Friday, December 11, 2009

Following the Majority

In response to the following comments to earlier posts:

"what do you make of the far greater number of scientists who consider it true?"

What about the far greater number of shittos that say chazal's science was true?

"Personally, I am far from an expert on climate change. But I do know how to determine the majority opinion of experts, and I see no reason to dispute them any more here than with the age of the universe."

The problem is, R' Slifkin, if we applied a similar process of reasoning to those gedolei HaTorah who banned your books, we might argue that their view of a 6000 year old universe, etc. is the "correct one," (at least with regards to what constitutes the correct reading of Genesis) and your views are "fringe," and hence not true.

I would like to make the following points:

1. In the times of the Rishonim, the overwhelming majority view was that Chazal's statements about the natural world are not infallible.

2. In the times of the Rishonim, the overwhelming majority view was that we should interpret Bereishis in such a way that it does not conflict with proven science.

3. You don't need to follow the majority if you are qualified to have your own opinion!

4. If you are not qualified to form your own opinion, it makes sense to follow the majority of those who are qualified to form an opinion, all else being equal. There can be factors which change this.

5. Many people, myself included, do not agree to the popular view that great Talmudists and halachists automatically qualify as great experts on the interface of Jewish theology and science.

(This is not a post about climate change - please keep the comments away from that topic. If you want to discuss climate change, do so on the earlier posts.)

55 comments:

  1. כּולָנוּ כַּצֹאן תָעִינוּ

    ReplyDelete
  2. Though the following comments might appear on the surface that I'm disagreeing with you, I'm not. I'm just fine-tuning:

    "2. In the times of the Rishonim, the overwhelming majority view was that we should interpret Bereishis in such a way that it does not conflict with proven science."

    Did you want to use the word "proven"? After all, I can envision even the signatories of the ban writing the same thing, but italicizing 'proven', if you know what I mean.

    "Many people, myself included, do not agree to the popular view that great Talmudists and halachists automatically qualify as great experts on the interface of Jewish theology and science."

    I might caution that some people might read into that something I don't think you intended. They might infer that you believe that you yourself qualify as a great expert on the interface of Jewish theology and science.
    Speaking of which, can you name your top three scholars you feel are qualified as an expert of this interface? That would interest me greatly.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Did you want to use the word "proven"?

    How about: that they couldn't disprove.

    They might infer that you believe that you yourself qualify as a great expert on the interface of Jewish theology and science.

    I'm not an old or wise person. But on the other hand, I have probably spent more time thinking and studying about this topic than anyone else. Does that qualify me as an expert?

    Speaking of which, can you name your top three scholars you feel are qualified as an expert of this interface?

    I don't want to start a discussion about individuals. Let's keep it theoretical for now.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hassidei HaAdmor MeSlifkaDecember 11, 2009 at 1:39 PM

    Regarding halacha (and perhaps other areas) a majority only applies when speaking of a Sanhedrin-otherwise, scholars are entitled to be posek halacha in accordance with their understanding. Only the Sefer HaChinnuch says otherwise and extends the "majority idea" to gedolim of any given generation-this is the basis for the haredi approach towards gedolim.

    I believe that even if one is in a small minority-if one is convinced that one's view is correct then it is perfectly legitimate to express that view publicly.

    Kol HaKavod to the Admor MeSlifka.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Climate change or rationalist Judaism, it's all the same.
    For those with an agenda, it doesn't matter if the Rishonim who were rationalists were the majority.
    The principle is simple: if you disagree with me, your opinion doesn't count. Therefore I can confidently state that I have 100% approval for my views!
    Today, according to those folks, any Rishon who was a rationalist was either
    a) misunderstood
    b) doesn't count
    Therefore today all Rishonim agree with your opponents!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Garnel Ironheart writes: "The principle is simple: if you disagree with me, your opinion doesn't count."

    I disagree with you.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I have heard many times in the name of HaRav David Bar-Hayim that the need for a majority of hachamim only applies to a Sanhedrin, except according to the Sefer HaChinnuch.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Sorry to make a slightly offtopic comment but I seem to remember that there were two essays written about the ban on your books that you put up that some people worried should be taken down because it made the authors look foolish (If I recall one of them was an English translation). However, I can't find which ones I'm thinking of. Do you know which I'm thinking of by any chance?

