written Torah is understood through the Oral Torah so right off the bat we don’t take everything literally. My Partners in Torah chavrusa is all over me every time we come to a Posuk that states “Eye for an Eye” because he is still working on his understanding of the role of the Oral Torah and leans towards the literal in his learning of Chumash.

    There’s a big spectrum between what you call the “literalists” and what I’m calling the “allegorists” and I think it’s important to recognize that.

  76. Menachem Lipkin
    May 18th, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

    As usual, Mark, we agree more than disagree.

    Yes, of course we’re irrational! :)

    But, seriously, once we accept our axioms we still must live, function and think in this world.

    Only a couple of minor points:

    There’s a lot of leeway on understanding divine providence (as we’ve discussed before) and that can have a lot to do with how we perceive that God interacts with the world and thus how we understand some of these narratives.

    Also, I never said anything about having a science-first approach. In fact I said way up there ^ somewhere that Torah is supreme. Using science, archeological evidence, facts of human observation, etc. to better understand the Torah in no way diminishes its supremacy.

  77. Michoel
    May 18th, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

    Shmuel,
    I just got to see your latest comments now. Thaks for clarifying. I was being a bit overstated in my objections. Just humoring myself really.

  78. Michoel
    May 18th, 2011 @ 1:12 pm

    I also suspect that I largely agree with Mark and Menachem. And why shouldn’t I since they are both highly intelligent, swell guys!

    I consider myself a very shtark rationalist. And I take a bit of umbrage at the implication that an approach that is more accepting of evolution is inherently more rational. I don’t think that follows at all, and neither did Reb Yaakov Kamenetzky, for example. He was also a pretty rational (and rationalist) person.

  79. Mark Frankel
    May 18th, 2011 @ 1:17 pm

    Menachem, I’m always happier when we agree, it means that another contradiction has been resolved and Chazal say “There is no greater joy than the resolution of doubt”.

    I wouldn’t say there’s a lot of leeway on understanding divine providence, but there are some differences of opinion among the generally accepted approaches. I would recommend a reading of Derech Hashem for anybody interested in this topic, although he doesn’t directly address the flood there.

    Sorry for the science-first attribution. Here again we have a broad spectrum from those who are not interested at all in what science has to say, to those who will readily adopt “non-standard” understandings of Torah to reconcile them with scientific findings.

  80. Michoel
    May 18th, 2011 @ 2:21 pm

    Menachem,
    Perhaps you can clarify what makes an approach to the mabul “legitimate” or illegitimate. That pdf that you linked to quotes from clearly non-orthodox bible scholars including a JTS professor and a Rutgers professor. His other main points are not based on mainstream sources. (I am using the term “mainstream” in a way that is non-charedi :-)). There may well be mainstream sources for the degree of allegory you are suggesting but they are not in this article. So if your approach indeed leave the Torah in it’s place of supremacy, we need to have an understanding of what is Torah and what is not. JTS, in my book, might be fine folks but I think we get into trouble when we call them valid Torah.

  81. Menachem Lipkin
    May 18th, 2011 @ 4:15 pm

    Michoel,Tradition is a well respected publication and Rabbi Wolowesky, an editor, is a respected Rav.

    That a scholarly essay uses non-traditional sources for informational purposes in no way invalidates the essay or its theme. (You would have to invalidate parts of the Talmud if you really hold that way.)This is very much what we’re talking about in this topic, ie using Chochmas Haolom to better understand our world and the Torah.

    Mainstream is not synonymous with legitimate. The Rav was hardly mainstream, but he was certainly legitimate.

  82. Shades of Gray
    May 18th, 2011 @ 4:59 pm

    R. Shubert Spero was the first to publish in Tradition a non-mainstream view of the mabul. At the time, his approach was critiqued by the Jewish Observer, as well as by readers in Tradition itself,to which R. Spero responded(see link for back and forth).

    http://www.lookstein.org/articles/history_or_metaphor.htm#2

    R. Slifkin has mentioned that R. Dovid Zvi Hoffman and R. Gedaliah Nadel discuss the mabul in terms of modern-day questions, but I haven’t seen these myself to know how they approach it to comment about it.

  83. Michoel
    May 19th, 2011 @ 8:11 am

    Menachem,
    I re-read it after your post and truthfully found it less offensive than the first time. Maybe that is a siman that I should stop reading Tradition!

    But seriously, everything is not black and white. One can be open to using non-traditional sources for some things and not for others. In the very many discussions around the internet that I have read and participated in, there is often a tendency to zero sum game the opposition. Calling people “literalists” (like, say what? I am aware of midrashim), telling people that according to their shita of rejecting “some” science, they shouldn’t use anti-biotics (duh), or by rejecting some academic bible scholars, they would have to invalidate parts of the talmud. It shows the MO-intellectual side of the debate to be really no more sophisticated then the other side. But with the additional mum of holding themselves more sophisticated.

  84. Michoel
    May 19th, 2011 @ 8:29 am

    Shades of Gray,
    I have seen Rav Nadel inside. He does learn that the Mabul was a local event and attempts to show how his approach can work with the words of the text. I guess reasonable people can agree or disagree about how successful he is.

    However, although Rav Nadel was a great and profound talmid chacham, I don’t call that a “source”. He does not quote any support beyond the Moreh, which of course, does not deal with any of these questions directly, but simply allows (according to some) for a greater degree of diverting from p’shat in light of science. Rav Nadel does not deal with any of the implications of learning that way, such as halachic obligations of bnei Noach, which (simply) stem from them being literal decedents of Noach, or other side issues. He does not deal with open mamarei chazal that contradict a local mabul.

