Monday, October 4, 2010

Exposing "Scientific" Anti-Evolutionists

With my earlier post, "The Case of Dr. Isaac Betech," some people were wondering why I was wasting my time and stooping beneath my dignity with a closed-minded zealot. The answer is that I thought it instructive to show how to deal with such people and to how to expose them.

Dr. Betech wanted to debate the scientific merits of evolution with me. I refused, for several reasons. One reason was that it really doesn't make a difference to my book if evolution is true or not. While I personally am convinced that the evidence for common ancestry is overwhelming, I don't understand how evolutionary mechanisms work and I have many questions on it. But what difference does it make? I haven't studied it all that much and I'm not a biologist. More fundamentally, the fact is that it does NOT contradict Torah, and many people will believe in it regardless or what either I or Dr. Betech say. So it doesn't make a difference what I believe about evolution; what matters is whether it contradicts Torah - and there is no reason to believe that it does.

Another reason why I refused to debate evolution with Dr. Betech was that such a debate is a charade, since it is a religious issue for him, not a scientific one. In science, one draws conclusions from the evidence, regardless of one's religious beliefs. In response, Dr. Betech was forced to say that he would agree to draw the requisite conclusions. But as I pointed out, of course he has to say that, but the question is whether he is trying to fool other people or himself. Perhaps he is like those people who, for religious reasons, refuse to accept that man landed on the moon, and find a way to wriggle out of any evidence for it.

Personally, I think it's clear as day that he is exactly like that. In his latest comments, to the earlier post, Dr. Betech has the following to say on the topic of falsifiability: "My position would be falsified very easily if someone presents me just one irrefutable proof; in that case, I would say: I accept that I was mistaken." Of course, this is a statement that is so meaningless that it becomes ludicrous. A moon-landing denier would say the same thing. The point is that they would claim to have refuted any and every argument.

So is Dr. Betech like a moon-landing denier, or not? Is he truly willing to draw honest conclusions from the evidence, even if the evidence is in favor of evolution, or will he just wriggle out of it? One way to clarify this is to ask him what those conclusions would actually be. After all, one indication that he is fundamentally religiously opposed to those conclusions would be that he is unwilling and/or unable to spell out what those conclusions actually are. If the evidence is in favor of evolution, would this mean that evolution can actually be reconciled with Torah? Or would it mean that Torah is not from Heaven, and that his religious self-identification is baseless? Dr. Betech has been noticeably reluctant to answer this. He has also not addressed the issue of the moon-landing deniers.

This is a strategy that I used previously with other evolution-deniers. But Dr. Betech also led me to something new. He insisted that he searches for truth, and that such scientific debates are a way to attain it. It occurred to me that while debates about the scientific merits of evolution can be found all over the internet (and Dr. Betech has apparently never published anything new on the topic), Dr. Betech's own model of recent special creation has never been critically analyzed or even explained in detail. So I proposed that Dr. Betech explain his model in detail, and subject it to critical appraisal. And I even offered him the advantage of having the final word (which I doubt he would offer to me in a debate about evolution).

And what was the response? For a long time, there was silence. He hasn't accepted my proposal and hasn't refused. If I understand his latest comments correctly, he realizes that refusing to reply is effectively refusing to have the debate, so he is on a strategy of pushing it off. Dr Betech has come up with all kinds of excuses as to why he cannot discuss anything with me until he has debated evolution with me, knowing full well that I will never debate it with him, for the reasons that I gave.

Of course, all of his excuses have no bearing whatsoever on the debate regarding his model of creation. According to the statements that Dr. Betech had previously made, he should have leaped at the opportunity to debate his model, regardless of any shortcomings that he alleges me to personally have. After all, he believes that his model is the truth; why not teach it? Most people are entirely unfamiliar with his model; even I am unsure as to the exact nature of it (are physical processes speeded up, or was the world created to look old? When did the Jurassic dinosaurs live, and when did the Cretaceous dinosaurs live? Etc., etc.) It has never been discussed and analyzed, as evolution has been endlessly discussed and analyzed. Dr Betech also professes to believe that public debate on these topics is a way to attain truth, and that attaining truth is one of his main goals in life. And here I was presenting him with a forum to present his True Approach, to subject it for the very first time to critical appraisal (which according to him, it should surely stand up to perfectly), and to let him have the final word!