    ReplyDelete
  9. You're probably referring to the essay by Rav Moshe Sternbuch. I can't think of a second one.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Rabbi Slifkin,
    You are so old fashioned, following the majority of medieval rabbis instead of contemporary ones. :)

    In all seriousness, what would you do if the majority of rishonim held that chazal were infallible in their scientific statements? Would you not feel comfortable adapting the minority hashkafic view that in your view was correct?

    Let's take that further. What if all rishonim held that chazal were infallible?

    ReplyDelete
  11. Rishonim, did you read the post?

    By the way, if you want to ask personal questions about my beliefs and about what I would do in "what if?" scenarios, I think it would be appropriate for you to provide your name, so that I can publicly ask you questions about your beliefs and about how you would respond in various scenarios, too.

    ReplyDelete
  12. "I'm not an old or wise person. But on the other hand, I have probably spent more time thinking and studying about this topic than anyone else. Does that qualify me as an expert?"

    Wow... do you have any proof for that statement?

    My grandfather thought about these issues since just after WWII.
    And today, he thinks everybody is an idiot and is having the "wrong conversation." It angers him that there is no responsible public conversation about these topics anywhere.

    ReplyDelete
  13. What I meant was that I have spent many years studying not only the science, but also the theology - including the Rishonim who wrote about this, as well as contemporary works written by both Jews and non-Jews.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Thanks. That's the one I was thinking of.

    ReplyDelete
  15. There is nothing rationalistic about the claim "I have probably spent more time thinking and studying about this topic than anyone else" unless you have conducted scientific studies to back that up. I assume that you haven't, and therefore your claim is nothing less than empty, arrogant bravado. This is not the first time you have claimed to have spent more time thinking about a particular issue than anyone else. Your claims about being a "rationalist" would ring just a little bit more true if you stick to facts and not to vain and meaningless claims.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I have started listening to your MP3 on TIM Could you please tell me which Rishonim and where the following point was derived from
    "In the times of the Rishonim, the overwhelming majority view was that we should interpret Bereishis in such a way that it does not conflict with proven science"

    ReplyDelete
  17. Real Rationalist - see my comment above.

    Shlomo - The rationalist (and even not so rationalist) Rishonim held that if things are proven true, pesukim should be reinterpreted to match these facts. They also held that science (or rather, natural philosophy, which is what they had in those days, and was not as strong as science), is a sufficient way of reaching these facts. See the chapter "Departing from Literalism" in The Challenge Of Creation for a review of the sources.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Thank you for replying Could you give the sources i.e. which Rishonim wrote along these lines and where, what they said (or if thats too long an answer where I find the sources

    ReplyDelete
  19. Let's just pretend R' Slifkin said "I have probably spent more time thinking and studying about this topic than /most other people/" and get off his case about his slip of the tongue.

    ReplyDelete
  20. A question.

    Who would have better knowledge in a nuanced difficult and complicated topic, someone with a 95 IQ, that spend 5 years on it, or someone with a 150 IQ that is also well trained in analysis of those fields, who spent only one year?

    My point is, some topics, spending time on it, is not in it's own merit enough of a qualifier.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Alex and especially Anonymous and Real Rationalist,
    That was not a 'slip of the tongue' (let's assume intelligent people mean what they say), nor was it an improper or incorrect statement in any way. It was a completely fair and honest assessment. R' Slifkin has a strong background in science -unlike almost all Rabbis - and a strong background in Jewish theology and literature - unlike almost all scientists - and he has published many books and articles on the subject of the nexus between the two. In light of these facts, it's completely fair and rational for him to say he's thought about the subject more than anyone else - he even added the caveat of 'probably', just to be certain.

    It is a pseudo-argument to claim that there may be someone out there who has thought more about it but simply never published anything. R' Slifkin has presented his evidence. If you wish to negate him, you must bring actual evidence, and not simply raise the possibility that X might exist. That is not an argument, as any 'real rationalist' ought to know.