    Also, he pointedly does not learn that the mabul is allegorical or an echo of something that happened millions of years ago. It was, according to him, an actually large scale mabul in the recent past that did, in fact, cover the harim g’vo’im etc. Current scienctific opinion, does not accept a mabul of the type Rav Nadel does accept. Rav Nadel does not deal with any of this in his sefer, although he may have had good answers.

    I have not see Rav Hoffman inside but I would like too.

  85. Michoel
    May 19th, 2011 @ 11:15 am

    Yosh,
    If we would be together discussing this in person, I’m sure you would not take offence because you would see who I am and I would see who you are. So please don’t take offence!

    You write “The likelihood of an atheist or agnostic DIS-believing in the second law of thermodynamics is exceedingly small.”

    And yet you write that that as a non-scientist you rely on the experts. I don’t believe that you really believe what you are writing. (and not only you but lots of other frum believers in evolution. I would call it bluffing sh’lo m’da’as, bluffing without realizing it. How can it possibly be clear to you that evolution is as glatt as the 2nd law of thermodynamics? It can’t be. And to just trust the scientific community on this… I just can’t get my head around that.

    You truly believe that science will soon understand the development of flight, for example? Animal forms developed wings and muscle structure, and tendons, and very light yet strong bone mass, balance, landing ability, claws which are great for grabbing tree branches etc etc by accident? Why would anyone believe that? And if they would, to suggest that it is so simple and proven like a basic law of physics? I don’t believe that you believe it.

  86. Shades of Gray
    May 19th, 2011 @ 11:56 am

    “I have not see Rav Hoffman inside but I would like too.”

    This is where it is(from one of R. Slifkin’s posts):

    Rabbi Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, commentary to Genesis, pp. 140-141.

  87. Michoel
    May 19th, 2011 @ 12:19 pm

    Shades of Gray,
    I just googled and found Rav Hoffman’s peirush on-line, and thanks to your post, went right the relevant section. He says as follows: The convergence of a mabul story amongst other nations can only serve to strengthen our belief in the historicity of the Torah. (this is quite different and quite less radical than the link from Menachem above). He does say clearly that p’sukim do not say at all whether the mabul covered the entire earth or only those lands where there was a yishuv of humanity and based on that says that the “kashes” on the Torah from the large numbers of animals found in all parts of the globe, are not worth serious consideration. Meaning, he is completely comfortable saying that all humanity got wiped out but animals in other areas did not.

    It is very interesting. It does not deal with lots of tangential questions and ultimately, does not, (without reading lots more into it) help much for the theory of evolution. And certainly there are no modern scientist that would concur, even more so than with Rav Nadel, as I mentioned above. Also, b’mchilas k’vodo, I should only come to the toes of those that could merely come to his toes, I am not sure I hear his basic vort at all. The simply reading of the p’sukim is not like he says.

  88. Bob Miller
    May 19th, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

    If we, as I believe we should, were to categorize the Mabul as a miracle, no aspect of our traditional understanding of it could be written off as impossible, and no presence or absence of tangible evidence today would be germane. The Oral and Written Torah tell us what aspects of the miracle we need to know.

  89. Bob Miller
    May 19th, 2011 @ 2:17 pm

    As for evolution, HaShem is not limited in His ways of rolling out the creation and later events of our world, so we at our level cannot fully know by observation what modalities (apparently natural, or otherwise) He used or is using. That the world appears to be orderly according to our observations and understanding, so that science works for us practically is a chesed from HaShem that lets us cope with life.

    Before “Day 7″ (however defined), our world was in flux, so our ability to know which “natural laws” were operative or not during “Days 1-6″ is questionable.

  90. Ron Coleman
    May 20th, 2011 @ 12:25 am

    Well this just popped up on my radar today:

    The European: “We Are Crossing the Boundary Between Knowledge and Belief”

    by Rolf-Dieter Heuer — May 17, 2011

    Rolf-Dieter Heuer is the director of the European Organization for Nuclear Research and oversees the vast CERN laboratories in Switzerland. He sat down with Martin Eiermann to talk about the search for the Higgs Boson, the limits of human knowledge and the distinction between science and religion.

    Excerpt:

    The European: Let us talk about the idea of the divine. For much of human history, religion and science were deeply intertwined. Galileo was expelled from the church for questioning those links. How would you separate the two realms?

    Heuer: We separate knowledge from belief. Particle physics is asking the question of how did things develop? Religion or philosophy ask about why things develop. But the boundary between the two is very interesting. I call it the interface of knowledge. People start asking questions like “if there was a Big Bang, why was it there?” For us physicists, time begins with the Big Bang. But the question remains whether anything existed before that moment. And was there something even before the thing that was before the Big Bang? Those are questions where knowledge becomes exhausted and belief starts to become important.

    The European: What is the difference between justified opinion and belief?

    Heuer: Justified opinion or knowledge is something that you can at least partially prove. Belief or philosophical thought cannot be examined through experiments. . . .

    The European: How do you make sense of that paradox? You want to expand the realm of knowledge but at some point, there is a definite boundary that you cannot cross. Do you simply have to accept the fact that nothing was prior to the Big Bang?

    Heuer: I wasn’t saying there was nothing, I am saying that we don’t know anything about what was before – if there was a before. But here we are crossing the boundary between knowledge and belief. I think many famous scientists have struggled with this question and people today also struggle with it.

    The European: So at the very borders of human knowledge, science and belief tend to converge?

    Heuer: In the scientific community we don’t tend to discuss such things too often. But the more we investigate the early universe, the more people are trying to connect science to philosophy. That is a good thing. Since we are struggling with the limits of knowledge, maybe philosophy or theology struggle also with our research. I think it is important that we open a constructive dialogue. We are currently planning seminars and workshops to do exactly that. My hope is that we can reach a common understanding of what we are talking about.

