Friday, August 14, 2009

Arguing With Creationists and Other Biases

A few years ago I was pushed by some Orthodox creationists (people who believe that all animal life was created separately, less than 6000 years ago) to have a debate on the merits of evolution. I responded by asking what kind of evidence, hypothetically speaking, would make them accept it. They dodged and hedged and would not answer the question. Of course, no realistic amount of evidence would convince them, since their opposition to evolution was fundamentally religious in nature. So I pointed out that the idea of having a scientific debate was a farce. A scientific discussion is one in which evidence is presented and conclusions are reached solely on the basis of the evidence. I don't mind having scientific discussions; I don't mind having religious discussions; but a religious discussion masquerading as a scientific discussion is inappropriate (not to mention pointless!)

I was reminded of this by a comment from Rabbi Zucker to this post. I asked him whether he acknowledges that most Orthodox Jews are very biased when it comes to weighing up the arguments for and against Rashi being a corporealist. After all, they possess tremendous reverence for Rashi as a Torah scholar and tzaddik par excellence, and they also maintain that corporealism is heresy. To my amazement, Rabbi Zucker did not agree. He says that, objectively speaking, one cannot know without a scientific survey, but what he believes (or likes to believe - he altered his phrasing) is that they are able to approach issues such as this without something that prevents unprejudiced consideration of the question. And naturally, he considers himself entirely unbiased, and seems to consider his statement to that effect as reason for one to believe that it is so.

I am at a loss for words. Would he likewise say that in arguments about the fallibility of Gedolim, Chazal's scientific knowledge, the age of the universe, one cannot know without a scientific survey that charedim are biased, and he would likewise believe that they are not? I guess that since in such discussions I would admit to now being biased since I have published opinions on these topics (although obviously I make my best attempt to evaluate everything objectively), Rabbi Zucker would say that I have less credibility, since I admit to being biased and they do not!

55 comments:

  1. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I don't understand what's getting you all upset here. You mention that I expect you (or anyone else) to accept that I am not biased because I say so ("And naturally, he considers himself entirely unbiased, and seems to consider his statement to that effect as reason for one to believe that it is so.") -- Frankly, it makes no difference to me at all whether you (or others) consider me to be biased or not. I made my comments about bias only in response to YOUR questions. Similarly, it matters none to me whether you are biased or not. I think that the claims and arguments of ANYONE should be judged on the merits of the claims and arguments alone, regardless of the motivation of the person putting them forth. Any bias does not affect the truth or falsehood of a claim -- it affects only the person's method of study. Biased people can come up with correct claims, and unbiased people can make mistakes. What does it matter in evaluating the validity of a position whether or not the person is biased? The claim stands or falls on its own, without the person behind it. Thus, your conclusion about "Rabbi Zucker would say that I have less credibility, since I admit to being biased and they do not!" is unequivocally false.

    Further, your example about chareidim and their views is a perfect one to illustrate my point about the need for a scientific study. People have made the claim that a particular sect of chassidim are "clearly mostly messianists" while representatives of the group itself have said that the messianists are only a small minority. Who is correct? I do not know. I do know people who EMPHATICALLY state that they KNOW themselves to be correct, because it is just CLEAR to everyone that the FACT is as they say it. Maybe they are right; maybe not. I do know that mistakes and frauds throughout history are rife with things that everyone CLEARLY KNEW without any need for objective verification.

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  2. As I said on another post, I maintain the problem is not that they maintain corporealism is heresy but that it is silly. I suspect that most Orthodox Jews who are not complete neophytes are somewhat prepared to accept "they can say it, but we can't say it" about earlier authorities believing things which are regarded as heretical, but not that are regarded as simply stupid.

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  3. What does it matter in evaluating the validity of a position whether or not the person is biased?

    It does not matter at all with regard to its validity.

    The question is whether it is worthwhile to engage in debates with people that are heavily biased.

    Do you believe that most charedim are biased against evolution?

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  4. I responded by asking what kind of evidence, hypothetically speaking, would make them accept it."

    Here's a different angle a creationist might take: "I'll tell you what kind of evidence: Show me a paper by a top notch evolutionist and a rebuttal by a top notch skeptic (and a counter-rebuttal and a counter-counter-rebuttal.) Judging just on their arguments, if I feel the evolutionist did a better job, then I would accept it."

