Monday, May 3, 2010

You Can't Threaten People Into Believing Something

Contemplating the various theological debates of the last few years, the following thought has repeatedly occurred to me. When those on my right insist that it is unacceptable to believe X (where X is anything from the world being millions of years old to Chazal being mistaken to the flood not being global to Torah not being divine to there not being a God), what do they believe the result of that to be?

It seems pretty clear to me that in many or even most cases you can't threaten someone into believing something. Much as those grappling with challenges may want to be a good Jew, they are not likely to suddenly start believing X because you tell them that one has to believe X in order to be a kosher Jew, especially if they are much more knowledgeable than you about the matter under question. If someone has a strong education in biology and has concluded that evolution is true, he is not going to stop believing that because a rabbi tells him that it is incompatible with Judaism. What will happen instead is that they will be deeply tormented and will either (a) reject the rabbi as a representative of Judaism, (b) conclude that Torah must be false, or (c) feel that they are bad Jews and eventually detach themselves from the religious community.

Now, in some cases this may be unavoidable. I simply don't see how it's possible to, for example, grant the legitimacy of someone denying the existence of God, or denying Torah min haShamayim in some significant sense, without fundamentally compromising Judaism. (Although if someone has such beliefs, it can still be possible to help them be part of the Orthodox community, if they so desire.)

But in other cases, is this what those to my right really want? That someone should feel that Judaism is not for them? Is it really so terrible if they say, "Look, I don't believe that evolution is true, and in my view it is really contrary to Torah belief, but I must let you know that there are plenty of Orthodox rabbis who believe otherwise"? Is that really worse than the alternative?

Rav Aryeh Carmell ztz"l told me that he once asked Rav Dessler ztz"l about answering someone who was struggling with the factual reality of a certain part of the Torah. Rav Dessler replied that it is not an ikkar of emunah that the Torah be interpreted literally, so it is better to tell the person that they don't need to accept it as literally true than for the person to altogether give up on Torah.

I wonder if those who negate other approaches even think about the consequences. I imagine that in some cases, they just assume that if they insist loudly enough that others must conform to the expected beliefs, then people will acquiesce. In other cases, they are just maniacally driven to denounce those perceived as enemies of the faith (such as myself), regardless of the consequences for those with questions that I am trying to help. And in other cases, I suspect that they might be battling their own personal demons.

Whatever their motivation, I think that they would be well advised to think about the consequences of their declaration that various beliefs are unequivocally incompatible with Judaism.

62 comments:

  1. Interesting post. I am not clear what Rav Dessler meant that it is not an ikkar of the Torah to believe that every part is literally true. Does it mean that it is not necessary to believe that the stories of Gan Eden are true or that Noach really built an ark and put every single of species of animal on it and fed each and everyone one of them?

    I do find such an attitude constructive because there is no doubt in my mind that many, many people who consider themselves Orthodox/relgious, and who come to synagogue every day and Shabbat and raise their children to be religiously observant do not accept all the "principles of faith" that are taught....e.g. that all 5 Books of Moshe were given directly by G-d, or that prayer really works or that all the normative halacha is really binding. These "deviations" from the norms of Orthodox Judaism go well beyond simply lack of belif that everything written in the Torah is literally true. If someone believes Rav Dessler is wrong and that it is important to search out those with such ideas, it could lead to endless witch-hunts and driving many otherwise fine people out of the religious community, eventually tearing the community apart.

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  2. Most people don’t think about religion much at all. They assume that their particular sect is the One True Way and that this is obvious to everyone. The only reason others might disagree is if they’re deluded and/or evil. Therefore is someone is questioning something they believe in, that person is evil and not someone they’d want to associate with anyway.

    If you look at it from the religion’s point of view, this tendency is a great survival tactic. The automatic condemnation and ostracization of those who question accepted truths serves to isolate the questioners from the rest of community and thereby preserve the religion in the majority of people. That those people are no longer part of the community is an acceptable loss. The religion lives on.

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  3. “ Whatever their motivation, I think that they would be well advised to think about the consequences of their declaration that various beliefs are unequivocally incompatible with Judaism.”

    As a public policy, most of your distinquished opponents probably think that the banned approach is unnecessary. A statement from one of the Rabbonim quoted in the ban, said in effect that “ kiruv will be done better without the banned approach, and no one has ownership on the Torah to change it and make it more beautiful”. A similar point was made at the end of the JO article, IIRC, in that it would lead to a slippery slope and that you “don’t adulterate a product in order to sell it”.

    The real issue, I think, is how well one can insulate people from the outside world. The charedi world believes in can do this well(though interestingly, the RCA just passed a resolution urging "Care When Interacting With General Society") , and also in the strength of it’s kiruv to deal with Science/Torah and other issues. Therefore, there is no need for the banned approach. People who will be studying evolution in college, however, and in general, are exposed to more foreign thought, need as many options as possible. That’s probably why MO is more open to the banned approach.