  91. YGB
    May 20th, 2011 @ 6:48 am

    Apropos this thread:

    Press Release

    New “Torah im Derech Eretz” Oriented Yeshiva High School to Open

    A group of dedicated and idealistic parents and mechanchim are planning to open a yeshiva high school for boys in the Rockland/Bergen County area, a yeshiva in which talmidim will be empowered to actively pursue a truly well rounded approach to learning.

    The yeshiva will aim to craft independent learners, to engage their passions and emotions and broaden their intellects holistically – all from the perspective of Ratzon Hashem, ahavaso v’yira’so. Accordingly, the purpose of the yeshiva is to create a new generation enriched by the full scope of our rich heritage. The yeshiva will encourage and urge its students to ask any and all questions, affording the talmidim an honest and open approach to the full breadth and depth of Torah and Yahadus. The Rabbeim of the yeshiva will be fully capable of such a pedagogical approach, as their breadth and depth of both Torah and secular knowledge are truly spectacular. The yeshiva will strive to emulate the call of Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch zt”l: “Everything that you think and feel, everything that you strive for and desire, and everything that you possess, shall be unto you only the means to, only have value to you, for getting nearer to G-d, for bringing G-d near to you.”

    Accordingly, the yeshiva will strive to accomplish one of the ideals of Torah im Derech Eretz that has never been fully realized – viz., to position its secular studies within the complementary frameworks of understanding the Torah (as per the Vilna Gaon’s statement, cited in the introduction to the Pe’as HaShulchan, that the more a person lacks in secular learning, the more he will lack in his understanding of Toras Hashem), of cognition of Nifla’os HaBorei and Yad Hashem in history, of human nature and psychology and Mussar’s relationship to them, and of Avodas Hashem in general. This will be achieved by ongoing interactions among Rabbeim, faculty and students directed at such contextualization.

    The yeshiva will follow a traditional Seder HaYom, with Limudei Kodesh until mid-afternoon, Limudei Chol and a Night Seder. Following the all important principle of Chinuch l’naar al pi darcho, while pursuing a goal of producing Gedolei Torah the yeshiva will also create a learning experience that provides pragmatic guidance to talmidim who aim to support a family while still drinking the sweet waters of Torah. The yeshiva will be characterized by a tight-knit personalized environment. Accordingly, it will encourage students to design an individualized program with parental and faculty guidance. The yeshiva will offer two tracks: a College/Professional track and a Hands-On skill based track. Both tracks will have core knowledge requirements in the traditional subjects, but will be specifically tailored to each of the two tracks. The College/Professional Track will offer rigorous college prep classes, whereas the Hands-On Track will require high standards for the core requirements, but will devote more time to life skill topics – viz,, personal accounting, small business management, small business computer skills etc. The yeshiva will supply students in both tracks with unique opportunities for real-time apprenticeships in their desired fields.

    Last, but not least (rather, acharon, acharon chaviv!) the yeshiva will bring a special profundity to the study of Gemara and other Limudei Kodesh, providing the electric effect that leads to the realization of ki heim chayeinu v’orech yameinu.

    The yeshiva is enrolling a ninth grade for this coming Elul. An informational meeting for parents will take place Monday evening, May 23, 2011, at 357 Viola Road, Spring Valley, NY 10977. For more information please call or 973-349-2282, or email: torah.im.derech.eretz.yeshiva@gmail.com.

  92. Michoel
    May 20th, 2011 @ 3:39 pm

    Yosh,
    I said above “The likelihood of an atheist or agnostic DIS-believing in evolution is exceedingly small. Very close to nothing actually.” You likened this to a basic law of physics. But whether or not evolution is really as proven as the 2nd law of thermodynamics, the fact is that the percentage of atheists that NOW believe in evolution is not significantly greater than in the early part of this century when the theory of evolution (according to evolutionists) was certainly NOT proven like the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

  93. Ron Coleman
    May 25th, 2011 @ 3:59 pm

    But wait, there’s more! This just in from New Scientist:

    THE business of gaining understanding of the world about us rarely follows a simple path from A to B. False starts, dead ends and U-turns are part of the journey. Science’s ability to accept those setbacks with aplomb – to say “we got it wrong”, to modify and abandon cherished notions and find new ideas and explanations that better fit the emerging facts – is what gives it incomparable power to make sense of our surroundings.

    It also means we must be constantly on our toes. While revolutionary new ideas such as evolution by natural selection, or quantum physics, are once-in-a-generation occurrences, the sands of science are continually shifting in less dramatic ways. In the following, we focus on nine recent examples – a tweak of a definition here, a breaking or weakening of a once cast-iron concept there – that together form a snapshot of that process in action.

    Worth bookmarking.

  94. Judy Resnick
    May 25th, 2011 @ 7:41 pm

    I am not a scientist, so pardon me if I get the science wrong here. However, according to my understanding of the concepts involved, quantum physics has shattered the notion of determinism. In other words, we really don’t know what path any random electron will take, or where it will be ten seconds from now, or whether Schrodinger’s cat will be alive when we open the box.

    Someone made this analogy, and I can’t remember whom in order to give proper attribution, but here goes: Scientists are like a band of mountain climbers who have with sweat and struggle finally managed to scale the peak, only to find already sitting there waiting for them a band of theologians.

  95. Bob Miller
    May 26th, 2011 @ 9:59 am

    HaShem sure determines/knows where the electron’s headed even if we can’t.