    I've seen such an exchange by Douglas Theobald and Ashby Camp on evidences for macroevolution. Camp is a YEC, which I'm not, yet I think that Camp was better than Theobald in the debate. (Here was the fourth, and I believe last, in the series, if anyone is interested:
    http://www.trueorigin.org/ca_ac_01.asp

    == == ==

    "I don't mind having religious discussions; but a religious discussion masquerading as a scientific discussion is inappropriate (not to mention pointless!)"

    I agree, but this doesn't just go for creationists, but evolutionists, too. For example, look at the religious arguments that Theodosius Dobshansky used FOR evolution:

    What a senseless operation it would have been, on God’s part, to fabricate a multitude of species ex nihilo and then let most of them die out!

    They fancy that all existing species were generated by supernatural fiat a few thousand years ago, pretty much as we find them today. But what is the sense of having as many as 2 or 3 million species living on earth?

    Was the Creator in a jocular mood when he made Psilopa petrolei for California oil fields and species of Drosophila to live exclusively on some body-parts of certain land crabs on only certain islands in the Caribbean?

    But what if there was no evolution and every one of the millions of species were created by separate fiat? However offensive the notion may be to religious feeling and to reason, the anti-evolutionists must again accuse the Creator of cheating. They must insist that He deliberately arranged things exactly as if his method of creation was evolution, intentionally to mislead sincere seekers of truth.

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  5. This is just a distraction, being unbiased doesn't establish the truth of one's position and being biased certainly doesn't disprove one's position. If you don't think a discussion is being fruitful then don't engage in it, but you must ask yourself did you publish the article because you are convinced of the conclusion, or did you publish it for peer review in recognition that there were large sections of Rashi (i.e. outside of Chumash) that you had not yet had the opportunity to fully explore to find opposing evidence?

    If it is the former then it would seem that there is no point in having the discussion with Rabbi Zucker, if the latter then his opposing view is useful irrespective of his ability to be persuaded, at least to point out challenges that should be addressed/refuted that you yourself might not pick up on because of either the vastness of Rashi's literature or your own predisposition to your conclusion.

    I once had a young missionary kid tell me in an email that I didn't believe in Yeshu because of my biased upbringing, this about two and a half years before I completed my conversion.

    In short discussions about bias are a waste of time.

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  6. Obviously arguing with people that have extreme biases because of religion or so on can never accept an idea that they think their religion or way of life rejects. So since charaidim grow up learning that evolution is the antithesis of Judaism they will either never accept it or completely go off the derech if they find it to be true.

    Now that Judaism has accepted the fact that G-D can not be corporeal, anyone that tries to learn Rashi as corporeal will be attacked no matter how valid his argument. That is just the way it goes when it comes to people that fear things they don't understand. Like accepting the fact that Gadols are human and make mistakes, or even chazal. These are impossible facts that most ultra orthodox people believe to be the antithesis of their religion. So much so that if someone actually proves them that this is true then they will go off the derech.

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  7. Here's a different angle a creationist might take: "I'll tell you what kind of evidence: Show me a paper by a top notch evolutionist and a rebuttal by a top notch skeptic (and a counter-rebuttal and a counter-counter-rebuttal.) Judging just on their arguments, if I feel the evolutionist did a better job, then I would accept it."

    That would be very disingenuous. Because there is obviously no way that he would conclude that the evolutionist did a better job.

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  8. "I don't mind having religious discussions; but a religious discussion masquerading as a scientific discussion is inappropriate (not to mention pointless!)"

    I agree, but this doesn't just go for creationists, but evolutionists, too.


    Oh, absolutely. I discuss this in The Challenge Of Creation. Gould is particularly guilty of this, which is ironic because he claims that the two should be kept separate!

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  9. This is just a distraction, being unbiased doesn't establish the truth of one's position and being biased certainly doesn't disprove one's position.

    I believe that I made that point myself. But it's not a distraction. It's fundamental to the question of which people it is worth debating and what is actually happening in the debate.

    If you don't think a discussion is being fruitful then don't engage in it, but you must ask yourself did you publish the article because you are convinced of the conclusion, or did you publish it for peer review in recognition that there were large sections of Rashi (i.e. outside of Chumash) that you had not yet had the opportunity to fully explore to find opposing evidence?

