Sunday, November 22, 2009

Two Reasons

Many years ago, a friend of mine in yeshivah made an observation. He claimed that whenever somebody gives two reasons for something, the second reason is always the real driving reason, and the first reason is secondary, but placed in the first position in order to make it more palatable and sound better. Over the years, I have seen this confirmed endlessly, in a variety of ways.

Here's a mundane example. "How are you? I called for two reasons. Number one, I wanted to see how you are doing. Number two, I was wondering if you could do me a favor..."

And here's an example that relates to the topic of rationalism. Why do/don't we believe in the Theory of Evolution? Over at Toriah.org, they give a list of reasons for not believing in evolution. The first six are scientific, and the last four are religious. It's interesting that they put the scientific reasons first!

21 comments:

  1. I was just chatting with a friend about a similar matter.

    I would think some bloggers/commenters should write as a disclaimer:
    "All our 'logic' is post-facto, but we're really arguing because we feel we're michuyiv to. Our underlying concern is not [whatever the matter under discussion is, e.g. science] but rabbinic authority. We [are/aren't, depending on the person, but usually 'aren't'] *really, really* willing to look at the issues and change our opinion about how rabbinic authority works and that is the heart of the matter."

    It sure would cut out a load of false pretenses and time-wasting ("batlanus").

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  2. It seems like your post proves the rule. First, you hint to a reason why you're posting this (to present to us an interesting phenomenon), and then you give the evolution example, which I presume is the real reason for posting.

    Bingo? (asked light-heartedly)

    "He claimed that whenever somebody gives two reasons for something, the second reason is always the real driving reason, and the first reason is secondary, but placed in the first position in order to make it more palatable and sound better."

    I would be interested to see a study of Rashi, wherever he gives two explanations (=reasons?) for a dibbur hamaskil, to see if this theory applies to him, too, 100% of the time.

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  3. I heard a saying from the Chazon saying the same thing as well.

    He said that when someone meets you to have a conversation about something and you are unsure exactly what the reason was, it usually is the last thing he asked.

    Baruch Shekivanta! :)

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  4. This looks to me like a satire site. It is completely over-the-top in its cruel parroting and mocking of Creationists.

    For example, the article begins with the idea that the Theory of Evolution is a "belief" as opposed to the "best explanation for the facts that we have at this time". The broader implications of the satire center around the idea that if the Creationists took the time and mental energy to understand the scientific theories that describe how life has and continues to evolve or some other scientific theories that relate to cosmogony, they would then stop valuing divrei torah because they are "untrue". The implication is that Creationists are weak-minded fools who can only battle straw men like the ones littering this "essay".

    While there may be some "chuckle value" in these implications, I think it undervalues the ability of people to find a new equilibrium in their torah life as they learn more about the amazing ways the natural world.

    Gary Goldwater

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  5. It seems a bit extreme to say that the first few reasons are "scientific." At this point in time claiming that there is no evidence for evolution is simply delusional. Among the Christian anti-evolutionists it is now common to acknowledge there is evidence and then downplay the amount of evidence or claim that they are "interpreting" it differently. See for example AiG which tries this approach.

    Note also that the website in question is apparently a wiki. It isn't clear to me what the criteria are for being an editor but some of the changes made in that article are interesting. http://bit.ly/8OV5aq the version from the first editor and how it then got changed by the second editor (it has not been changed since). The changes to the 9th reason are particularly interesting.

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  6. There is evolution as a scientifically verified process, and there is Evolution as a Complete Explaination of All Life.
    For about 200 years after Newton we had only one modeled force in physics called gravity. Then came elctricity and magnetism and then the nuclear forces in the 20th century.
    We seem to be in our understanding of life where physics was in 1750:
    One modeled process and increasing capability to observe and experiment.
    We have not yet reproduced life in the lab. We do not yet understand why life forms get so complex.
    Josh from Dallas

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  7. Actually the order in the list makes perfect sense.

    Yes, there are scientific difficulties with evolution as currently understood and here they are.

    But as Torah Jews, the basis of their objection must primarily be from religious sources.

    It's like someone who wants to refute the documentary hypothesis. It makes sense first to quote all the secular sources proving the unity of Torah and only then invoke the mephorshim who deal with the same problem.

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  8. Where can I find evolutionists' answers to the scientific questions?

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  9. Gary,
    Do you know for sure if it's a 'real' site or a parody? I suspected from the name it was a parody site, but after looking at it for a little while, I honestly believe it's intended to be taken seriously.