    (In private on an individual basis, even the biggest Charedi opponent might permit it, but the question is moot, because they might be permitting it as being better than the alternative, ie, total disbelief and lack of observance, but not legitimizing it as a communal option).

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  4. Imagine being a chabad chosid and being told to believe the Earth does not rotate and when you question this are given the irrefutable proof that it must be soi because the Rebbe ZTL said so.
    This either undermines your faith or makes you think the Rebbe was human

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  5. I think a relevant question is, would you be willing to extend the same tolerance to those on your "left"? (Not -you-, specifically, but consonant with your approach here.)

    Say someone takes a classical Reform position, and says, I believe in God, and I believe that the Torah is a means to attaining greater morality, meaning, and spirituality, but I think that times have changed since the writing of the Torah, and each person needs to decide which practices are right for them. Clearly this isn't Orthodox, but is it acceptable Judaism? Do we ask ourselves what the consequences would be, before answering?

    Asked a different way: what are the lines, why are they where they are, who decides, and what happens when someone is on the wrong side?

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  6. I disagree. While you're right that a "heavy-handed" approach will distance a number of people from Judaism, that is not the goal for these people.

    The goal is to set "proper policy" for generations of Jews coming after us. If they push everyone else out, then in the future, True Judaism is going to be what their view of true Judaism is. Losing a few (or even many) people along the way does not enter into the equation.

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  7. "What will happen instead is that they will be deeply tormented and will either (a) reject the rabbi as a representative of Judaism, (b) conclude that Torah must be false, or (c) feel that they are bad Jews and eventually detach themselves from the religious community."

    I noticed that being deeply tormented isn't one of the options; rather, it's treated as a given. Personally, I wouldn't be deeply tormented. I would be disappointed at my rabbi for making an uninformed response, but I would (most likely) look at this as an aberration, and still consider him -- looking at the totality of the man and his teachings -- to be a darn good representative of Judaism.

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  8. JXG - your question is one that I deal with in my article in the latest Hakirah, "They Could Say It, We Cannot."

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  9. Shlomo - that was insulting and very misinformed.

    Rabbi Slifkin - my dear young rabbi, the concerns you mention are not part of their analysis or approach. Walling off the world and very slowly reconciling Torah to changes in secular science over generations has worked just fine for over 2,400 years - why should it change now?

    The information explosion and education explosion of our generation is probably unique in human history. It's impact is exceeding our current cultural ability to adjust.

    You are encountering the defenders of the breeches. Their self understood role is to defend - they only analyze the direct impact (were they successful), not the big picture.

    The problem is the breeches are growing, the ability to adjust is lagging behind, and therefore the defenders feel under siege and the need to move on to extreme measures to hold their ground.

    Exacerbating the problem is the senior gedolim, who are supposed to be looking at the big picture, are (by brachot from Hashem and the positive impact of modern medical technology) more aged and enfeebled than in the past. This limits or prevents their ability to act forcefully in making the necessary societal adjustments.

    It's not pretty, and it's empowering a lot of angry zealots to step into the vacuum.

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  10. You are encountering the defenders of the breeches...

    Breeches (pronounced /ˈbriːtʃɨz/) are an item of male clothing covering the body from the waist down, with separate coverings for each leg, usually stopping just below the knee, though in some cases reaching to the ankles. (from Wikipedia)

    I think that you meant to write "breaches"...

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  11. I suggest that Rav Yosef Albo's approach in Sefer Ha-Ikkarim would be useful. IIUC his approach is that there are beliefs that lie at the essence of Judaism and that are true and there are beliefs that while true do not constitute the essence of Judaism.

    KT
    Eliyahu

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  12. I was in a class once where a Rabbi said dinosaurs never existed... this didn't work out to well for the Kiruv as 60% of the class walked out as soon as he said that and I over heard one person say "this is no better than the insanities of the Catholic Church"...

    Unfortunately, the spirit of the RambaM has left us and if you take this path you are called an apikorus or worse - a goy - both of which I have been called.

    Rav Steinsaltz might be the true Gadol HaDor of the generation.

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  13. Akiva why is a genuine question on faith and belief insulting you have no idea where I am coming from (Is saying the Rebbe ztl was human insulting?) and how is it misinformed the Rebbe ztl had a very clear opinion regarding the Earth as the physical center of the universe

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  14. Torah Min HaShamayimMay 4, 2010 at 2:30 PM

    Rabbis should also consider understanding Torah Min HaShamayim in a more sophisticated fashion. Those who do not accept literal verbal dictation from Hashem and instead accept Sinaitic Divine Revelation followed by a more gradual redaction which is more in line with Bible Criticism should be accepted.