    I mentioned in the article (IIRC) that I have certainly not seen every Rashi and I would welcome further evidence in either direction. When the Rashi about left and right was mentioned in the comments here, I acknowledged it as a powerful argument against Rashi being a corporealist - until a few days later, when the Sapirstein Rashi opened my eyes to a different take on that Rashi. I am certainly glad to read the points that Rabbi Zucker raised. I think that he has probably succeeded at neutralizing my argument from "k'vyachol" (I still need to investigate further), although he has certainly not succeeded in making that an argument against corporealism. However the question is whether the endless debate is really leading anywhere, and whether there is a genuine discussion here based on the evidence, or whether the bias runs so deep that it is pointless. Arguments between evolutionists and creationists go on forever, because the bias is just too deep.

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  10. E-Man - you are absolutely correct.

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  11. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I agree wholeheartedly with Yirmiyahu -- this is a distraction. My beliefs about chareidim and evolution are so far off the field of our topic, that bringing it up is distracting at best, and manipulative at worst. As Yirmiyahu stated, if you do not wish to engage in a discussion with me about the original topic because you are convinced that it is fruitless -- to you and to your readers -- then please tell me so, and I will respect your decision, and withdraw from the discussion at your request. I believe, that none of the points that I raised were "nitpicking" -- I think they have all been substantive. But if you disagree, then tell me and I shall withdraw.

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  12. Rabbi Zucker, I think that you raised many good points. However I gave my responses, and at this point the discussion is just going in circles.

    I also maintain that the discussion about bias is extremely relevant. It's not your beliefs about evolution that are so relevant, it's more your beliefs about whether frum people are biased against evolution that is relevant. I find it greatly disturbing that you would apparently not even acknowledge that most frum people are very biased in such a discussion, and that you would not acknowledge that they are biased in discussions about corporealism. That to me was indicative that you yourself are deeply, significantly biased!

    And I don't even have such a problem with bias, if people at least acknowledge it. When people refuse to acknowledge its existence, any debate about the issues becomes a distraction - because it is really not an intellectual debate about the issues at all.

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  13. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I understand that you think that the debate is going in circles. I do not agree -- but that is not important. You seem to imply, if not overtly state, that the reason for the discussion going in circles is my bias. As I have stated previously, it matters none to me whether you think I am biased, unbiased, or whatever mixture of the two may be possible. The only thing that matters to me in this discussion are the issues. (I might point out that an outside observer might just as easily conclude that the debate is going in circles because of Rabbi Slifkin's -- not Rabbi Zucker's -- refusal to be open to rational points and proofs. But again, that is not at all important to me). Be all of this as it may, I believe that there are quite a number of issues that are unresolved. You have not responded to a number of substantive issues that I have raised (in the threads on "k'veyyakhol" and "seeing images"). If you prefer to leave them unresolved, fine. As I stated earlier -- say the word, and at your request I will end my part of the discussion. Although I would have welcomed the continued debate, and hearing how you could possibly have responded to the points, objections, and proofs that I have presented.

    If you do ask me to end my part of the discussion, there is one final question that I would like to ask you, having little to do with the substantive issues we have been discussing, nor with the request that I withdraw.

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  14. The only thing that matters to me in this discussion are the issues.

    Well, that is what you claim. However, I am increasingly inclined to disagree. I believe that, even if you are not consciously aware of it, the thing that matters to you is that the great Rishon, Rashi, should not be guilty of what you see as heresy.

    I might point out that an outside observer might just as easily conclude that the debate is going in circles because of Rabbi Slifkin's -- not Rabbi Zucker's -- refusal to be open to rational points and proofs.

    They might. But, on the other hand, I already demonstrated that I changed my mind in this area - I didn't start off believing that Rashi is likely a corporealist! And I clearly have no deep religious bias against Rashi being an incorporealist! And I already showed my willingness to accept arguments from the other side, when I acknowledged that the right/left source was a strong argument (until a few days later, when I learned otherwise).

    You have not responded to a number of substantive issues that I have raised

    Actually, I believe that I did.

    To my mind, the substantive issue at this point is the issue of what is actually going on. If you are deeply religiously committed to Rashi not being a corporealist, then all that will happen is that you will argue ad infinitum.

    Let me ask you a question: Do you believe that the average charedi Jew, if engaged in a discussion about evolution, weighs it up on its scientific merits alone, without religious bias?

    (By the way, did those statisticians ever reply to you?)

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  15. "That would be very disingenuous. Because there is obviously no way that he would conclude that the evolutionist did a better job."