  96. Yosh
    May 27th, 2011 @ 9:19 am

    Bob,

    HaShem does NOT know where the electron is. By definition, an electron is a particle whose position and velocity cannot be known — because they DON’T EXIST. They “exist” as probabilities only. If you were to posit that HaShem “knows” both the position and velocity — then either you mean that HaShem knows the probability equations, or that it’s not an electron that He knows.

    This “inability” to know both the position and velocity doesn’t detract in any way from HaShem Himself — just as neither His inability to create a duplicate copy of Himself nor His inability to make Himself are limitations of any consequence.

  97. Judy Resnick
    May 27th, 2011 @ 3:44 pm

    The synthesis which I have found most useful goes like this:

    1. Hashem created birds and trees, not hatchlings and seedlings. In other words, the living things created ex nihilo came into existence as fully formed “adult” versions.

    2. Although created one second before, the very first trees, if cut down, would have had numerous annual rings inside showing the age of a mature tree of many years. Things were created old.

    3. Hashem also created decayed logs and other decomposed and dead matter needed for those living things which require them for their existence.

    4. Although created only hours before, Adam and Eve were not newborns but biologically adult humans, with a full set of teeth that would have indicated being past childhood, perhaps twenty or twenty-five years old.

    5. In this synthesis, ancient trilobite and dinosaur bones could have been created, also starlight on its way to Earth from a distant star.

    6. A forensic scientist running around in the week after Creation (let’s say right after Shabbos) would have gotten through rigorous scientific testing varying ages for all of these week-old things that were just created, and that scientist would have been absolutely correct.

  98. Bob Miller
    May 27th, 2011 @ 7:32 pm

    Probabilities describe the state of our actual and potential knowledge. That’s all.

  99. Ron Coleman
    May 28th, 2011 @ 10:07 pm

    Stack up enough non-existent electrons and you’ve “probably” got something very tangible on your lab bench, no?

  100. Bob Miller
    May 28th, 2011 @ 11:24 pm

    More on #98: The way around our “natural” limitations in knowledge/perception is a closer attachment to HaShem through Torah, Tefillah and Mitzvah activity. The Neviim realized this on a high level.

  101. Yosh
    May 31st, 2011 @ 5:50 pm

    Probabilities describe the state of our actual and potential knowledge. That’s all.

    Bob,
    No, that’s not all. Quantum probability is not the same as the probability you are familiar with, in which classical Newtonian mechanics is in effect. In the latter, probability describes uncertainty due to our inability to measure initial conditions and calculate a subsequent condition. In that, I would agree with you that Hashem could do the calculations to whatever degree of precision required to “know” the outcome.

    But in quantum probability, uncertainty is the reality; it doesn’t describe any limitation on the part of the observer.

    Stack up enough non-existent electrons and you’ve “probably” got something very tangible on your lab bench, no?

    Ron,
    Given the intangibility of subatomic particles, the tangibility of matter was one of the great problems of physics in the early part of the 20th century. But a problem even greater than the non-existent electron is our non-existent secular education. As I stated originally, the real question isn’t how to _integrate_ secular knowledge, but how we are going to go about _acquiring_ more of it in order to both deepen our appreciation for niflaos haBorei and to be able to function in society.

  102. Charlie Hall
    June 1st, 2011 @ 12:53 am

    “Why is this such a problem?”

    Well said.
    Sorry I’m late to his exciting thread; I’ve been writing scientific papers. (Three got submitted yesterday.)

    “My scientist friends tell me that the more they learn about science, the more it upholds their belief in HKBH. I’ve heard this from academians & lay people alike in many different disciplines.”

    I am an active scientist (PhD in biostatistics) and I find that this is absolutely true.

    “those with the greatest mastery of a given science have a better grasp of the he true extent of what, in that field, is beyond explanation than would be appreciated by perusing a high school science text, bristling with certitude and neat explanations for everything.”

    We do an absolutely terrible job at teaching science. There is such a quest for certainty when in fact we have a lot of uncertainty. Yet one should not become nihilstic. If you stick your hand in a flame for too long, you WILL get burned. Cigarette smoking DOES cause lung cancer (and is associated with about two dozen other kinds of cancer). HIV DOES cause AIDS. Vaccinations DO NOT cause autism. The earth HAS gotten warmer. The universe IS billions of years old. Evolution DOES occur.

    “yes, I would say Torah isn’t true, and move on. ”

    I am very grateful that I also never went to one of the kiruv centers. The worst are the places that try to promote empirical proofs of Torah. If the Torah is truly Divine, there is no way that any mortal can prove it!

    “Does anyone believe that God’s existence or presence is scientifically or empirically testable?”

    Testing the existence or presence of God means either (1) you are accepting the possibility that God doesn’t exist or isn’t present, or (2) you are intellectually dishonest.

    “Evolution was taught like a religion. We were told in school to shut up and memorize dates for the final exam.”

    Like I said, we do a terrible job of teaching science. We know that evolution happens because we have hundreds of papers published every year that are consistent with evolutionary theory and NOT consistent with any other explanation. Evolutionary theory makes predictions that get realized in obvservation and experiment; AFAIK the opponents of evolution have yet to make a single prediction that has been successfully tested.

    A few years ago on a Jewish site I challenged those who disbelieve evolution to come up with a different explanation of one single publication, a study of the genetics of cats that showed that the genotypic diversity closely matches the fossil record. The data were all available online. Nobody bothered to take me up on that. I’m sorry, but until evolution opponents are able to take up that kind of challenge, I can’t take them seriously.

    “Professor XYZ of ABC University conducted experiments in nineteen-something where he radioactive dated n tons of dinosaur bones, and based on his calculations, arrived at an average age of seventy million years.”