    Rabbis Heschel and Louis Jacobs have interesting material on this. Also, Tamar Ross.

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  15. Over the last few decades, the Hareidi world has been moving more insular. Whereas, once upon a time, being a frum doctor, lawyer, accountant etc, was acceptable, it is now frowned upon. The more insular Hareidim get, the more narrow they will be in their views. Try telling an kollel guy, who never opened a science book in his life, that there never was spontaneous generation. He'll never believe you, and he'll think you are a kofer. Thats because he has no view of the outside world. It seems that many gedolim of today have this vision of returning Judaism to the ghetto. They don't want any outside influences. They view the hashkafa of Hareidi America that existed in the '70, '80 as bedi'avad. They tell their young students that the Torah im derech eretz of Rav Hirsch was a time bound hetter. In fact even secular studies in high school seems to be under attack in Lakewood and in other yeshivos.
    Unfortunately, these leaders are missing the boat. We aren't going back to the ghetto. Internet is going to be here for a long time. the access to information is more than ever and it's in real time. If there ever was a time that klala Yisrael needed to embrace derech eretz, it is now. We can't deny that external society exists, and is influencing our views, and the best way to stay Jewish in this day and age is to "be a Jew in the street - not just in front of a Gemara."
    Back to this discussion, lets face it, most people accept that many scientific facts are accurate. Of course things change, but somethings like spontaneous generation will never change. Most Orthodox Jews believe it too. The rabbinic leaders who have been banning this approach for the masses, are doing so because of their drive to return to the ghetto. In the process, they are making a chillul Hashem, because they are disconnecting even religious Jews from Judaism.

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  16. Garnel IronheartMay 4, 2010 at 3:25 PM

    Some (not all) of the people to your right, Rav Sliffkin, have a simple vision of Judaism, one is which there is a standard set of beliefs, behaviours and clothing that is shared by ALL its members. This mold is so important that those who refuse to accept it 100% are "outside the pale". For them the priority is homogeneity. Not inquiry, not diversity, not 70 facets of Torah. One, only one, you get your choice from column A, row 1 and that's it.

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  17. The problem with this line of thinking is that if you remove from the Torah it's literal aspect, eventually tou begin to see it for what it is: a body of law encased in a narrative designed to unify and control a geographically co-located group of people with somewhat similar backgrounds. Then you begin to compare Torah to modern legal systems and you realize that what we have today is in some sense built on top of the Torah, and therefore subsumes it, or does something that the Torah does in a much better, more modern and rational fashion.

    And so, you don't need the Torah.

    The people who tell you it's assur to believe something are doing it because if you do believe it, it weakens their authority and power.

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  18. I would think that the people behind the bans are not really interested in kiruv rechokim. After all, one of the leaders got burned when one of his closer talmidim turned completely away from Judaism and started his antireligious Daatemet website. Of vital interest, however, is maintaining their influence on those in their camp. That control seemed to require an isolation from outside influences and ideas. Rather than simply forbidding the books in question to their adherents, they chose to use the more general but inappropriate accusation of heresy. In that way, they weren't merely defending their turf, but, ostensibly, defending the religion. It's a characteristic defensive position clothed in the language of offense. Of course, ethical treatment is not an obstacle if one considers himself to be doing GOD's work.

    As to the damage that this position might cause those with a secular education and knowledge, that wasn't considered their problem. After all, there were rabbinic figures in the MO camp who were comfortable with the idea of a truly ancient universe and earth, and who didn't subscribe to the idea of the infallibility of chazal on matters dealing with physical facts. Those who were troubled by the heresy accusation could always refer to those MO authorities.

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  19. I don't know the history. Jews might have a short history of forcing people to believe things, or they might have been doing this since the gemorah.

    Do you care that Karites seem to be pushed out of Judaism? Do you care that Samaritans are not Jewish at all?

    However, the Catholic church has a very strong history of threatening people to believe in something, and it seems to work well for them.

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  20. The goal of these statements is to cut their losses, not to convince anyone who doesn't already believe. To these chareidim, someone like you is a lost cause. Their only goal is to keep anyone who does *not* yet (for instance) believe in evolution from following you. They do that by saying you're a heretic, on the other side of the bright line, so no one should have anything to do with you. Those who listen to them will mostly comply, and that's all they're aiming for.

    I don't think any of these rabbis will say "I must let you know that there are plenty of Orthodox rabbis who believe otherwise", because they don't believe those rabbis are Orthodox. They're heretics. Or, if they're gedolim, they didn't actually say it, regardless of any evidence to the contrary.

    I think these rabbis know exactly what they're doing. They know they'll alienate people who believe in evolution and so on. They don't care, because those people are already lost to them.

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  21. This blog is turning into one of the most stimulating blogs in frum cyberspace.

    Kol HaKavod to the Admor MeSlifka!