    I wouldn't say "no way." A person who is ignorant of science, but swims easily in the sea of shakla v'tarya, could see (or see through) a good number of the arguments of both sides.
    == ==

    I was thinking over Shabbos of another way your creationist friend could've tried to answer to your challenge: "Give me a few days, and I'll come with a hundred examples of irreducible complexity in nature. Now, I'm not to going to say these things are DEFINITELY irreducible complex, but I FEEL that they are, based on logic and other research. Now you will have to show me that all of them are not IC. Not just that some POSSIBLY aren't, but really give me good arguments to show they're not. I might even back off on a few. And it's not good enough to show that a FEW of these systems are possibly, or even definitely, not IC, but you have to show that ALMOST ALL of them are almost definitely not. Why? Because if even one of them is IC, evolution of that system just didn't happen, which throws a monkey wrench into the ENTIRE theory of evolution. Yup, all it takes is one IC system."

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  16. "Gould is particularly guilty of this, which is ironic because he claims that the two should be kept separate!"

    Coincidentally, I was just sent this cute cartoon today, which is relevant:
    http://www.evidentcreation.com/image/NOMA.jpg

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  17. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Your style of debate on these comment threads is becoming increasingly reminiscent of another blog that you know well...

    I must say that from reading your books and articles in the past, I had a much more impression of your scholarship than I am receiving now.

    You seem so caught up in the ad hominem issues - who is biased and how much are they biased - that you stall discussion of the salient arguments that initially made the debate so interesting. I for one completely lost interest a while ago.

    If you conduct yourself on the blog in this manner, you will do unfortunate damage to your reputation as a hakham and wind up being perceived as an ideologue bent on "showing up" your opponents.

    I realize you will probably erase this comment but I just wanted you to hear my take.

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  18. I think we can look at the "observant camp" in general and ask the following question. What level of evidence would it take to determine that the Chumash [plus or minus 4/5ths in the case of some] was not written by God and Moshe at Sinai [or during the 40 years of travel]? And, having determined that...what would allow us to admit it?

    The Charedi are too convenient of a target when it comes to rejecting good evidence because they embody the strongest resistance to accepting the value of the modern rules of evidence. However, every observant person who has curiosity about the origins of Torah has the exact, same issue.

    For example, I just finished Kellman's Must A Jew Believe Anything. It was very well written but, at the end, he decides that the Divine authorship of Torah is a required Jewish belief...evidence be damned. So, he ends up announcing himself blind to evidence just as those he scrutinizes. He just draws the line at a different non-evidence-based point.

    One might also have to add that the baal/baalat habayits' deference to pseudo-historicism and rabbinic veneration rises as one walks the continuum out to the far edges of charediism. There, the value would be more along the lines of allowing some people to view and be in the same room with an observant person whose views differed from their party line. And I think that value is worthwhile even were the party-liners using the opportunity as a method of further polarizing their chevra [using poisoning the well and ad hominem approaches].

    If you decide to actualize such a debate, I suggest you speak with Eugenie Scott from the National Center for Science Education [see: http://ncseweb.org/].

    Gary Goldwater

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  19. Rabbi Slifkin- I have not been following the nuances of the debate here, but it my experience that when one side of a debate start claiming 'bias', it usually signifies that he is losing.

    Or to coin a phrase:

    A bias claim is the last refuge of a losing debater

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  20. Sorry to join so late.

    R. Slifkin: Could you provide a precise definition of the term "corporealist"? I think the definition of this term is important to answering your question, and I don't believe you precisely defined it in your article. We all know it has to do with "God" and "body", but I'd like to hear something more exact. Maybe you are relying on a prevailing academic definition, but you should share it with your readers.

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  21. "I asked him whether he acknowledges that most Orthodox Jews are very biased when it comes to weighing up the arguments for and against Rashi being a corporealist."

    Rabbi Slifkin, would you acknowledge that you are "very biased when it comes to weighing up the arguments for and against" the Torah being a composite document?

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  22. From Rabbi Zucker (edited by N. Slifkin)August 17, 2009 at 1:01 AM

    Rabbi Slifkin,

    [I had written:] "The only thing that matters to me in this discussion are the issues."

    [you responded:] "Well, that is what you claim. However, I am increasingly inclined to disagree. I believe that, even if you are not consciously aware of it, the thing that matters to you is that the great Rishon, Rashi, should not be guilty of what you see as heresy."

    I continue to marvel at how you are aware of my thoughts and motivations better than I am. You are truly gifted! Still, all of this is irrelevant to the issue of discussion. Why are you sidestepping the main issue now?

    [I wrote:] "You have not responded to a number of substantive issues that I have raised."

    [you responded:] "Actually, I believe that I did."

    OK...let me give you a list

    (...content removed...)