    And that is roughly how we get those dates, except that typically the radioactive dating is from the rocks in which the bones are found. Radiocarbon dating can be used on biological specimens themselves but only works well for the past 50,000 years or so.

    “What part of it, or any fraction of it is compatible with believing that there is a Creator?”

    All of it. It was simply HaShem’s method by which He created the natural world in which we live.

    “To say that they evolved into what they are from any other thing is testifing that there is no Creator.”

    How can you be so arrogant to say that YOU know EXACTLY how HaShem created the world in which we live? Were you there?

    “Believe in Evolution if you must”

    It isn’t a belief. It is a fact. Would that it were not — we would not have to worry about all the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are killing people.

    “Because in their world, what else is there?”

    If you’d like to take a crack at explaining the cat genetics, I’ll post a link to the article and the data. The evolutionary biologists have made their explanation.

    ” There must have been a big bang…it’s the smartest explanation in their scientific world”

    Only because it fits the data. In fact, it is one of the great triumphs of theoretical and observational science linking together. Rambam argued on Aristotle regarding creation *ex nihilo* but the truth is that neither had any data. By the mid 20th century physicists realized that if there had been a big bang, it would leave behind a background radiation whose frequency would tell us the age of the universe. Others were looking for it when Penzias and Wilson found it — and got the Nobel Prize. (Oh, and the frequency of the radiation indicates that the universe has to be between 13 and 14 billion years old.)

    “the maaseh of Noach”

    Given that the Talmud itself says that the flood did not cover the entire world, and that there are completely independent flood narratives from multiple continents, I don’t understand what is the problem.

    ” In Science, the existence (or non existence) of G-d is not part of the set of assumptions since science is dealing with that which is physically observable and therefore the existence of G-d does not come into the picture”

    And this is necessary. It would be unbelievably arrogant of me as a scientist to purport to be able to study the Ways of God empirically.

    ‘Do you think it’s “legitimate” to reinterpret every “beyond natural” event in the Torah in a “rational” manner?’

    Rambam comes pretty close to doing this.

    ‘Do you think it’s beyond the realm of the “rational” to assume that G-d can perform miracles?’

    We deny God’s involvement in the universe if we insist that only supernatural things can be miraculous.

    “All three of these axioms would be declared irrational or irrelevant from a scientific/physical perspective. So every believing Jew starts in the camp of scientific irrationality or irrelevancy in their primary beliefs”

    Wrong. It isn’t that they are scientifically irrational or irrelevant, it is that they aren’t amenable to empirical proof or disproof.

    “Hypothesis and its examination rest on the basic premises so I think the Torah-first viewpoint which includes the existence of G-d has an advantage from the Science-first viewpoint for Torah Jews.”

    Not when studying the natural world. What trumps absolutely everything else are observable facts. And in fact, Judaism agrees with that, because many halachic questions are answered based on observable fact: Has Shabat begun? Is the animal kosher? No amount of logic can matir a pig.

    “However, according to my understanding of the concepts involved, quantum physics has shattered the notion of determinism”

    That is not really true. Cause must still exceed the effect, and quantum effects only come into play with things that are very very small. A common misconception among non-scientists (and even some scientists) is that the theories that explain nature ARE nature. Theories are only as good as the actual observations they predict.

    “HaShem does NOT know where the electron is.”

    How do you know that? Just because HaShem created a world in which we don’t only not know where the electron is, but the question of where the electron is isn’t even an admissible question, doesn’t mean that it isn’t beyond God!

    “The synthesis which I have found most useful goes like this:”

    That logic is from a 19th century Christian source with no basis in our mesorah prior to that time. And the Christians never accepted it, either.

  103. Bob Miller
    June 1st, 2011 @ 8:57 am

    Charlie Hall asked, “How can you be so arrogant to say that YOU know EXACTLY how HaShem created the world in which we live? Were you there?”

    Charlie does not have this exact knowledge either.

    The best science can do to address the period of creation (the “six days”) is to assume that the laws of nature applied then just as now. That’s a fine working assumption for a body of knowledge based on observation and analysis, but it’s only a working assumption. Torah offers a different form of knowledge that is Divinely revealed and may cast a different light on the Creation.

    Trying to harmonize Torah and science is a worthy endeavor, provided that the exercise does not bend the Torah out of shape.

  104. Charlie Hall
    June 1st, 2011 @ 11:56 am

    “Trying to harmonize Torah and science is a worthy endeavor, provided that the exercise does not bend the Torah out of shape”

    Or bend science out of shape.

  105. Ron Coleman
    June 1st, 2011 @ 11:57 am

    Yosh wrote:

    As I stated originally, the real question isn’t how to _integrate_ secular knowledge, but how we are going to go about _acquiring_ more of it in order to both deepen our appreciation for niflaos haBorei and to be able to function in society.

    I agree. T his is of course a problem that is not unique to orthodox Jewish society. But it is our problem and in some ways it is worse for us, as well as more of a loss.

  106. Bob Miller
    June 1st, 2011 @ 12:07 pm

    If some finding of science was genuinely at odds with Torah, and not because we didn’t properly understand one or both, we’d have to dispute the finding. Can we say there has been no such finding? Can we say such a finding is impossible?

  107. Judy Resnick
    June 1st, 2011 @ 6:07 pm

    To Charlie Hall #102: I greatly appreciate your input to this thread, as you combine scientific knowledge plus observance of the mitzvos, Torah U’Mada, in one individual.