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  22. I seem to remember a while back that you said that you would post comments only if they contribute to the conversation. Surely you must realize that posting fawning, empty comments such as the one by "HaRazieli" comes across as nothing more than self-serving, shallow pats on the back. There is enough substance in the blog - you do not need to pad it with stuff like this.

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  23. Evan, you're absolutely right. Actually I wasn't going to post it, but HaRazieli is a good friend of mine and I didn't want to risk offending him by not posting his comment. HaRazieli, thanks for the support, but no more comments like this, please!

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  24. I don't think a strong insistence on the unacceptability of certain beliefs are not categorically counterproductive. Back in my early twenties, having rabbis I really respect express, in various shiurim and classes, their strong views on various hashkafic matters, e.g., on the centrality of Torah mi-Sinai or the total unacceptability of homosexual practice, had a very strong impact on me. Coming from college, where the TMS idea was assumed to be a temple- or post-temple-era creation and all reasonable people fully embraced gay rights, this sort of pushback, I can say with hindsight, was very important to my spiritual growth.

    Of course, this pushback was presented by people that I personally knew and respected greatly. Also, their strong positions were matched by their intelligence, knowledge and sensitivity. However, I would agree that strong opposition is more likely to generate anger and alienation rather than any sort of enlightenment when these crucial ingredients are missing.

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  25. Rabbi, nice post.

    It’s certainly difficult to convince someone to believe in anything simply by insisting on it, but it is nigh impossible when that “belief” has strong evidence against it.

    Despite the short term increase in numbers in “blind faith” adherents to traditional Judaism, I think for Judaism to survive long term the tent MUST be broadened, and many ikkarim, which were artificial in the first place, MUST, absolutely MUST, be set aside.

    The line as drawn in the sand now by many on the Right is simply not sustainable in the face of truth and reality.

    The sad part is that those people that have to address this problem simply are clueless, or worse maybe they do realize but simply don’t care.

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  26. I will of course respect your wishes though I don't really see why heartfelt sentiments such as I expressed should not be expressed once in awhile (even negative ones) so long as the substantive comments far outnumber the type that I posted.

    In any case I don't take it back but will not deviate again. :)

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  27. "If someone has a strong education in biology and has concluded that evolution is true, he is not going to stop believing that because a rabbi tells him that it is incompatible with Judaism...
    "Is it really so terrible if they say, "Look, I don't believe that evolution is true, and in my view it is really contrary to Torah belief, but I must let you know that there are plenty of Orthodox rabbis who believe otherwise"? Is that really worse than the alternative?"


    You left out a third possibility:
    Alongside with letting them know about the unorthodoxy of their convictions is to try to loosen them from those very convictions. Not with scientific evidence but with an education about the inherent logical limits of scientific claims about reality.

    Most scientists (and their enthusiasts) have a very exaggerated notion of what science can actually know for certain, and often confuse scientific impossibility with logical impossibility.

    SO you can tell them what is forbidden to believe and simultaneously make them aware them that their evidence-based convictions aren't as well founded philosophically as they thought.

    It will take time and humility, but it doesn't condemn people to be caught in torment.

    If you advocate that rabbis should be willing to loosen their convictions about what is acceptable in Torah, you should equally advocate that scientists should reciprocate and loosen their convictions about what is acceptable about reality.

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  28. "Breeches (pronounced /ˈbriːtʃɨz/) are an item of male clothing covering the body from the waist down, with separate coverings for each leg, usually stopping just below the knee, though in some cases reaching to the ankles."

    Perhaps R'Akiva is registering his disapproval of men's stockings, seen in some Chassidish communities, or, even the wearing of shorts?

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  29. Anyone to the left of you can make the exact same argument. You think anybody on your right is crazy, don't you realize that those on the left of you view you the same way?

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  30. Anyone to the left of you can make the exact same argument.

    No, they can't. I thought that I made that clear in the post.

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  31. What makes no sense to me is that the Torah is already not interpreted literally by anyone otherwise we would all have to believe that G-D has a body and a form. SO if there are already parts of the Torah that are understood non-literally then why is it such a big stretch to believe other parts that contradict reality are also not literal? I mean, this is straight out of the Rambam in the Moreh.

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  32. Isaac: You left out a third possibility:
    Alongside with letting them know about the unorthodoxy of their convictions is to try to loosen them from those very convictions. Not with scientific evidence but with an education about the inherent logical limits of scientific claims about reality.
    Most scientists (and their enthusiasts) have a very exaggerated notion of what science can actually know for certain, and often confuse scientific impossibility with logical impossibility."

    If you try this, make sure that your logic applies. For that you will need to know, really know, the science. I predict that your mission will fail. Rather than convince "them" of your logic, you will learn that your logic is flawed. If you are honest.

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  33. "Shlomo - that was insulting and very misinformed."