    Cheers,
    Hillel

    ReplyDelete
  22. How about the fact that the scientific process and religious doctrine have very different methods and therefore should use different methods for resolution as well.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Hillel - Your response reflects an unfamiliarity with the parameters and protocols of rationality. If NS meant to say "I have published more on this subject than anyone else," then that is a simple matter to ascertain and verify. It is falsifiable, and therefore subject to the rules of rational thought and argument. However, to make the statement "I have probably spent more time thinking and studying about this topic than anyone else" - a statement which cannot be verified and is therefore not falsifiable - is meaningless from a rationalist perspective. NS's "strong background" (correct me if I am wrong - he is an autodidact in the area of religion and science; I myself am aware of quite a number of other autodidacts in this area, not including Anonymous' grandfather) and NS's publishing history do not back up his claim. In the absence of a verifiable and falsifiable claim, anything else is empty bravado. Someone familiar with the scientific method would know this. Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  24. "[R'] NS's publishing history do not back up his claim"

    Real Rationalist,
    Your argument is specious, as it constitutes a rejection of evidence-based logic. It assumes no correlation between the amount of time studying and publishing on a subject and the amount of time thinking about it. While this may or may not be true in a theoretical vacuum, we do not live in a theoretical vacuum, we live in the real world. In the real world, it is perfectly fair to assume, (and R' Slifkin did say 'probably'), absent contrary evidence, and there is none, that someone who has thought about a subject as much as R' Slifkin would have published a few things by now. If you have evidence to the contrary, by all means present it, but I strongly suspect you have none.

    Based on your reasoning, EVERY statement is non-falsifiable, since we only have 'knowledge' of what we have access to and are able to process. Your claim, for instance, that the number of articles published on a given topic "is a simple matter to ascertain and verify" is completely false. In order to verify it, you would need to survey every human, living and dead, and every book and periodical that has ever been published in human history. Since this is impossible, your statement is, by definition, non-falsifiable. By your own logic, that makes you "arrogant", filled with "empty bravado" and, of course, ignorant of the scientific method.

    It is precisely the type of pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-rational, nihilistic argument you utilize that is used by people who know nothing about a subject to attempt to negate a claim. (See the comments on the global warming in prior posts for some prime examples.) It is a waste of time, contributes nothing and impedes scientific progress.

    Cheers,
    Hillel

    ReplyDelete
  25. Good grief, guys, leave it already. It is SO not worth anyone's time!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Hillel -

    "it is perfectly fair to assume, (and R' Slifkin did say 'probably'), absent contrary evidence, and there is none, that someone who has thought about a subject as much as R' Slifkin would have published a few things by now" - what is the basis for this assumption? Your own view of how things are/should be? Anonymous' grandfather has been thinking about these issues since way before NS, and he hasn't published anything. There is nothing to back up what you said, except your own subjective viewpoint. Your reductio ad absurdum is itself absurd. Of course one *can* verify the totality of published articles and books. What's the problem? I see I have touched a nerve with you. Fascinating! How about this - let's ask ANY recognized scientist if the statement "I have probably spent more time thinking and studying about this topic than anyone else" has any meaning whatsoever from within the realm of the scientific method? Would you agree to abide by his/her judgment? Your emotional reaction to this discussion is quite telling, and not at all rational! Cheers.

    ReplyDelete
  27. "absent contrary evidence, and there is none, that someone who has thought about a subject as much as R' Slifkin would have published a few things by now."

    Rav Kook did not write an entire book on the subject. He wrote maybe a few pages.

    Are you going to suggest that Rav Kook did not think on these issues as much as anybody else has before he wrote those statements?

    Publishing does not have any correlation to thought/expertise.

    ReplyDelete
  28. "Rav Kook did not write an entire book on the subject. He wrote maybe a few pages.

    Are you going to suggest that Rav Kook did not think on these issues as much as anybody else has before he wrote those statements?

    Publishing does not have any correlation to thought/expertise."

    Anonymous,
    These statements contradict each other, and prove the point I am making. You first say 'R' Kook has published on the subject, I therefore conclude he has thought about this subject considerably, even more so than R' Slifkin'. (Let's put aside the obvious problem that this statement assumes its own conclusion.) You then conclude "Publishing does not have any correlation to thought/expertise." But you yourself have demonstrated that's not true! The only reason you suggest R' Kook thought about this subject as much or more than R' Slifkin is BECAUSE he published - thus the two must be correlated!

    Cheers,
    Hillel

    ReplyDelete
  29. Hey Hillel, it's hard for me to understand why you don't get this simple point. According to you, thinking about something and publishing about it are correlated. So you can't conceive of someone, even many people, thinking about something for a really long time and not publishing their thoughts? Rabbi Slifkin has published extensively, true. Others have not published as much, true. So that means he thought about it more than anyone else? What kind of logic is that? "Real Rationalist" was correct; you seem to lack a grasp of the scientific method.