    I was so proud of my “synthesis,” and did not realize it was, as you stated, something that is not part of our mesorah but rather a concept that the Christians developed in the 19th century but never accepted. I honestly thought this was the best way to reconcile the concept of “creatio ex nihilo” with science: i.e., everything was created in one momentous “week” that goes beyond science and is not verifiable by scientific means; following those extra-ordinary days of creation, all scientific laws and normal processes of nature are in effect.

    Isn’t there a problem with Gittin (Jewish divorces) because they must state the exact age of the world, and if the world is 15 billion years old rather than 5771 years old, then there could be no kosher gittin?

    I did not know about your challenge regarding cat genetics and the match to the fossil record. Rav Avigdor Miller, zatzal, dealt with scientific problems of evolutionary theory in his books Rejoice O Youth, Sing Ye Righteous and Awake My Glory. Rav Miller mentioned in one of his books the example of the wood-boring beetle laying eggs with the yeast plants clinging to the shell. I don’t see how something like that could have evolved through blind accident.

    Incidentally, regarding predictions of the anti-evolutionists, Rav Avigdor Miller zatzal mentioned that there has been a lack of fossils of intermediary and “missing links” living organisms in the process of evolving to something better. The fossil record in many cases is not complete.

    I also do not understand why and how milk evolved. Cats, bats, rats, whales, cows, humans, kangaroos all are in Class Mammalia that feeds its young with milk. Birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles do not. Why and how did this completely different feeding system evolve? What was the necessity for it? Animals could simply chew food until it becomes soft and then regurgitate it for their young. Why develop a whole new feeding system? What’s the point?

    I know that I am not a scientist and I appreciate having a frum scientist to query about these concepts. Stephen Hawking’s comments about no afterlife remind me of the brouhaha more than thirty years ago when William Shockley, who won a Nobel Prize in physics for co-inventing the transistor, went around lecturing that blacks were racially inferior. Just as Shockley the prizewinning physicist could have incorrect ideas about race and intelligence, Hawking the great cosmologist isn’t any more of an expert than the average Joe about what happens after we die.

    Rav Miller also criticized the use of the term “deceptive conformity” by geologists, saying that when the order of the fossils did not match their theories, that the geologists simply postulated that the rocks moved from one location to another, or that one vertical mass of rock was to be sliced up into layers to account for differing fossils.

  108. Charlie Hall
    June 1st, 2011 @ 10:49 pm

    “Can we say there has been no such finding? Can we say such a finding is impossible?”

    Yes and yes, because the Torah is about the spiritual world and science can only make statements about the natural world.

    I’m not saying all scientists understand this.

  109. Charlie Hall
    June 1st, 2011 @ 10:52 pm

    “Isn’t there a problem with Gittin (Jewish divorces) because they must state the exact age of the world, and if the world is 15 billion years old rather than 5771 years old, then there could be no kosher gittin”

    It has been a while since I’ve learned gittin. IRC they have to state an unambiguous date. I’m not sure whether it has to be from the beginning of the universe. Any rabbis more up on gittin who can help out here?

    But in any case, we also have a mesorah that we follow uncontested rabbinic rulings even when based on inaccurate facts. A great example is that we make a shehakol bracha on mushrooms because Chazal said incorrectly that they grow from the air, not from the ground. So our divorces are fine.

  110. Charlie Hall
    June 1st, 2011 @ 10:56 pm

    ‘Rav Avigdor Miller zatzal mentioned that there has been a lack of fossils of intermediary and “missing links” living organisms in the process of evolving to something better.’

    If one adopts this logical approach, one can devastate much of Torah. For example, there is absolutely no evidence for the Exodus from any archaeological or historical source, no evidence for the Avot, no evidence for the conquest of Eretz Yisrael at the most likely time consistent with the Torah pshat. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence! I’m surprised Rav Miller z’tz’l would open up such a line of reasoning; it is very dangerous.

  111. Charlie Hall
    June 1st, 2011 @ 11:07 pm

    “when the order of the fossils did not match their theories, that the geologists simply postulated that the rocks moved from one location to another, or that one vertical mass of rock was to be sliced up into layers to account for differing fossils”

    We biostatisticians often joke that our collaborators always can come up with a biologically plausible explanation no matter what the data say. But there is another principle at work here, described well by Thomas Kuhn in *The Structure of Scientific Revolutions*. Scientists are human and it often takes a huge amount of evidence to get a scientist to let go of his favorite theory. The example you just gave is actually mentioned by Kuhn: Geologists were very reluctant to accept the idea that continents move. But it is very clear that they did. And some scientists remain resistant in the face of overwhelming evidence. For example, Fred Hoyle never accepted the Big Bang theory, which ironically he himself had named. Hoyle, an atheist, was concerned that it implied the existence of a creator, proving that it is not just Believers who allow religion to bias their scientific conclusions!

  112. Charlie Hall
    June 1st, 2011 @ 11:33 pm

    Why and how milk evolved is a really interesting question. Here is one explanation:

    http://www.lucasbrouwers.nl/blog/2011/02/where-does-milk-come-from

    Of course, H’K’B’H had to create milk somehow, otherwise there would be no mitzvah not to cook a kid in its mother’s milk.

  113. Charlie Hall
    June 2nd, 2011 @ 8:25 am

    “something that is not part of our mesorah but rather a concept that the Christians developed in the 19th century but never accepted”

    Here is the person who first came up with that theory:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Henry_Gosse

  114. Yosh
    June 2nd, 2011 @ 10:32 am

    “Isn’t there a problem with Gittin (Jewish divorces) because they must state the exact age of the world, and if the world is 15 billion years old rather than 5771 years old, then there could be no kosher gittin”

    5771 is the number of years from the creation of “Adam haRishon” on 1 Tishrei, not Creation or the Big Bang or whatever.