    Shlomo makes a point. Chabad people say fairy tales about the Rebbe. The Rebbe said fairy tales about the Earth. The truth destroys the fairy tales. Shlomo hints at the parallel: People say fairy tales about Gedolim. Gedolim say fairy tales about reality. The truth destroys the fairy tales.

    The bans and threats are desolating, but I trust that they indicate that the Churban is close.

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  34. When I as a lubavitcher simply said that I have a difficulty with the the Rebbe's opinion that the Earth does not rotate (and that the Rebbe may have erred in this) I was immediately attacked as insulting the Rebbe ZTL I think this reflects what is happening to modern day orthodoxy - only one opinion is valid and if you differ you may end up being put in Cherem or your books banned.
    This is really an issue of control

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  35. >>>> If you advocate that rabbis should be willing to loosen their convictions about what is acceptable in Torah, you should equally advocate that scientists should reciprocate and loosen their convictions about what is acceptable about reality.

    Oh please, you are comparing apples and oranges. I know of no respectable scientist that would evict another scientist from “science-hood” for having different convictions about a certain matter.

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  36. You make a good point. But I have two issues with it:

    1) I've seen at least one person who accepted evolution until he BTed and then decided that evolution must be wrong.

    2) To some extent this advocates dishonesty. If someone really thinks that evolution or basic geology or something else contradicts Judaism then deliberately censoring themselves seems dishonest.

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  37. How is it dishonest to say "In my view, this is entirely incompatible with Judaism, but I must acknowledge that there are other Orthodox rabbis who disagree with me"?

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  38. Humbled before ElemirMay 5, 2010 at 9:32 PM

    Elemir said, "I think for Judaism to survive long term the tent MUST be broadened, and many ikkarim, which were artificial in the first place, MUST, absolutely MUST, be set aside."

    Which Ikkarim are "artificial"?

    Which Ikkarim must be "set aside"?

    Is the answer to both these questions "the ones that I, Elemir, am not comfortable with"? If you are talking about the Ikkarim of the Rambam or of R. Albo, would you care to explain the great wisdom that you possess that apparently they did not, such that you see some of their Ikkarim as artificial, while they could not/did not see them as such?

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  39. Moshe Refael said:
    If you try this, make sure that your logic applies. For that you will need to know, really know, the science. I predict that your mission will fail. Rather than convince "them" of your logic, you will learn that your logic is flawed. If you are honest.

    The technique commonly used is to simple quote the more candid statements of the leading scientists themselves revealing the inherent constraints of their methodologies.

    Regarding evolution in particular, Gould and Lewontin have served as a goldmine for such "hostile-witness" confessions.
    Read from this article:
    http://www.arn.org/ftissues/ft9711/articles/johnson.html

    If eminent experts say that evolution according to Gould is too confused to be worth bothering about, and others equally eminent say that evolution according to Dawkins rests on unsubstantiated assertions and counterfactual claims, the public can hardly be blamed for suspecting that grand-scale evolution may rest on something less impressive than rock-solid, unimpeachable fact. Lewontin confirms this suspicion by explaining why "we" (i.e., the kind of people who read the New York Review) reject out of hand the view of those who think they see the hand of the Creator in the material world:

    "We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen."

    That paragraph is the most insightful statement of what is at issue in the creation/evolution controversy that I have ever read from a senior figure in the scientific establishment. It explains neatly how the theory of evolution can seem so certain to scientific insiders, and so shaky to the outsiders. For scientific materialists the materialism comes first; the science comes thereafter. We might more accurately term them "materialists employing science." And if materialism is true, then some materialistic theory of evolution has to be true simply as a matter of logical deduction, regardless of the evidence. That theory will necessarily be at least roughly like neo-Darwinism, in that it will have to involve some combination of random changes and law-like processes capable of producing complicated organisms that (in Dawkins’ words) "give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose."



    May 5, 2010 8:55 AM
    Anonymous elemir said...

    >>>> If you advocate that rabbis should be willing to loosen their convictions about what is acceptable in Torah, you should equally advocate that scientists should reciprocate and loosen their convictions about what is acceptable about reality.

    Oh please, you are comparing apples and oranges. I know of no respectable scientist that would evict another scientist from “science-hood” for having different convictions about a certain matter.


    Um, Elemir,have you ever heard of
    Michael Behe?

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  40. That would be honest if they believed that to be the case. At least in my personal experience though most frum people who think it is unacceptable to believe in one of these statements generally consider people who think that it is ok to either be not frum or crazy. I'd be very curious to see if you could point to a charedi rav who has said something of the form "I think believing in evolution is completely against halacha and there are good, frum people who disagree with me." If such people exist then, this is the tactic for them.

    However, for most charedim, this is essentially telling them to be quiet about what they think Judaism involves. They don't just think that having these beliefs is asur. They think that it is asur to believe that having any of these beliefs are mutar.