    As I (and Yirmiahu in this thread so eloquently) stated, the issue of your perception of my bias is irrelevant. Let's just stick to the issue of the discussion, Rashi's (in)corporeality. If it brings you comfort to think that I am biased, then fine. I will therefore not be drawn in to a discussion about chareidim and evolution. What about the substantive issues?!

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  23. "That would be very disingenuous. Because there is obviously no way that he would conclude that the evolutionist did a better job."

    I wouldn't say "no way." A person who is ignorant of science, but swims easily in the sea of shakla v'tarya, could see (or see through) a good number of the arguments of both sides.


    Alex, there is a world of difference between "could" and "would."

    Because if even one of them is IC, evolution of that system just didn't happen, which throws a monkey wrench into the ENTIRE theory of evolution. Yup, all it takes is one IC system.

    That's like saying, one supernatural miracle means that the whole scientific enterprise is messed up.

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  24. You seem so caught up in the ad hominem issues - who is biased and how much are they biased - that you stall discussion of the salient arguments that initially made the debate so interesting. - RJM

    Rabbi Maroof - Have you ever tried arguing evolution with a creationist (assuming that you accept evolution)? Or, have you ever tried arguing with someone who believes that the moon landing is a hoax? In such debates, that which you call "ad hominem" points are actually THE point.

    If you conduct yourself on the blog in this manner, you will do unfortunate damage to your reputation as a hakham and wind up being perceived as an ideologue bent on "showing up" your opponents.

    By the non-rationalists - undoubtedly. But this is a blog for rationalists.
    I am not bent on "showing up" my opponents - I am simply not interesting in debating with opponents who have a fundamental bias that makes any debate pointless.
    And you yourself probably consider it unthinkable that Rashi was a corporealist, right?

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  25. it my experience that when one side of a debate start claiming 'bias', it usually signifies that he is losing. -Louis

    Louis, I have two questions for you:
    1) Do you accept that life evolved?
    2) If yes, have you ever tried to argue with a creationist?

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  26. R. Slifkin: Could you provide a precise definition of the term "corporealist"?

    This is a post about the role of bias, not about corporealism. There are different types of corporealism, I mentioned a few different categories in the article.

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  27. Rabbi Slifkin, would you acknowledge that you are "very biased when it comes to weighing up the arguments for and against" the Torah being a composite document?

    Of course I am!!!

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  28. "However, I am increasingly inclined to disagree. I believe that, even if you are not consciously aware of it, the thing that matters to you is that the great Rishon, Rashi, should not be guilty of what you see as heresy."

    I continue to marvel at how you are aware of my thoughts and motivations better than I am. You are truly gifted!


    This isn't any gift on my part. Pretty much everyone would agree that most religious Jews are fundamentally biased when it comes to weighing things up. Originally I gave you the benefit of the doubt to assume that you were different, but a few of the things you said alerted me to think otherwise.

    Still, all of this is irrelevant to the issue of discussion. Why are you sidestepping the main issue now?

    Because it is likely to BE the issue. You didn't answer my question: Do you believe that the average charedi Jew, if engaged in a discussion about evolution, weighs it up on its scientific merits alone, without religious bias?

    I did not post your very, very lengthy comments about Rashi, because I do not want this post's topic to be hijacked.

    If it brings you comfort to think that I am biased, then fine. I will therefore not be drawn in to a discussion about chareidim and evolution. What about the substantive issues?!

    The substantive issue right now is whether it is worth debating with people who are deeply biased. Do you believe it is worthwhile debating evolution with a creationist, or Judaism with a missionary? It's interesting that you are so reluctant to discuss this topic.

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  29. Rabbi Slifkin,

    "Because it is likely to BE the issue. You didn't answer my question: Do you believe that the average charedi Jew, if engaged in a discussion about evolution, weighs it up on its scientific merits alone, without religious bias? The substantive issue right now is whether it is worth debating with people who are deeply biased. Do you believe it is worthwhile debating evolution with a creationist, or Judaism with a missionary? It's interesting that you are so reluctant to discuss this topic."

    I am somewhat amazed at how this discussion has turned from the subject of Rashi's (in)corporealism to my beliefs about chareidim and evolution. As I (and others now in this thread) have pointed out -- whether I am not biased, biased and recognize it, biased and don't recognize it, etc., etc. ought to be irrelevant with regard to addressing the substantive issues of the discussion. I repeat -- I will not be drawn into discussing my beliefs about chareidim and evolution BECAUSE THAT IS NOT THE SUBJECT AT HAND. Can you respond to the challenges and arguments that I have raised about your claims of Rashi's corporeality (without "hiding" behind the issue of "you're biased and you won't admit it so I will not talk to you")?