    ReplyDelete
  30. "you can't conceive of someone, even many people, thinking about something for a really long time and not publishing their thoughts?"

    Gavriel,
    That is not an accurate representation of what I said. Quite the opposite. I can conceive of such a thing, and freely admitted in a previous post that such a thing is, in a theoretical vacuum, entirely possible.

    However, as I noted before, we do not live in a theoretical vacuum, we live in the real world. The real world is evidence-based. The fact that it is within the realm of theoretical possibility that X could have occurred does not constitute evidence for X having happened. This the crux of the scientific method - that a theory is insufficient, evidence (in the form of real-world testing) is required!

    If I maintain Y, and present evidence, an argument that Y is incorrect without any evidence against Y other than the theoretical possibility that X might have happened is an invalid argument. Again, it's not invalid in theory, it's just invalid in reality.

    In more manageable terms, if I say Ted Williams was the greatest hitter of all time and present my reasons, you can validly respond that I am wrong because in fact Ty Cobb was the greatest hitter, and present your reasons. But you cannot validly argue that I am wrong simply because there remains the theoretical possibility that a greater hitter might have existed! Such an argument is not evidence based, not rooted in the scientific method, and therefore entirely useless.

    In this case, if one wants to say person X or Y (say R' Kook or someone's grandfather) thought more about this topic than R' Slifkin, regardless of quantity, or even existence, of any publications, that's a perfectly valid argument and we can evaluate the merits. But it's valid only because it's based on reality, on evidence. Negating the argument with NO evidence, as 'Real Rationalist' does, is an invalid argument in any real and relevant sense. It is therefore highly inappropriate to criticize a person and call them names based on such a specious argument.

    Incidentally, the reason I care is not because of this particular issue - one should agree or disagree with R' Slifkin based on the sources and arguments, not based on who 'thought more about it' more. I care because this fundamentally nihilistic concept is commonly used by people who have no evidence to negate propositions - and people - they dislike. And that bothers me.

    Cheers,
    Hillel

    ReplyDelete
  31. Hillel, I think that your post demonstrates the mistake in your thinking. Let's take the example that you yourself mentioned:

    "if I say Ted Williams was the greatest hitter of all time and present my reasons, you can validly respond that I am wrong because in fact Ty Cobb was the greatest hitter, and present your reasons. But you cannot validly argue that I am wrong simply because there remains the theoretical possibility that a greater hitter might have existed!"

    This is a great example! If someone made the claim that Ted Williams is the greatest hitter IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE MAJOR LEAGUES, then you are correct. However, if someone said that Ted Williams is the greatest hitter in the history of mankind, then the burden of proof would be upon him to demonstrate the truth of his statement, and that would have to go way beyond the major leagues. If he couldn't prove his statement with regard to all of mankind, then the theoretical possibility of someone else DISPROVES his claim, and it remains as empty and meaningless.

    Had Rabbi Slifkin said that he probably thought about this issue more than any one else who has written about it, then you would be correct, since his extensive writings compared to their less extensive writings would reflect the amount of time put in. However, he said he probably thought about it more than anyone else. Period. The burden of proof is on him. What "Real Rationalist" did was to show that the statement Rabbi Slifkin made, insofar as it has no limitations (not the major leagues, but all of mankind) is scientifically meaningless, and thus arrogant. If I told you that there's a man across the street from me, who is an old talmid chacham and who has read extensively in the sciences, and has over 3,000 pages of his own observations and theories on the subject from the past 40+ years - and he hasn't published one page - what would you say? Does this prove Rabbi Slifkin's claim ("anyone else") wrong? The man across the street hasn't published (by the way, he really exists as described, and he has shown his notes to me and others in the neighborhood). The point is burden of proof, and if one makes a statement about *anyone* then he can't rely merely on the community of published authors. If he means published authors, then say so; don't say "anyone." It seems to me that your criticism of "Real Rationalist" is baseless, on the grounds mentioned.

    ReplyDelete
  32. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Don't you think we should accept evolution, because of the evidence, not because 12th century philosophers/Rabbi's say it's okay to go outside of Genesis?

    ReplyDelete
  33. "Anonymous,
    These statements contradict each other, and prove the point I am making. You first say 'R' Kook has published on the subject, I therefore conclude he has thought about this subject considerably, even more so than R' Slifkin'. (Let's put aside the obvious problem that this statement assumes its own conclusion.) You then conclude "Publishing does not have any correlation to thought/expertise." But you yourself have demonstrated that's not true! The only reason you suggest R' Kook thought about this subject as much or more than R' Slifkin is BECAUSE he published - thus the two must be correlated!