    And I suspect you'd agree with them with more extreme examples. For example, do you think that a sane frum person can believe that one can be frum and not believe in God? I suspect the answer is going to be no, even if you are willing to have that person in the community.

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  41. A bit late but something just occured to me. I imagine that you would support "threatening people into believing something". For example, you would be happy to threaten a biggot to believe in Diversity and Tolerance.

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  42. For example, you would be happy to threaten a biggot to believe in Diversity and Tolerance.

    Er, no. I would want him not to ACT in an intolerant way, but I can't threaten him into BELIEVING in the value of it.

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  43. Isaac: quotes of leading scientists mean nothing in science. Before engaging in logic about a piece of science, you need to work yourself through the science itself. The professor you quote wants to separate the philosophy from the science, in his own words. It can be understood - he is a professor of Law. And that should worry you. Try to find a similar article by someone who has provable knowledge of the science he writes about.

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  44. >>> Um, Elemir,have you ever heard of
    Michael Behe?

    not enough to comment. but isn't the case there an argument over the acceptability of certain ideas (ID) not whether the supporter of an unacceptable idea "should be strung up"

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  45. R. Slifkin, thank you for the spelling correction. Indeed I meant to load my cannon through the breach, not pull up my trousers.

    Shlomo & Moshe - Have you directly read the Lubavitcher Rebbe's statement on the subject of the heliocentric versus geocentric versus unbounded universe? Or just assuming a scientifically problematic answer based on a third hand passed along interpretation of the Rebbe's words?

    While I don't have his letters where he responded to such queries in front of me, a summary is the SAME as the current Wikipedia entry (on heliocentric)...

    "In modern calculations, the origin and orientation of a coordinate system often are selected for practical reasons, and in such systems the origin in the center of mass of the Earth, of the Earth-Moon system, of the Sun, of the Sun and the major planets, or of the entire solar system can be selected."

    What the Rebbe said was in a relativity based system, one selects the point of reference. So why select the Sun instead of the Earth? The heliocentric (sun centered) model itself has been disproven, for an unbounded universe model. So why is the Sun your central point of reference?

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  46. I think it all has to do with ego, power and self righteousness.

    The number of times I've heard people say "my way or the highway" is too high to count. When I've confronted people about pushing chumrot as halakha from Sinai and how it pushes boarder line people away from observance the response is usually, "It's not my problem, let them live in their sin." The fact that presenting a chumra as d'oryta is also a violation of the Torah prohibition of not adding to the Torah doesn't seem to bother them.

    There are two things that I will never forget: when my wife and I flew to the USA from Israel to get married we had to find a place for her to tovel before the wedding. She's very shy, and didn't want a stranger watching her when she went in. We went to the only shul in the area with a mikveh and the Rabbi said either do things his way, or as an alternative he would give us the code for the dish mikveh and she could use that. It was October with two feet of snow on the ground and sub-zero temperatures.

    I've gotten to the point where my general rule is not to trust any Rabbi unless I've known them for an extended period of time and they've demonstrated consistent intellectual integrity. Part of that is I need to hear them say at least once, "I don't know, I'll have to look it up."

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  47. elemir said...

    Oh please, you are comparing apples and oranges. I know of no respectable scientist that would evict another scientist from “science-hood” for having different convictions about a certain matter.


    What about the Religion of Global Warming? Plenty of scientific "Gedolim" drawing lines in the sand about what is "acceptable" scientific belief.

    See this brilliant article by Michael Crichton, "
    Environmentalism as Religion
    ."

    Many people don't realize that Crichton was a Medical Doctor and Scientist. MD, PhD if IIRC.

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  48. I think there is clear evidence which shows that mainstream evolutionary biologists are not only intolerant of the movement and its agenda from a professional standpoint, but are also using one's membership to the movement as a way to personally discredit the religious scientists in their areas of expertise. They use their clout to intimidate and threaten the careers of ID members.

    You get the impression from mainstream community that you need to be philosphically committed to naturalism and materialism in order to be a competent scientist.
    This shows how warped scientific thinking can be, and how Jews can be affected by it to the point where they believe it is not intellectually respectable to be critical of evolution.

    The ideal solution is not to accommodate such a view by supplying fringe opinions which tolerate it, but to uproot it and correct it.

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  49. Akiva, relativity does NOT help with the classical Rabbinic view of geocentrism. In my book Challenge of Creation, I have a section explaining why.

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  50. "Shlomo & Moshe - Have you directly read the Lubavitcher Rebbe's statement on the subject of the heliocentric versus geocentric versus unbounded universe?"

    I have directly read what the Rebbe wrote. The Rebbe unambiguously misrepresented the science.