So why did he refuse? I think that his refusal is for several reasons. One reason is that, especially when dealing with complicated topics, it is always much easier to throw out a list of objections to one's opponent's view than to subject one's own view to objections. Another reason is that he probably really hasn't thought very much about his own model in the first place, and how it addresses the available evidence. I don't know of anything in writing anywhere, from Dr Betech or anyone else, which discusses his model in detail and explains the various aspects of the history of life on earth in light of it. As a former evolution-denier myself, I know the mindset. One obsesses over the shortcomings and difficulties with the evolutionary model, rather than figuring out one's own approach and subjecting it to scrutiny, working with the assumption that if there are unanswered objections to evolution, this means that recent creation is true. Of course, there is no basis for this; the question is not whether there are unanswered objections to evolution, but rather whether evolution or recent creation better addresses the available evidence. But this would mean developing a theory of recent creation and subjecting it to critical scrutiny (just as a detailed theory of evolution was developed and subjected to critical scrutiny).

That's why Dr. Betech is terrified to do it.

78 comments:

  1. I have little interest in Dr. Betech, but I think the issue discussed here is very important.

    The Chovos Halevavos (along with many other great Jewish thinkers) bases his entire approach to personal religious growth on seeing the wisdom of G-d in the world and in particular in living creatures and human beings. If we accept a philosophy which says essentially, "It all looks like it happened by itself, but we believe that G-d did it anyway", we lose our main link to awareness of the Creator.

    Unfortunately, today it is so common to look at Judaism as a collection of magical (or even "rationalistic") rituals rather than a path towards knowledge of G-d that few care about this central topic.

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  2. > "While I personally am convinced that the evidence for common ancestry is evolution, I don't understand how evolutionary mechanisms work and I have many questions on it."

    But do you have any doubts? That is, if the greatest evolutionists posit, say, 5 possible mechanisms for the evolution of the eye, might you have doubts about all of them, or will you have high confidence that one or more (without knowing which) is probably right?

    > "More fundamentally, the fact is that it does NOT contradict Torah,"

    I wish to say that it MIGHT not contradict Torah. After all, at least on the surface, man coming from simians appears to contradict man being formed from the ground.

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  3. Let's say I was increasingly convinced that pure DNA changes with random mutation is not a good explanation for the history of life on Earth.

    I lack the ability to suggest or even conduct multiple experiments which would help narrow down my ideas.

    Also, I lack in general the time needed to dig through the texts which I believe could possibly hold the answers and the experiments that can be done to verify them. After all, I am just a single person without a million dollar grant to spend my time on these things.

    Expecting a single individual to be able to create a theory that is subject to easily compared data on the internet seems slightly disingenuous to me.

    How would you imagine a person to even be able to begin such an endeavor?

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  4. As you noted, neither you nor Dr. Betech are qualified to debate evolution.
    You are, however,qualified to debate whether or not the idea of evolution is against the Torah.
    Perhaps you should offer to debate him on that.

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  5. I did. He declined, claiming that he was not qualified.

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  6. "How would you imagine a person to even be able to begin such an endeavor?


    That is why people become scientists, and why the scientific method was developed. And that is why most rational people accept scientific authority without verifying things first hand themselves.

    Most evolution deniers rely on some form or another of conspiracy theory to explain why most scientists believe in evolution.

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  7. Expecting a single individual to be able to create a theory that is subject to easily compared data on the internet seems slightly disingenuous to me.

    I don't expect it. But I also don't think that such a person should expect other people to accept what he has to say.

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  8. If you truly want to understand the logic used by young earth creationists who only accept "irrefutable evidence," you ought to read Christine Garwood's Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea. What a great book.

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  9. ephraim said:

    If we accept a philosophy which says essentially, "It all looks like it happened by itself, but we believe that G-d did it anyway", we lose our main link to awareness of the Creator.