    Cheers,
    Hillel"

    I'm not sure what error you are making but it's a huge one.

    Because of who Rav Kook was and who R. Slifkin is, I don't think it needs to be proven (here atleast) that Rav Kook thought about the issue as much, or perhaps even more than R. Slifkin has.

    If publishing and expertise/thinking had any correlation, you would expect Rav Kook to have published more on the topic than R. Slifkin.

    But the fact is , Rav Kook published less.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Because of who Rav Kook was and who R. Slifkin is, I don't think it needs to be proven (here atleast) that Rav Kook thought about the issue as much, or perhaps even more than R. Slifkin has.

    What on earth is the logic behind that? Why does his being a bigger talmid chochom mean that he has thought more about it?!

    ReplyDelete

  35. My grandfather thought about these issues since just after WWII.


    Who is your grandfather?

    ReplyDelete

  36. Good grief, guys, leave it already. It is SO not worth anyone's time!


    It is very worth our time, because this statement (which I am glad so many people besides myself noticed) is a very clear expression of the tone of Rabbi Slifkin's blog.

    Maybe it's not worth the time of those who eschew this forum, but for those who find it interesting, it has to be analyzed precisely.

    It is also interesting that all the comments on this subject for the past two days are from people other than Rabbi Slifkin himself, who would obviously be the best candidate to elucidate what he meant and what his reasons were for writing it.

    ReplyDelete
  37. "If he couldn't prove his statement with regard to all of mankind, then the theoretical possibility of someone else DISPROVES his claim, and it remains as empty and meaningless."

    Gavriel,
    Thank you for providing an excellent example of the type of pointless rhetoric I'm talking about. In a theoretical vacuum, what you say has some merit (even though it's still false. The word disprove means 'to show to be false or wrong, to invalidate', but even in your theoretical realm, your assertion is untrue because the possibility of X doesn't DISPROVE Y, it simply renders Y neither proven nor disproved). In real life, however, that theoretical argument is utter nonsense, for all the reasons I provided in prior posts.

    "Had Rabbi Slifkin said that he probably thought about this issue more than any one else who has written about it, then you would be correct, since his extensive writings compared to their less extensive writings would reflect the amount of time put in."

    Actually, based on your logic, this is not true, for reasons I have posted earlier. (Since we don't know all publications that have ever been made in all human history, the possibility remains...) My point is, using your theoretical framework in the real world leads to absurd results where nobody can claim anything, since is there is always a theoretical alternate possibility or two (or an inifinite number) that can never be disproved.

    "If I told you that there's a man across the street from me..."

    Then I would say hallelujah! We've finally gotten off the pointless discussion about whether someone existed in theory and are getting down to brass tacks - actual real-world evidence. As far as I can tell, we now have three candidates for people who have thought more about the subject than R' Slifkin - some anonymous person's grandfather, your neighbor (who, in theory, may be anonymous' grandfather!), and R' Kook. If you really want to make a serious argument about your neighbor, however, at least for me, you'll have to do better than that very general statement that there's some anonymous guy who's a talmid chacham and very well read in science and has many notes. R' Slifkin's name and accomplishments are well known. If you have a candidate who you think competes, by all means provide the person's identity and bona fides and we can have a discussion.

    Cheers,
    Hillel

    ReplyDelete
  38. "Had Rabbi Slifkin said that he probably thought about this issue more than any one else who has written about it, then you would be correct, since his extensive writings compared to their less extensive writings would reflect the amount of time put in."

    Gavriel,
    Let me get this straight. According to you, it's fair to say that a person who has published five books on a given topic has thought more about a subject than a person who has published one book on that topic. But it's not fair to say that a person who has published five books on a topic has thought more about it than a person who has published NOTHING on that topic? Huh?

    Cheers,
    Hillel

    ReplyDelete
  39. • “They might infer that you believe that you yourself qualify as a great expert on the interface of Jewish theology and science.

    I'm not an old or wise person. But on the other hand, I have probably spent more time thinking and studying about this topic than anyone else. Does that qualify me as an expert?”
    I’ve noticed everyone seems to have an issue with NS in any way considering himself as rather knowledgeable or in fact and expert (however that’s quantified) on the issue of Torah and Science. For those of you, could you ever stomach someone claiming to be knowledgeable of issue more so than most people? Do you find this arrogant? Can someone only be an expert provided you like and/or agree with their understanding?
    • “In all seriousness, what would you do if the majority of rishonim held that chazal were infallible in their scientific statements? Would you not feel comfortable adapting the minority hashkafic view that in your view was correct?