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  51. The issue with heliocentrism vs. geocentrism has nothing to do with whether our focus should be on the sun vs. on the earth. Obviously, we are largely earth-bound and tend to view the universe from that perspective. We therefore write about the daily rising or the sun in the east and its setting in the west. So, therefore, does the torah. Conventional expressions need not be factual statements, however, and very often aren't. Similarly, the statement in Joshua about the apparent cessation of motion of the sun and the moon during the battle over Gibeon need not be taken literally - that all heavenly motion ceased for a while or, even, that the earth stopped rotating. All that was required was for the people involved to have the impression that time was passing slowly.

    As was noted, the use of a particular reference frame in physics is a matter of convenience, and relativity theory is structured as to avoid such dependence. Nonetheless, the issue of a stationary earth and a rotating universe vs. a rotating earth is a question of realism vs. academic or Machian conceptualism. The assumption of a rotating earth accounts simply for many phenomena which a stationary earth can't accomodate without making numerous arbitrary assumptions. Hence, insisting that the earth is stationary is a sign of a fundamentalist mentality that insists on a literal interpretation of biblical or talmudic statements about the world.

    Science is, indeed, structured so as to seek naturalistic mechanisms to account for observations, and has, unquestionably, achieved much success in that endeavor. However, even scientists aren't necessarily guided by scientific methodology in their personal lives and beliefs. The issue with the Intelligent Design approach is that it is non-scientific and also problematic. Science attempts to find specific mechanisms that are consistent with established principles to account for phenomena. "GOD's will" is not an acceptable answer (to scientists) to the "how" of a phenomenon. it provides no new information and makes no predictions. Moreover, if the beauty and complexity of living things are taken to reflect design, then the destruction of much of the life forms that had inhabited the earth could be considered a counter example.

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  52. "For example, you would be happy to threaten a biggot to believe in Diversity and Tolerance.

    Er, no. I would want him not to ACT in an intolerant way, but I can't threaten him into BELIEVING in the value of it.

    May 6, 2010 7:02 AM"

    I find this to be disingenuous.

    If a person idly said in conversation "All x people are not really people." You would do everything in your power to change their opinion. You might even forcefully tell them that you refuse to speak to such a person and you don't want to hear that sort of talk anymore.

    Nobody cares what you believe. They only care what you declare publicly and how you talk in public. And when it comes to halacha, Action is paramount. You can believe or not believe whatever you want, but every society forces it's people to publicly say things that they may or not believe. And if you don't publicly hold that line, you are punished. Sometimes very forcefully punished. You may not go to jail for certain speech, but you will be denied a job in a place where people can hear you talk.

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  53. An important post with many important comments. Your post starts with "threatening" and "yelling" and switches to “a rabbi TELLS him”. Then you say how “in some cases this may be unavoidable”. Do you mean that yelling is sometimes unavoidable? Although we might not be looking to advertise this, there are times that yelling is appropriate (You can occasionally ‘hear’ how an evolutionist ‘yells’ against creationists in his writing) only that better policy tells you to stay cool. See introduction to Chidushei R. Shlomo [Heiman] about why the Raavad disagrees with the Rambam so sharply. IIRC he says that an educator must train his students to weigh logic and illogic in degrees. Had Raavad been more silk-gloved with Rambam he would have misinformed his readers and miseducated them as to the degree of his disagreement.

    Nonetheless, I believe that the ideas of your books shouldn’t be yelled at. The people yelling probably have no independent opinion of the issues, they can only quote authorities. But you have your authorities too, and the yellers generally revere your authorities. They should cool it.

    Jenny and others point out that not losing people isn’t the top goal of the Chareidim and if it clashes with what they decide to be more important too bad. A similar discussion appears at the end of Michtav M’Eliyahu volume III regarding secular studies. He weighs the approaches of ‘Frankfurt’ and ‘the Yeshivot’ against each other. Frankfurt acceptance of secular studies as a L’chatchila saved souls but was detrimental as far as producing Gedolim. Yeshivot had a single-minded goal to produce Gedolim and did so despite that such extremism would lose them people. We should not think that the policy makers at the Yeshivot were unaware of the problem, they knew about it in advance and decided that their goal to make Gedolim –and they knew no other way – was worth the loss. If they encountered a student who wouldn’t follow the policy they would try to help him by setting him up as, for example, a shopkeeper, which wouldn’t generate an interest in the remaining student to leave the Yeshiva. But if he wanted to become a professional, and certainly an academic, they would leave him to his own devices, unaided and unencouraged, so as not to allow interference with the Godol aspirations of the remaining students….

    (This piece of Michtav M’Eliyahu is a must read to understand the Chareidi approach to Cherems. If I had the time I would translate it in full. Reportedly it was critiqued by R. Shimon Schwab in an anonymous [Go, anonymous, go! :)] article in ‘Tradition’ or somewhere; and an entire article [with which I disagree on a few important points] in ‘Encounter’, the sister volume of ‘Challenge’, was dedicated to it.)