    I'll tell you what -- if you open up a separate thread about evolution and chareidim, having nothing whatsoever to do with Rashi's corporealism, I'll be glad to comment there.

    "I did not post your very, very lengthy comments about Rashi, because I do not want this post's topic to be hijacked."

    Hijacked? From what? My post was a response to what you had written -- that you believed that you had responded to all of my points already. I cited the nine issues that I had raised to which you had not responded, despite your claim to the contrary. Wasn't that the topic of discussion? Is that a "hijack"?

    By the way, with your latest concession on the issue of the "k'veyyakhol" -- that it doesn't stand up to being a proof for Rashi's corporealism, there are still seven issues to which you have not responded. I won't repeat them again -- only to say that you (and the readers in general) can find them in my last two posts of the "Seeing No Images" thread. There have been no responses at all to those issues. Thank you very much for your consideration and attention to this.

    I do want to add one important point that I hope does not get lost on anyone. That is -- a sense of hakkaras ha-tov to you. I mean this very sincerely. Rabbi Slifkin does not have to "open himself" up like this. He runs his website with an open forum to readers and "posters", exposing himself to challenge after challenge, and that fact should not get lost on anyone. The very fact that we could have this discussion at all is due to his generosity and willingness to share ideas.

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  30. "Of course I am!!!"

    Not to be blunt, but doesn't that make you a hypocrite? You wrote a post calling out people (with quite a disparaging tone) for something you yourself readily admit to about yourself. They're creationists about species (a special creation at a specific point in time with no historical development) and won't listen to reason because of their biases, and you're a creationist about the Torah (a special creation at a specific point in time with no historical development) and won't listen to reason because of your biases. So what makes you any different from the people you disparage?

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  31. As I (and others now in this thread) have pointed out -- whether I am not biased, biased and recognize it, biased and don't recognize it, etc., etc. ought to be irrelevant with regard to addressing the substantive issues of the discussion.

    And as I keep on pointing out, it can be very much relevant to whether there is a point to continuing a discussion endlessly.

    Can you respond to the challenges and arguments that I have raised about your claims of Rashi's corporeality

    I did, for a very, very long time. How long should it continue for? A week? A month?


    I'll tell you what -- if you open up a separate thread about evolution and chareidim, having nothing whatsoever to do with Rashi's corporealism, I'll be glad to comment there.


    That's exactly what this thread was about.

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  32. (continued) So can you please answer the question that I have already asked twice: Do you believe that the average charedi Jew, if engaged in a discussion about evolution, weighs it up on its scientific merits alone, without religious bias?

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  33. Not to be blunt, but doesn't that make you a hypocrite? You wrote a post calling out people (with quite a disparaging tone) for something you yourself readily admit to about yourself. They're creationists about species (a special creation at a specific point in time with no historical development) and won't listen to reason because of their biases, and you're a creationist about the Torah (a special creation at a specific point in time with no historical development) and won't listen to reason because of your biases.

    I am not hypocritical in the least. I do not criticize people for being biased; it's not something that they can help (although they can try to overcome it to the best of their ability). I am criticizing R. Zucker for claiming that there is no such bias affecting people's views on these things. And the other point I am making is that there is little point in debate, from my point of view, when such bias exist. If a non-Jew were to say that there is no point in pursuing an endless debate with Slifkin over the existence of God because Slifkin is a religious Jew, I would fully understand.

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  34. A)" I am certainly glad to read the points that Rabbi Zucker raised. I think that he has probably succeeded at neutralizing my argument from "k'vyachol" (I still need to investigate further), although he has certainly not succeeded in making that an argument against corporealism."

    B"However the question is whether the endless debate is really leading anywhere, and whether there is a genuine discussion here based on the evidence, or whether the bias runs so deep that it is pointless."

    If your purpose in the discussion is to change someone's mind then B is the issue you need to consider, if your purpose is to come to a more complete understanding of the strengths and weaknesses, the evidence and the challenges, of your position then A is the issue. No one is talking about an eternal discussion, but if the latter is your goal then you'll be more patient and more successful than if the former is.

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  35. I leave this comment thread still puzzled why you won't drop the accusations of bias and respond to R' Zucker's arguments. Then allow the readership to make up their own minds in terms of whose arguments are superior - and that, of course, is the process during which bias generally manifests itself.