    Let's take that further. What if all rishonim held that chazal were infallible?”
    Quite frankly who cares? I struggle to understand this; that someone considered great in the orthodox community must subscribe to a belief/understanding of an issue in order for it to be permissible to believe. Why does anyone ask if the Gedolim believe in evolution or if they hold that it is okay to believe in an ancient universe? Its complete foolishness to CHOOSE your beliefs based on the okay of someone else rather than on the evidence. Then again, I understand that as Jews we constantly have to see if we can describe ourselves as fitting in the mold of orthodoxy, be it for social/ identity reasons, but surely I line must be drawn somewhere so that our beliefs are not chosen for us?
    • “My grandfather thought about these issues since just after WWII.
    And today, he thinks everybody is an idiot and is having the "wrong conversation." It angers him that there is no responsible public conversation about these topics anywhere.”
    Obviously I don’t speak for NS. But I highly doubt he meant that because he thinks about it, he’s the Steven Hawking of Torah/Science issues. For instance I think it’s fair to say that I’m more knowledgeable about maths than most people, not only because I think about it often but am constantly involved with maths in an academic fashion. Is that bravado? Must I dig through every bit of human knowledge before I could even state such a thing? Don’t be ridiculous
    Incidentally I agree with your grandfather, too much of the discussion of Torah/Science is lead by fools, lacks any resemblance to logic, and is not comprehensive enough to be of any value. A friend of mine and I always joke about ‘Beyond a Reasonable Doubt’, which flows along the lines of. Oranges are amazingly complex and fascinating. Chance vs. Design. Therefore God exists.

    ReplyDelete
  40. • “How about this - let's ask ANY recognized scientist if the statement "I have probably spent more time thinking and studying about this topic than anyone else" has any meaning whatsoever from within the realm of the scientific method? Would you agree to abide by his/her judgment?”
    Certainly I don’t become some authorititive figure on the subject because I’m more knowledgeable than most! Were NS to claim such a thing, he would certainly earn your disdain, but he did not, nor that I saw suggest it.

    • “Ephraim said...Good grief, guys, leave it already. It is SO not worth anyone's time!”
    It is very worth our time, because this statement (which I am glad so many people besides myself noticed) is a very clear expression of the tone of Rabbi Slifkin's blog.
    Could you please explain exactly what his tone is?
    What does his tone indicate about himself to you?
    The reason I ask such simple questions is because it would be helpful to fully describe what you find offensive about the tone.
    As I understand it, numerous people have an issue with ‘tone’ because they feel exasperated that he could dare consider himself right, and by extension others wrong. Again, is this arrogant by definition? It certainly can be, but why not find fault in his arguments rather than using an ad hominem. Is it too terrible for him to consider himself right, when as we can clearly see, so do you?

    ReplyDelete
  41. Hillel, your responses are, as far as I can see, non-sensical. Rabbi Slifkin's claim is "disproved" in the sense that the *validity* of his claim is unverifiable, and therefore the claim is meaningless, or gibberish. It is in that sense that I used the word disprove; but if you prefer, substitute the words "invalidated as a claim."

    Your question about the periodicals and publications is non-sensical as well, because just like the major league baseball claim *would* be valid (I suppose you would also ask, "maybe there were major leagues that we don't know about during the middle ages, so therefore it is all non-falsifiable") so too here, had Rabbi Slifkin claimed to have thought about this more than others who have published (in the known publications known to modern man) then there would be what to talk about here. But he claims to have thought about more than ANYONE. This is meaningless, since it is not verifiable.

    And here's where I think you give yourself away in terms of what's behind your argument:

    "If you really want to make a serious argument about your neighbor, however, at least for me, you'll have to do better than that very general statement that there's some anonymous guy who's a talmid chacham and very well read in science and has many notes. R' Slifkin's name and accomplishments are well known. If you have a candidate who you think competes, by all means provide the person's identity and bona fides and we can have a discussion."