    Of course, the fact that I can't tell the difference between actual fundamentalist Judaism and a parody of it probably says something very sad about us both.

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  10. DES - try talk.origins

    Hillel - oh yes, it's real. Check out my arguments with them here:
    http://zootorah.com/controversy/ostroff.html

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  11. That looks like an excellent website. Thank you.

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  12. talk.origins is an "excellent website"???

    Maybe, if you want to become an atheist...

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  13. Here's a mundane example. "How are you? I called for two reasons. Number one, I wanted to see how you are doing. Number two, I was wondering if you could do me a favor..."


    Chazal tell us that this is derech eretz, and we employ it in our prayers. Even though we know that the requests are the "real" reason we are praying, we precede them with praise in order to teach ourselves what should be important.

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  14. "talk.origins is an "excellent website"???

    Maybe, if you want to become an atheist..."

    Exactly. Because it is impossible to believe in evolution and God (or that God created evolution). All the hundreds of millions of people who claim to believe in both (i. e., about half of all Americans, myself included) are all big fat liars.

    It is this bizarre, unsubstantiated, intellectually dishonest argument, that somehow if you learn about science (or literature, or art, I've heard it innumerable times) you will invariably turn into an atheist, that betrays the biggest problem with the fundamentalist viewpoint: simple lack of imagination and faith in mankind. In a word, fear. Fear that scientific inquiry will force them to question the easy platitudes that govern their lives, or somehow disprove their beliefs.

    Well, I believe a good Jew should have no fear besides fear of heaven. I read works of science and art and marvel at the beauty of the world God created.

    If there are those who fear to tread on that path for themselves, I think it unfortunate, but celebrate their decision to remove themselves from sin. But to claim that such a view is ideal, that embracing ignorance out of fear instead of recognizing all of God's glory is a position to be lauded... that's a viewpoint which is both sad and ultimately bankrupt.

    Ultimately, it is the fundamentalist position which will drive future generations away from Judaism. Who would not run from a belief which mandates the acceptance of falsehoods? Which insists that all scientists are conspiratorial liars and fools, even as their successes drastically change and improve our daily lives.

    Do yourself and Judaism a favor. Reject fear and ignorance. Embrace knowledge, and fear and awe of God's creation will follow.

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  15. Exactly. Because it is impossible to believe in evolution and God (or that God created evolution). All the hundreds of millions of people who claim to believe in both (i. e., about half of all Americans, myself included) are all big fat liars.


    Since Rabbi Slifkin knows me personally, he can testify that I'm at least as far as you from advocating ignorance.

    However, talk.origins is not at all about "knowing science"; it's about an incredible anti-religious bias.

    Study the science from primary sources, not from the mouths of fundamentalist atheists like the ones at talk.origins.

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  16. Ephraim,
    Fair enough (and apologies if I read into your words a position you do not advocate), but why do you say that site has an anti-religion bias? (and no, I don't intend to get into a pointless argument about what 'bias' means, any examples where you think they misrepresent religious (particularly theistic evolutionary views), or belittle religion in general would suffice.)

    Thanks.

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  17. Fair enough (and apologies if I read into your words a position you do not advocate), but why do you say that site has an anti-religion bias?


    Actually, I haven't looked at it for a long time, but I remember it as being full of derogatory remarks about religious belief of any sort.

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  18. "I've heard it innumerable times) you will invariably turn into an atheist"

    Hillel, no one said "invariably."

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  19. Alex,

    Actually, many, many people have said 'invariably'; however, as Ephraim clarified, he is not one of them.

    I have heard permutations of the argument since elementary school.

    One variety states the idea that searching for knowledge outside 'approved' sources is itself a form of heresy or at minimum a ta'avah (or rather, a tayveh) for heresy.

    Another variety states (without evidence beyond the occasional anecdote which rarely involves actual names or places) that there is direct causation between studying 'hard science' (or literature, bible criticism, college generally, etc.) and going off the derech. In other words, if X number of students study the subject in question, Y% will go off the derech; thus, heresy is inevitable.

    It is this argument, in all its forms, which I oppose.

    Cheers,
    Hillel

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  20. Phil, your Rashi question is addressed by at least one person. The late, last Lubavitcher rebbe had a book called Klalei Rashi. The principles of Rashi included therein were gathered from his sihot, etc. He says that when Rashi give two explanations for something, the first is his preferred explanation; but he needs the second to address something unsatisfactory about the first explanation.

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  21. I guess this would be like a college student who calls Mom and Dad up after a 3 week hiatus for some money. :)

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