  115. ross
    June 2nd, 2011 @ 11:23 am

    “To say that they evolved into what they are from any other thing is testifing that there is no Creator.”

    “How can you be so arrogant to say that YOU know EXACTLY how HaShem created the world in which we live? Were you there?”

    Uh, oh, that first comment was mine. Ok, well, I’ll try to explain what I was thinking when I wrote it.

    It would seem that if there’s evolution, so that A evolved in Z, then there are also middle stages. If Ha-Shem made a creature with specific abilities to survive in the world, whether it be five fingers or a stink pouch or sharp middle teeth or a tiny receptor for something or other, then that’s its purpose and it would seem to be complete.

    If you say there are middle stages, so then since Ha-Shem doesn’t make anything for no reason, then all of those middle stages must be “complete” also. Evolution, I always thought, meant that something is heading in a direction which would help it develop into a complete creature, gradually, with the middle steps not being quite done.

    It’s not arrogance, it’s just a question of whether the mechinisms in an evolving creature have a purpose or not. If they do, then it doesn’t need to evolve.

    It’s not eloquent, but hope you got the point.

  116. Yosh
    June 2nd, 2011 @ 11:27 am

    Trying to harmonize Torah and science is a worthy endeavor

    Who says so? Maybe it’s bitul zman? Why does Torah have to be commensurate with science or history? Only because one insists on a literal reading of the word “day”? There are legitimate ways within our mesora to deal with that problem. But if you refuse to do so, fine, stick your head in the ground — but on the way down, try to avoid damaging one of the millions of fossils that are still down there, because the rest of us have inquisitive minds and want to learn more about how HaShem’s world came to be the way it is today.

  117. Yosh
    June 2nd, 2011 @ 11:30 am

    …since Ha-Shem doesn’t make anything for no reason, then all of those middle stages must be “complete” also. Evolution, I always thought, meant that something is heading in a direction which would help it develop …

    HaShem did NOT create a perfect world nor a complete world. L’ovdo ul’shomro. The Maharal explains in several places that the reason why we do not get reward for mitzvos in olam hazeh is because olam hazeh is IMPERFECT / INCOMPLETE. So evolution fits in very nicely into this world, the world of action and avodah and change. It’s Shabbos/Olam Habah that is the world of perfection, the world that has to be earned.

  118. Bob Miller
    June 2nd, 2011 @ 11:45 am

    For writing the date in a Get, wouldn’t any generally understood reference date for numbering years be OK in principle?

  119. Ron Coleman
    June 2nd, 2011 @ 11:53 am

    For example, there is absolutely no evidence for the Exodus from any archaeological or historical source, no evidence for the Avot, no evidence for the conquest of Eretz Yisrael at the most likely time consistent with the Torah pshat. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence!

    Nor have you described the absence of evidence, however, Charlie! You mean there is no physical evidence. I am not sure everyone in the field of biblical archaeology would agree with that assertion, but assuming it to be correct, you are still confusing an absence of stuff for an absence of evidence.

    There is plenty of documentary evidence for many or all of these things, much of which is rather well corroborated. To the extent there are gaps or inconsistencies in the documentary evidence, this does not mean there is an absence of evidence but merely goes to the weight of that evidence.

    You do science… I do “evidence.” ;-)

  120. Judy Resnick
    June 2nd, 2011 @ 9:27 pm

    I remember reading somewhere that the great paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould believed that the panda’s thumb refuted the existence of Gd. Professor Gould thought that G-d would not have created such an ugly appendage. However, the panda’s thumb is perfectly shaped for its parnasa, so to speak: pulling apart bamboo shoots for its food. IMHO, the panda’s thumb is beautiful, but who I am compared to Professor Gould?

    Interestingly enough, there’s one prominent scientist who believes that kids in school should be taught physics first, then chemistry, then biology, then the scientific debate about life origins. In other words, give students a thorough grounding in the hard sciences first, then introduce the theories behind evolution.

  121. Charlie Hall
    June 4th, 2011 @ 11:31 pm

    “kids in school should be taught physics first, then chemistry, then biology”

    Were it not for the shortage of qualified physics teachers, that would be a great idea!

    It does exchange the “difficulty” of evolution for the “difficulty” of the age of the universe, but how we know that the age of the universe is over 13 billion years is easier to explain than how we know evolution occurred in the past. (That we see evolution occurring today is easy, and depressing.)

  122. Eleonora
    June 19th, 2011 @ 9:14 am

    I think that most BTs keep their secular and torah knowledge carefully sepaerate from each other. I think that most kiruv rabbis help them by NOT pointing out the contradiction between science and torah. If BTs spent to much time and brain matter on the contradictions between torah and science, they probably could not subscribe to the “torah” system.

  123. Mark Frankel
    June 19th, 2011 @ 2:27 pm

    I’m not sure what *most* BTs do or what *most* kiruv rabbis do in this regard, but I do know there are many very smart Rabbis and BTs who successfully reconcile science and torah. I often look to Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan for these matters.

    I personally know one particular Rabbinic genius who loved when contradictions were pointed out because it forced him to work on a deeper understanding of Torah.

  124. Yosh
    June 20th, 2011 @ 10:01 am

    Eleonora
    Let’s say that you are correct, that this is what most do. Do you honestly believe that this is what HaShem wants?

  125. ross
    June 20th, 2011 @ 10:05 am

    “I think that most kiruv rabbis help them by NOT pointing out the contradiction between science and torah.”

    No way! In fact, most BTs don’t NEED a kiruv rabbi to point out the contradictions…they are all self evident, and then, most BTs, hopefully (and I believe usually) being encouraged to ask questions by their kiruv rabbis, ask and argue about these points. Most BTs are NOT being brainwashed!