    That's not a philosophy, it's an observation and its consequence. And yes, I'm inclined to say that this piece of Chovos ha-Levavos has lost a lot of punch with the developments of modern science. IIUC R' Slifkin's approach is that we need to look deeper now, beneath the "surface" of the natural, to the underlying why and wherefore of nature itself.

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  10. Evolution vs. Intelligent Design has been done to death, and many of the fallacies common to IDers are present here. As you said, ID proponents start with the religiously-dictated conclusion and handwave or ignore anything that doesn’t fit. The request for “just one irrefutable proof” is a red herring.” We generally don’t learn things in a single blinding flash. Evidence builds up that all points more or less in the same direction. What’s worse, the request for “just one proof” gives permission to examine each piece of evidence on its own, each of which can then be ignored because no one piece constitutes irrefutable proof.

    It’s also a request to prove that evolution can’t be refuted. It’s a challenge to come up with a piece of evidence that shows evolution can’t be proven wrong. As we all know, it’s impossible to prove a negative. As you said, the question is whether evolution fits the evidence, not whether it’s air tight.

    > it doesn't make a difference what I believe about evolution; what matters is whether it contradicts Torah - and there is no reason to believe that it does.

    While evolution and Torah may be able to be reconciled (and I’m sure you’ll tell me you go into detail in your books) there definitely is reason to believe that the ideas contradict each other. As others have pointed out, a literal reading of bereishis – which is the only way anyone read it until recently – has plants and animals created ex nihlo.

    > people who, for religious reasons, refuse to accept that man landed on the moon

    There really are such people? Please tell me it’s some little-known cult and not a branch of mainstream Judaism.

    ephraim said...
    > Unfortunately, today it is so common to look at Judaism as a collection of magical (or even "rationalistic") rituals rather than a path towards knowledge of G-d

    There’s a huge amount of space in the chumash devoted to the avoda in the Beis HaMikdash, none devoted to ways to gain knowledge of God. Halacha is similarly about what one should do, not about how to know God. One can argue that by doing what God wants, we become closer to him, but outside of kabalah there doesn’t seem to be anything specifically about something like d’veykus.

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  11. B”H
    Natan
    You again misrepresented my position.
    If someone is interested in reading a systematic summary of my position he can do it in my last (two parts) post in the previous commentary thread, entitled “The case of Dr. Betech”, dated October 4, 2010 8:02 AM.
    Natan, I am still waiting for your point by point systematic answer to my last post.
    Isaac Betech

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  12. > I did. He declined, claiming that he was not qualified.

    So to summarize:
    1) He's not qualified to debate on evolution given than he's not an expert in the subject.
    2) He's not qualified to debate you on the Torah aspect of evolution.

    Exactly why are you responding to his provocations again?

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  13. Ephraim and Yitz:

    >If we accept a philosophy which says essentially, "It all looks like it happened by itself, but we believe that G-d did it anyway", we lose our main link to awareness of the Creator.

    That's not a philosophy, it's an observation and its consequence. >

    I'm not sure if the following makes me a flat earther or an ID radical, but why can't one believe that an evolutionary process has taken place, but that the particular course it took (e.g. human intelligence, consciousness, moral awareness) reveal a divine plan.

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  14. As others have pointed out, a literal reading of bereishis – which is the only way anyone read it until recently – has plants and animals created ex nihlo.

    First of all, already 800 years ago Rambam was not reading Bereishis literally.
    Second, a literal reading of the Torah (which was also traditional) indicates that the earth is motionless and that the heavens are a solid dome above it with a celestial source of water above that. And that kidneys give counsel. But that hasn't stopped people from interpreting it non-literally.

    But let's not get sidetracked. The point is that, bottom line, evolution and Torah can be easily reconciled, and many people do believe in evolution and will continue to do so regardless of me or Dr. Betech. So even if Betech were to convince me personally that it is false, my book would still be important and necessary.

    In fact, it's interesting to contemplate why Dr. Betech doesn't accept that. Surely he must realize that he is not going to convince everyone that evolution is false. So what does he feel should be said to those people whom he is not going to convince?

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  15. That's not a philosophy, it's an observation and its consequence.