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  36. No one is talking about an eternal discussion, but if the latter is your goal then you'll be more patient and more successful than if the former is.

    Yirmiahu, I think that I was pretty patient, did you notice how long the discussion went on for? And there were interesting points that were raised. But after a while there were very few new points being raised, and it was starting to drag on with no end in sight. How long is such a debate supposed to go on for?

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  37. I leave this comment thread still puzzled why you won't drop the accusations of bias and respond to R' Zucker's arguments. Then allow the readership to make up their own minds in terms of whose arguments are superior - and that, of course, is the process during which bias generally manifests itself.

    Vis-a-vis R. Zucker - the debate is probably pointless. Someone who is so deeply biased that they will not even acknowledge that frum people are biased in this area, will never concede that I am correct. Vis-a-vis the readership - I think that for most people, the arguments have already been sufficiently clarified. How long am I supposed to debate him for? A week? A month? A year? Don't say "until one has proven the other wrong," because that's exactly why the bias issue is irrelevant - someone who is deeply biased will never accept that he has been proven wrong. So if, for argument's sake, you have one participant who is deeply biased, and the other is either deeply biased in the other direction or happens to be correct, the argument will either continue forever or will end with one person simply becoming fed up with it.

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  38. Sounds like someone is fed up...

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  39. Rabbi Slifkin
    I am shocked by your apparently irrational response to Rabbi Zucker. As someone with a scholarly reputation an attack based on bias without addressing the points seems unbecoming. You have repeatedly refused to post Rabbi Zucker's summaries of the issues he still views as outstanding. Please post those comments so that the readership can weigh whether in fact the points are valid and whether you have answered them satisfactorily. If you refuse to debate Rabbi Zucker, since he is biased in your eyes, at least address the points until the readers are convinced one way or the other (Or are all of your readers also biased?)

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  40. >>"As I said on another post, I maintain the problem is not that they maintain corporealism is heresy but that it is silly."

    And as I said on that other post in response, "corporealism" is a multi-layered concept with only the bottom layers being silly.

    Perhaps if Rabbi Slifkin would emphasize that the corporealism he is suspecting Rashi of is of the more subtle variety (which does not seem to be heretical), most of this discussion about biases could be avoided.

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  41. The problem I have with your debates here is that anyone who disagrees, especially if they are insistent upon their disagreement, is labeled as biased and the content of their points is no longer addressed. You would certainly immediately dismiss me as biased, for example, were I to state that I found some of R' Zucker's arguments to be stronger than yours.

    The attitude that dissenters are just biased is circular as it no longer exposes your position to criticism or disproof.

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  42. "How long is such a debate supposed to go on for?"

    So stop participating. That would seem to be the more effective way of removing oneself from a debate than starting a new one about how biased one's opponent is.

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  43. "I leave this comment thread still puzzled why you won't drop the accusations of bias and respond to R' Zucker's arguments."

    i don't think that this is a matter of responding to the arguments or not. rather, the frum reaction to such a thesis, and what effect this can have on discourse and what will be accepted as plausible, is an important and interesting question in and of itself.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  44. "If a non-Jew [sic] were to say that there is no point in pursuing an endless debate with Slifkin over the [composite authorship of the Torah] because Slifkin is an [Orthodox] Jew, I would fully understand."

    I don't see how being honest about being intellectually dishonest is so big a step up.

    You wrote a post titled "Arguing With Creationists and Other Biases" when you yourself are a self-admitted creationist (about the Torah) with biases that admittedly prevent you from rationally weighing the evidence and arguments regarding it. So how can you criticize them for doing the same thing you do? Just because you admit to doing it?

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  45. "Yirmiahu, I think that I was pretty patient, did you notice how long the discussion went on for?"

    Rabbi Zucker's first comment was on July 23rd. Hence the discussion went on for 3 weeks of which 1 week Rabbi Zucker apparently did not have access to a computer.
    For such a fundamental issue, and considering the vastness of Rashi's commentary 2 weeks doesn't seem very long.

    Are you possibly afraid of losing?

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  46. me: "Because if even one of them is IC, evolution of that system just didn't happen, which throws a monkey wrench into the ENTIRE theory of evolution. Yup, all it takes is one IC system."

    Rabbi Slifkin: "That's like saying, one supernatural miracle means that the whole scientific enterprise is messed up."

    I could explain how your "messed up" and my "monkey wrench" are different, and I could explain how there's a distinction between my point and your point, but I'm afraid that it would distract from the flow of this thread.