    But this doesn’t necessarily mean that turning people off because you have something ‘more important’ is justified. Whoever does so must be very, very prepared to one day be Atid Litenn Et Hadin.

    As to the argument that going back into the ghetto won’t work for the Chareidim, I don’t believe that anyone who knows Chareidim from up close will agree. I attended a Simcha hosted by one of Rabbi Slifkin’s most active opponents and was curious to know who his people were. The place was flooded with black hats and sprinkled with frocks. I tried to read the faces. My impression was of a large crowd of people who respect him greatly for his devotion to Judaism (and not too interested in his war against Rabbi Slifkin, BTW he’s not a Godol) who are also themselves deeply involved in Torah study with an overwhelming sense of mission and validation for doing that, and too narrow to worry about the future of non-Chareidiism. From the crowd and others like it will probably emerge enough charismatic Torah teachers (and fundraisers) to keep the Chareidi masses living happily ever after.

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  54. משה רפאל said...
    "Isaac: quotes of leading scientists mean nothing in science. Before engaging in logic about a piece of science, you need to work yourself through the science itself. The professor you quote wants to separate the philosophy from the science, in his own words. It can be understood - he is a professor of Law. And that should worry you. Try to find a similar article by someone who has provable knowledge of the science he writes about."
    (MAY 6, 2010 8:01 AM)

    OTOH someone with “provable” (whatever that means) knowledge of science is less able to consider ideas which challenge some of the validity of science itself, because of the paradigm of thought in which he was educated and the possibility of being ostracized by his peers. This leaves many people in the dark. Who should be believed, “impartial” outsiders with less knowledge, or scientific scholars who are partial?

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  55. Akiva if you are still around - you haven't read what I said - the Rebbe ztl advocated that the Earth doesn't rotate (I wasn't talking about the Sun at all) this is well known opinion of his I heard it from many sources second hand (not third hand)and has never been denied - that is where I have a big problem

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  56. To clarify if the Earth doesn't rotate there are many issues even with a relativistic understanding of the universe the first is that the stars would need to exceed the speed of light to circumnavigate the Earth every day

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  57. I agree, an relative outsider can sometimes see things that insiders do not. The background of what I said is Isaac's "third possibility":

    You left out a third possibility:
    Alongside with letting them know about the unorthodoxy of their convictions is to try to loosen them from those very convictions. Not with scientific evidence but with an education about the inherent logical limits of scientific claims about reality.


    To know the logical limits of the claims, you need to understand the claims. There is a tendency among certain "logicians" to say that scientists do not really know logic, and therefore do not see the limitations of what they do. I see more evidence of logicians who do not know the science.

    This does not mean that I want to eradicate discussion. To the contrary! It is obvious to me that evolution of life is seen as a phenomenon of free drift only because biology lacks a way to conceptualize an evolutionary force.

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  58. shlomo, I fear that the arguments people raise that the stationary earth thesis clearly violates relativity theory is mistaken. You gave one example (the apparent motion of the stars across the sky being much greater than the speed of light - assuming that the heavens complete a rotation about the earth in 24 hours). Another is the fact that satellites placed in a polar orbit can produce photographic evidence of covering the entire planet. The answer to both assertions from a relativistic viewpoint is that space can be considered to rotate at that angular speed. These objects (satellites, planets, and stars) are embedded in space and are merely carried along. Only the contents of space have the speed of light as an upper limit - not space itself. While this concept may seem strange to those of us who think of space as merely a background for the objects they contain, it is akin to the relativistic concept of space having elasticity such that the expansion of space produces a stretching of the wavelengths of light traversing space, i.e. a red-shift. This latter concept accounts better for the Doppler red-shift of receding galaxies than the classical version of the Doppler effect.

    In any case, the argument against a stationary earth is more subtle. A rotating earth accounts readily for the measurable apparent slowing of its rotation combined with the very small steady increase in the radius of the moon's orbit. The 2 objects are dynamically linked by tidal interactions such that their total angular momentum remains constant. The decrease in the earth's momentum due to tidal friction is compensated by the increase in the moon's momentum. There are even miniscule changes in the earth's rotational speed due to severe earthquakes such as the recent Chilean one.

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  59. Y Aharon can you please inform me is the Coriolis effect also explained in relativity terms - how so

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  60. Shlomo, The Coriolis effect and the Foucalt pendulum illustrate the effect of the earth's counter-clockwise rotational motion on the physical forces at play. An alternative description, even if it appears unrealistic, is that the earth can be treated as stationary, with space in clockwise rotation. Instead of the earth's rotational motion being conferred to the objects in question via inertia, it is conferred by space. That's why I referred to a confirmation of the reality of earth's daily rotation as being subtle.

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