    Who cares how well known the people are? Who cares what their accomplishments or bona fides are? We are talking about how much time they have thought about this issue. You claim that writings reflect how much time they thought about it. The quality of the writing or the reputation of the author is irrelevant to the issue of time. Since you introduce an irrelevant factor here, apparently the "stature" issue is what's driving you. We are not talking about who is "right" - we are talking about the baseless claim of "I have probably thought about this issue more than anyone else."

    ReplyDelete
  42. 1. Just to be clear, I was referring to Jews.

    2. I do think it probably true that I have thought about these topics AND studied them in the Rishonim and contemporary literature than anyone else. Obviously I have no way of being sure or of proving this, so it was probably pointless to say it.

    3. I think it is pretty clear from my books (not the mere fact of publishing them, but rather from their content) that I have extensively studied the Rishonim and contemporary literature that is written from a broad variety of perspectives.

    4. Studying something a lot does not necessarily makes one's views authoritative. For example, basic epistemology and worldview is also important. Who is a greater authority on the Koran - a Muslim cleric or an average non-Muslim! It depends what you mean by "authority." The former can certainly cite more verses, but with regard to the significance of certain things, we would rate the latter as being more authoritative. Or, to put it another way: Who is a greater expert on Israeli politics - oneself, or Shimon Peres?

    ReplyDelete
  43. "Who cares how well known the people are? Who cares what their accomplishments or bona fides are? We are talking about how much time they have thought about this issue."

    Gavriel,
    Congrats. You have successfully elevated the argument from:

    'You can't say Ted Williams was the greatest hitter because someone, in theory, may have been better than him.'

    To:

    'Ted Williams wasn't the greatest hitter because I know this guy who's way better. I won't tell you his name or anything else about him because it's all irrelevant. All that matters is that he's way better than Ted Williams.'

    OK, you can use that argument if it gets you through the night, but there's no way to actually have any sort of informed debate or discussion on the matter.

    Cheers,
    Hillel

    ReplyDelete
  44. "2. I do think it probably true that I have thought about these topics AND studied them in the Rishonim and contemporary literature than anyone else. Obviously I have no way of being sure or of proving this, so it was probably pointless to say it."

    You should probably stop thinking that.

    If you did a survey of all the people who have interest in your book I am sure you will find people who have spent more time studying/thinking about this subject than you have.

    I don't think people recognize how many anonymous people there are out there who do lots of thinking, but very little talking.

    "Who is your grandfather?"

    Henoch Kessler

    "For those of you, could you ever stomach someone claiming to be knowledgeable of issue more so than most people? Do you find this arrogant?"

    It's arrogant to say you spend more time on something than all other people. Especially when in the way you phrase the statement you also include anyone reading said statement.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Hillel, your response is a cute misdirection, but not relevant to the argument. In the case of Ted Williams, ascertaining "best hitter" requires verifiable stats, which would necessitate knowing who we are talking about. In the case of my neighbor, his name, accomplishments, "bona fides" etc. are irrelevant to the issue of "has he spent more time thinking about this issue, as evidenced from the volume of notes and the years engaged." For that, his identity, etc. has no bearing. It would be enough just to show the dated notes, without any regard to their quality at all. And obviously producing those notes cannot be done over the internet. So you'll either have to take my word that they exist, or use this as an excuse to disregard my argument, which logically is valid and sound no matter how uncomfortable you are with it.

    ReplyDelete
  46. Hillel, one more thing: at this point you can go argue with Rabbi Slifkin about this whole issue, since he himself (correctly) pointed out, "Obviously I have no way of being sure or of proving this, so it was probably pointless to say it."

    ReplyDelete
  47. "For that, his identity, etc. has no bearing. It would be enough just to show the dated notes, without any regard to their quality at all."

    Gavriel,
    This is simply not correct.

    First, quality is an indicator (although, again, not a dispositive proof) of time spent. I know professional artists who have hundreds of drawings to their credit, and six-year olds who have also colored hundreds of sheets of paper. Are you saying that there is no indication of who has spent more time on their relative crafts over the past half-decade? Sure, it's technically not dispositive, but I would hope you would admit it's a pretty strong indication.

    Second, profession is an indicator (again, not dispositive). If there are two people who have thousands of pages of notes on subject X, it is true that the amount published does not necessarily prove that one has thought about it more than the other. (Although I would argue it is an indication, but no more than that.) However, the people's identities, jobs, backgrounds, etc. are incredibly relevant. If person 1 is a professional educator in X, and goes around the world speaking and presenting topics on X, where person 2 works in a field unrelated to X, and studies X as a hobby, it is still quite reasonable to assume the professional has spent more time thinking about it than the amateur.