    In the meantime, perhaps you'd like to fulfill a poster's request to define "corporealism" for I think that a few of us think that your operating definition is different from what some rishonim had in mind.

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  47. "I don't see how being honest about being intellectually dishonest is so big a step up."

    because being honest about one's biases means that you are aware of them, and can *possibly* take steps to counteract them or realize when it is your biases that are speaking, rather than the merits of the case.

    also, when approaching a new issue, i am aware of (some of) my own biases, and my own limitations, and consciously try to prevent myself from worrying about the implications of the conclusions when rendering my initial judgement. you cope with the repercussions afterwards. the alternative is choosing one possibility of the other because you will prefer the results. see this post, and comment thread, at Divrei Chaim, as one such example of this:

    http://divreichaim.blogspot.com/2009/06/dealing-with-conflicts-between-science.html

    and further, such self-awareness can prevent you from judging others as idiots / dishonest people for taking a contrary position. and it might make you second-guess yourself before taking your own plausibility judgement and putting it up against someone else's plausibility judgement.

    note that bias does not necessarily means that the position you are biased in favor of is wrong.

    kt,
    josh

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  48. >And as I said on that other post in response, "corporealism" is a multi-layered concept with only the bottom layers being silly.

    That's nice, but I was talking about common impressions. Your more nuanced one, it seems to me, is very rare and few Orthodox Jews, again, it seems to me, would see it as nuanced.

    >Perhaps if Rabbi Slifkin would emphasize that the corporealism he is suspecting Rashi of is of the more subtle variety (which does not seem to be heretical), most of this discussion about biases could be avoided.

    I agree with that; although I am not sure that the sort of corporealism Rashi is alleged to have held would or need "not seem to be heretical."

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  49. Rabbi Slifkin,
    I second Rabbi Maroof's observations. You are unfairly conflating Rabbi Zucker and many of us clear headed, intellectually honest people with primitive, biased people like creationists. You respectfully need to distinguish between these issues and not let your science/ evolution debates color the issues relating to your essay under discussion. In addition to the issues that Rabbi Zucker raised that you did not respond to, you never responded to my assertion that you grossly misrepresented the Ramban in your essay.

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  50. As someone with a scholarly reputation an attack based on bias without addressing the points seems unbecoming. - ZviT

    I'm not attacking him for being biased. I am simply noting that it is futile to debate with someone who is deeply biased. And I am criticizing him for not acknowledging the existence of bias.

    If you refuse to debate Rabbi Zucker, since he is biased in your eyes, at least address the points until the readers are convinced one way or the other

    I would think that most readers are already convinced one way or the other. How long do you want me to debate him for?

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  51. The problem I have with your debates here is that anyone who disagrees, especially if they are insistent upon their disagreement, is labeled as biased and the content of their points is no longer addressed.

    Get me someone non-frum, or frum but with a clear strong rationalist approach, who disagrees, and I will not label them as biased. Devout frum Jews are overwhelmingly likely to be biased. I'm still happy to hear their points, but not to debate them endlessly.

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  52. "How long is such a debate supposed to go on for?"

    So stop participating. That would seem to be the more effective way of removing oneself from a debate than starting a new one about how biased one's opponent is.


    But I want to explain why I am stopping participating. And the point about bias is very relevant to the theme of this blog.

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  53. So how can you criticize them for doing the same thing you do? Just because you admit to doing it?

    I just got off a long plane flight, so excuse me for being curt. But it drives me NUTS when people don't read what I write. I am not criticizing him for being biased!!!!!

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  54. For such a fundamental issue, and considering the vastness of Rashi's commentary 2 weeks doesn't seem very long.

    It's not as though dozens of different sources were being discussed. There were countless back-and-forths. How many weeks do you consider appropriate? The time drain is considerable. And considering the minimal chance of anyone changing their minds at this point, it seems a waste of time.

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  55. You are unfairly conflating Rabbi Zucker and many of us clear headed, intellectually honest people with primitive, biased people like creationists.

    I don't know anything about you. But someone who believes that most frum people are not biased in these issues is not clear headed or intellectually honest. Even an intelligent, broad-minded person like CHaim B. of Divrei Chaim admits (to his credit in being honest about it) that he chooses to interpret the Gedolim of the past in a way that reflects favorably upon them, even if there are stronger arguments otherwise.

    you never responded to my assertion that you grossly misrepresented the Ramban in your essay.

    Please remind me what you are referring to?

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