    No, that's the question. Is this (that things seem to be a product of a random process) what is observed? I personally don't think so, but in any case, anyone should be interested in the subject.


    And yes, I'm inclined to say that this piece of Chovos ha-Levavos has lost a lot of punch


    To me this says it all. The point is not "punch" in the sense of "proving" things, it is the much deeper experience of coming to know G-d, which I find to be greatly assisted by modern science, in particular molecular biology.

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  16. R' Slifkin, you mentioned in your post the "religious moon landing deniers". I had heard once something vague about this. Who are they? Why do they object to the idea of landing on the moon? Did anyone come out in support of this idea?

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  17. > First of all, already 800 years ago Rambam was not reading Bereishis literally.

    That should have read ‘relatively’ recent

    > Second, a literal reading of the Torah (which was also traditional) indicates that the earth is motionless and that the heavens are a solid dome above it with a celestial source of water above that. And that kidneys give counsel. But that hasn't stopped people from interpreting it non-literally.

    Absolutely. And those non-literal interpretations are also at odds with a literal reading. I’m not trying to say that the Torah should be read literally, just that anyone who wants to is going to have a problem with evolution.

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  18. Ephraim, you wrote this:
    "If we accept a philosophy which says essentially, "It all looks like it happened by itself, but we believe that G-d did it anyway", we lose our main link to awareness of the Creator."

    I can't help but think that the splitting of Yam Suf also looked like it happened by itself to anyone who witnessed it. They were knowledgeable enough to comprehend it was the work of God, despite whatever appearances.

    Do you think God appeared in bodily form demonstrating to them He was responsible for what was happening in front of their eyes? Or do you think they just had to assume and know this to be true, without seeing "proof" that God was the One behind it?

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  19. G3 wrote this:
    "As others have pointed out, a literal reading of bereishis – which is the only way anyone read it until recently – has plants and animals created ex nihlo."

    What others have pointed this out?

    The only way it was read until recently? No offense, but why do you speak on this matter if you have no knowledge? You feel confident to make an assumption like this and then base a whole exposition on it? This point of view is simply not accurate. Maybe you are familiar with Christian theologians, or other religions, (or maybe it's worse and you are making assertions without any knowledge whatsoever), but in terms of Jewish thinkers, your statement about "literal reading of bereshis" is simply not true.

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  20. Nobody pointed out the bad typo in the post!

    "While I personally am convinced that the evidence for common ancestry is evolution"

    should have been

    "While I personally am convinced that the evidence for common ancestry is overwhelming"

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  21. R' Slifkin, you mentioned in your post the "religious moon landing deniers". I had heard once something vague about this. Who are they? Why do they object to the idea of landing on the moon?

    I first heard it in the Mir, but apparently it's quite prevalent amongst Breslovers. One of their reasons is "HaShamayim Shamayim l'Hashem," which was certainly traditionally understood to mean that the region of the luminaries is a celestial quasi-divine domain.

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  22. I had an extended argument with the guy in the Mir about the moon-landing. I learned that it is impossible to actually prove it to someone who is determined to deny it. Every piece of information that I brought up simply became part of the conspiracy, etc.

    It really highlights why Dr. Betech's talk about "irrefutable proofs" is nonsense. With anything outside of math, there is no such thing as an irrefutable proof; someone who is sufficiently determined will always convince themself that they have refuted it. I wonder why Dr. Betech doesn't seem to grasp this.

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  23. Dr Betech,

    I beleive the point here is very simple;

    It is impossible to prove just about anything beyond any shadow of a doubt.

    Therefore when we decide what theory is rational to beleive we look to see which theory fits better with the evidence we have.

    The evidence that we have fits alot better with the "theory" that the earth is a whole lot older then 6000 years and that species have evolved over time.

    If you wish to say that according to the evidence as we have it, it makes MORE sense to conclude with your thoery of a young earth you can debate Rabbi Slifkin on that.

    The reason why people are reluctent to debate creationists is because they tend to just give reasons why it is possible that the earth is young and nothing evovled.