    Anyway, my point was simply that without his identity and bona fides, there's no way to have a discussion. There's your word and that's it. I don't know this person (or you) and neither does anyone else on this blog as long as he remains anonymous, so there's no ability for me to question any premises or examine any evidence. There simply is nothing to discuss.

    Cheers,
    Hillel

    ReplyDelete
  48. Gavriel,
    I agree there is no way to "prove" that statement, and I agree that if people are going to apply the scrutiny of mathematical certainty to the statement then it cannot be proven.

    My sole point is that such scrutiny is improper, that R' Slifkin made a real-world, evidence based assessment, and that so far detractors have done little by way of evidence to disprove his statement, and rely entirely on theoretical frameworks which are technically correct and practically irrelevant.

    Cheers,
    Hillel

    ReplyDelete
  49. Hillel, as I said - take it up with Rabbi Slifkin whose last post is in disagreement with your whole argument. (It was you, not I, who said that one's works indicate time spent. There is one famous professor of Jewish Studies who is able to "knock out" a book in a matter of weeks. Looking at the totality of his works one might think he spent several lifetimes on it. Looks, as always can sometimes be deceiving. Your claim is based upon assumptions - not deductions - which may be correct and may be incorrect. Therefore, your argument doesn't hold water. Further as to your need for quality - one man's "quality" is another man's "garbage" as the many posts on this very website indicate. But again, in the end, I think we're through, since Rabbi Slifkin's admission here puts your argument to bed).

    ReplyDelete
  50. 5. Many people, myself included, do not agree to the popular view that great Talmudists and halachists automatically qualify as great experts on the interface of Jewish theology and science.

    Jewish theology is a very general term. I believe we are discussing the interface between the Torah and science. It makes sense that the greatest experts in the study of torah would also be the greatest experts on the "interface". It should also be clear to all, that the greatest experts on the torah are the great halachists and talmudists. Is there another area of torah study that makes one more qualified? What is it?

    ReplyDelete

  51. Could you please explain exactly what his tone is?
    What does his tone indicate about himself to you?
    The reason I ask such simple questions is because it would be helpful to fully describe what you find offensive about the tone.


    Read my comment again; it doesn't contain the word 'offensive'.

    I'm a big fan of Rabbi Slifkin, although we have our disagreements. When I talk about 'tone', I mean to say that it is important to readers and commenters on a blog to know whether they are engaging in a dialog of equals or listening to someone who considers himself an expert, or something in between.

    I had no intention of giving my opinion about the correctness of Rabbi Slifkin's claim about himself; I only meant to say why I think the discussion of it is not a waste of time.

    ReplyDelete
  52. "But again, in the end, I think we're through"

    Gavriel,
    At last, we agree. If you refuse to provide any evidence for you claim other than "take my word for it", there's nothing more to discuss.

    Cheers,
    Hillel

    ReplyDelete
  53. Hillel, I guess I am not surprised that you are consistent with your logical fallacy. I do not need to provide evidence to demonstrate the meaninglessness of the claim "I have probably thought about this issue more than anyone else" - I need only to show how, from the strictures of the scientific method and classical research modes, that this statement is nothing more than a belief. And many people have many interesting beliefs, but those beliefs really ought not enter into a strictly rationalistic discussion and debate. Your call for "evidence" is an evasion and a shift with regard to the issue of burden of proof.

    As you said, we agree that there is nothing further for us to discuss, so if you do respond to this, please don't think I am being rude if I don't respond in turn. For good or for bad, I have a limit in terms of trying to get the discussion back on track when someone continuously evades a basic logical point.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Gavriel,
    I agree with pretty much everything in the first part your post. It is not a statistical statement to be analyzed in a lab or on spreadsheet. It is a belief which cannot be proven to a statistic certainty.

    Where we disagree is in your insistence that because the statement cannot be proven statistically it is meaningless. Almost everything we do in life reflects an evidence-based calculations that are not, and often cannot be scientifically proven, and that doesn't mean most of what we do is meaningless. (And yes, I'm aware that the previous sentence cannot be proven statistically, all I can do is bring evidence for it.)

    Since we're talking about two totally different worldviews and neither is willing to accept the other, I also agree that there's no point in continuing further and completely understand if you should choose not to respond.

    Cheers,
    Hillel

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.