  126. Michoel
    June 29th, 2011 @ 9:29 am

    Glad to see this thread floated on while I was away and that a credentialed scientist joined the discussion. Often, those that favor a more traditional approach, but lack the training and / or aptitude for the sciences will tend to be over-awed by impressive sounding credentials. “Line of reasoning “A” makes good logical sense to me, but Prof Ploni is the Bernstein chair at MIT and he says I am fool for believing in “A”, so who am I to doubt Prof Ploni. So I thank Charlie from taking a break from his 3 papers and many other responsibilities to come down to our laymen’s discussion.

    There are some points of fact in Prof Hall’s longer post above that need to be clarified a bit. In short, it is a distortion (I’m sure not intentional) to say the Talmud itself says that the mabul did not cover the entire earth. There is simply a discussion as to whether it went into Eretz Yisroel or not, and even the opinion that holds it did not, holds that all animal life was destroyed there from the “hevel”. (I am speaking from memory.) Chazal understood that all land was covered by the mabul and all land life not in the teva was destroyed. There are those that have learned otherwise despite Chazal. Fine. There is already a lot of talk about the authority of Chazal in non-halachic matters. But one should not bring Chazal a source for something that they clearly did not say and did not mean.

    Rambam, Baruch Hashem, wrote a lot. He has been quoted in all directions of this discussion. He clearly held that we have a direct mesora going back to Avraham, Noach, and Adam Harishon as actual witnesses of the events, as a firm support for out belief system. As such, I am not so thrilled with Prof Hall’s statement that “Rambam comes pretty close to doing this.” IE unlimited rationalization of the miraculous.

    RE Rabbi Miller. Rav Miller pointed out gaps in the fossil record to argue “l’shitasam”. In that context, it is a completely valid kashe. As for as Prof Hall’s statement that there is no evidence for the historical events of Klal Yisroel, Rabbi Miller did not agree with Prof Hall.

    As for cat genetics, there are paths of explanation that can account for the appearance of CD (common descent) although not truly resulting from CD. I’ll attempt to write more on this later G-d willing.

  127. Michoel
    June 29th, 2011 @ 11:36 am

    In Richard Dawkins’ book The Greatest Show on Earth, he discusses a species of lizard that lived on an Island off of Yugoslovia. (Again, I am writing from memory amongst friends so please don’t hold me to non-relevant details.) Scientists took 5 pairs and moved them to another island (with different topography) to see how they would evolve. 30 years later, they had in fact evolved significantly. This particular work of Dawkins is his official demonstration of the evidence for the theory. He mentions in his introduction that figuring out what to not include was much harder than figuring out what to include, since the amount of solid evidence is so overwhelmingly large, according to him. So this that he brings proof from Yugoslavian lizards is quite relevant. He is attempting to show that evolution happens even now, sometimes very rapidly. (The transferred population had larger jaws due to the different vegetation on the second island and a number of other major differences.)

    Now Dawkins is sort of famous for cussing out non-believers. He has written explicitly and implied very many times (for those that follow these things) that ANYONE can see that evolution is true. Meaning, you don’t need to be a Phd in biostatistics etc to make an intelligent, informed decision about the truth (or lack there of) of theory of evolution.

    to be continued bli neder

  128. Michoel
    June 29th, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

    I need to digress…
    I couple of years a go, Aish.com featured and article entitled So How’d the Kangaroos Get Home? I like Aish.com very much btw. This article was seemingly an attempt to cutely preempt the derision of their scientifically aware kiruv targets who would have a problem believing in a world wide mabul. Meaning, if all life was wiped out except that which was in the teva, how could land animals get back to islands after the mabul? So I have a m’halach in that question which I’d like to get to if there is an interest from anyone. But I’d like to point out some interesting sociology behind the article’s assumptions. Part of the Torah observant community feels itself on the defensive and needing to explain itself. They don’t want to just say “it was a nes” and they feel that suggesting that kangaroos etc, swam, floated on something, etc is just not intellectually honest.

    But more recently I came across something quite interesting about South American monkeys. It seems that there is a type of monkey in S. America that scientists (based on genetics) are convinced that they are descended from similar African monkeys. So the obvious question is how did they get across the Atlantic to South America. The monkeys are believed to only be in South America for the last 30my (my = million years) but South America broke off from Africa at least 80my ago (according to current scientific belief). So How did the Monkeys Get (to their current) Home? Mainstream scientific thought apparently is that the monkeys floated on rafts. Meaning, pieces of land that broke off and floated across the Atlantic. Now the Atlantic 30 mya, was not so different from the Atlantic right now. Some very big waves, salt water, exposure, a couple thousand miles of open ocean, depending on the “raft’s” navigation system, it could float across in a very non-direct way or even sit a point at sea without moving at all. Monkeys have very high metabolism and need a lot of food an fresh water. There are quite a few other logistic issues with the scenario. “Rafts” in nature on normally found on placid lakes, not on the open ocean. No the distance over seas between islands, from South Asia down to Australia, never involves a distance of more than about 50 miles. And seas between islands are generally much more placid than the open ocean. And yet the instinct of a thinking frum Jew is doubt that Kangaroos could make it “back” via natural means and therefore to either look for supernatural answers or re-explain the mabul to various degrees. Yet professional “rational” scientists have no problem believe in open sea travel across a couple of thousand miles, on a raft, replete with shade, plenty of food and fresh water (and at least one male and one female that would survive the new environment and local diseases long enough to reproduce).

    We need to be a little more brave.

  • RSS Shul Politics

  • Get Beyond BT Via Email

     Step 1: Enter your Email

  • Categories