    The point here isnt what is or may be possible (ANYTHING is possible,)
    you have to explain why the evidence we have SUPPORTS your thoery and not why your theory may still make sense in spite of the evidence.

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  24. "That is why people become scientists, and why the scientific method was developed. And that is why most rational people accept scientific authority without verifying things first hand themselves. "

    I am curious which planet or century you are living in.

    There are many scientists today who do not have funds or jobs to carry out research. Without the support of the institution you are working for a person can not conduct the experiments they would like to. What this essentially means is that any non-profitable scientific experimentation can only be done by a handful of professors who have tenure (and other commitments), or young students, or by somebody who has a very rich donor supporting them.

    The scientific method does nothing to rectify the problems of money in research.

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  25. FWIW --

    Debates are certainly interesting.

    But scientists _do not_ settle issues by debating !!!

    The process by which a new theory is _accepted_ is a complex social process within the scientific community. It was discussed at length in 'The Structure of Scientific Revolutions' (Thomas Kuhn) 50 years ago. The current situation is similar. The "accepted theories" change, but the _process_ by which they're accepted is pretty stable.

    The scientific community doesn't have any room for a theory which denies evolution. Evolution has been so successful as an explanatory model, and the evidence supporting it is so overwhelming, that no biologist would consider denying it. [I suppose somebody will find one as a counterexample . . . ]

    Denying evolution, in the biological-sciences world, would be like trying to convince the community of physicists that the universe was 6,000 years old.

    The audience for a debate (between you and Dr. Betech) wouldn't be the scientific community; it would be the "community of the faithful".

    And each of those people has his mind _already made up_.

    There is something on the Internet that's labelled a "religious argument". Its characteristics:

    . . . It generates strong emotions;

    . . . Each side has strong arguments (in its own opinion);

    . . . Nobody ever changes his mind as a result of the other side's arguments.

    Scientists, faced with sufficient evidence (and "sufficient" is defined by the scientific community, not by an individual), will eventually say:

    . . . "You were right, and I was wrong."

    In a "religious argument", that never happens.

    So let Dr. Betech present his ideas to the community of biologists, _not_ in a debate with you. And let's see how they respond.

    Charles

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  26. "The point is that, bottom line, evolution and Torah can be easily reconciled"

    No they can't. They can be reconciled with about the same ease that Dr. Betech can reconcile a young earth with the facts you would present. It behooves you to recognize in yourself what you recognize in Dr. Betech, you'll believe certain religious ideas no matter what the evidence.

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  27. Interesting direction this thread is taking. Although it is not the main subject of the blog, it would be interesting to hear what R Slivkin has to say about the implied question:

    In such a case where there is a contradiction between the literal Torah and science-and R Slivkin himself mentions many of them--is the only possible conclusion, that the Torah is metaphorical? Are there any other possible logical conclusions??

    Hamaven Yavin.

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  28. Of course there are other options. This has been discussed here before. But I don't want this comment thread to get sidetracked.

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  29. Sorry, my "bekiyot" knowledge of the blog is incomplere :)

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  30. The title of this post is called _Exposing "Scientific" Anti-Evolutionists_.

    Just curious, Rabbi Slifkin: would you categorically say that there is no such thing as an anti-evolutionist (anti-macroevolution, that is) who is a scientific expert in the field of evolution? If there are such exceptions, is there anyone you respect? Disagree with, for sure, but respect?

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  31. Well, it depends what you mean by "expert." But I don't know of anyone who denies macroevolution and is not a Christian or Orthodox fundamentalist.

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  32. B”H
    Natan
    As I wrote yesterday, you misrepresented my position and have not answered point by point my last post.
    Do not forget the final line you wrote there: “Dr. Betech, what do you say?”
    So I answered your question/invitation and wrote my detailed (two parts) post in the previous commentary thread, entitled “The case of Dr. Betech”, dated October 4, 2010 8:02 AM.
    I am still waiting for your systematic answer… or should I stop waiting?
    Isaac Betech

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  33. Yes, you should stop waiting. I'm sick of your time-wasting obfuscations, especially since most of your points are things that I already addressed and which you ignored (e.g. your claim to have "proved" from our correspondence about coprophagy that I should find you an acceptable disputant about evolution). And especially since you repeatedly refused to answer questions that I asked you earlier, such as what you would do with Bereishis if the evidence were in favor of evolution.

    Meanwhile, I am waiting for you to accept my proposal, or to clearly explain why you are refusing. (The excuses that you gave in your comments are not valid reasons, as I explained in this post.)

    Again: according to the statements that you previously made, you should leap at the opportunity to debate your model, regardless of any shortcomings that you allege me to personally have. After all, you believe that your model is the truth; why not teach it? Most people are entirely unfamiliar with this model; even I am unsure as to the exact nature of it (are physical processes speeded up, or was the world created to look old? When did the Jurassic dinosaurs live, and when did the Cretaceous dinosaurs live? Etc., etc.) It has never been discussed and analyzed, as evolution has been endlessly discussed and analyzed. You also professes to believe that public debate on these topics is a way to attain truth, and that attaining truth is one of your main goals in life. You also campaign against other models being taught, believing that only yours is acceptable. So why not explain your model and accept questions on it?

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  34. Dr Betech,

    Do you think the fact that the overwhelming majority of scientists accept evolution, is a conspiracy? Or are all of those well meaning and brilliant scientists just mislead, and you can enlighten them?

    Please answer that question.

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  35. Dr. Betech,

    Lets make this even clearer.

    Are you saying that the evidence we have supports your theory that the Earth (and universe) is less then 6000 years old and species never have evolved?

    Or are you saying that the evidence we have doesn't make it impossible for the earth to be less then 6000 years old and that species never Evolved?

    If you are arguing the first point, why not debate it? As a matter of fact it is really the same thing as debating Evolution. (if all the evidence used to prove evolution points toward a young earth and special creation you have effectively disproved Evolution)

    If you are arguing the second point your arguments are irrelevant.

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  36. Note how when Dr. Betech makes a point, it is "proven," even when Rabbi Slifkin can give several strong counterarguments. But the theory of evolution is false unless we can find him "irrefutable proof."

    I'm convinced now that debating him would be worthless. He is beyond reason.

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  37. Note to commentators: I want this comment thread to stay focused, which is why I have not been posting comments that are not on the point. Please email me if you have questions.

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  38. "But I don't know of any (expert) who denies macroevolution and is not a Christian or Orthodox fundamentalist."

    I know you didn't intend to, but you're giving the impression that all these people were religious before delving into the issues.

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  39. I'm sure that either they were religious beforehand, or at the same time they were delving into these issues, they had other things going on in their life that drew them to religion.

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  40. Don't forget that the few scientists who claim that the evidence against evolution is overwhelming, also claim that the evidence that Jesus is the son of God (or that Mohammed is the prophet of God, etc.) is overwhelming.

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  41. "Don't forget that the few scientists who claim that the evidence against evolution is overwhelming, also claim that the evidence that Jesus is the son of God (or that Mohammed is the prophet of God, etc.) is overwhelming."

    Don't forget that many scientists who claim that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming also claim that god is a delusion and anyone who teaches religion to their children are guilty of child abuse.

    In other words, one has nothing to do with the other. Ad hominems are ad hominems

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  42. But that is not true, and that is precisely the point. There are many scientists who claim that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming, and they also believe in God and teach religion to their children.

    Which indicates that the evidence supports evolution, and that it is those who are opposed to it that are motivated by religious bias, not those who support it.

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  43. No, that's the question. Is this (that things seem to be a product of a random process) what is observed? I personally don't think so, but in any case, anyone should be interested in the subject.

    I'm operating under the assumption that it is observed, which R' Slifkin adopts in his books as the consensus of science. On his advice, I read Miller's Finding Darwin's God; I lost him when he got to the ever-important section on macroevolution. My brain wasn't able to process that. I am prepared to take his word for it that he does understand it and it makes sense :)

    And yes, I'm inclined to say that this piece of Chovos ha-Levavos has lost a lot of punch

    To me this says it all. The point is not "punch" in the sense of "proving" things, it is the much deeper experience of coming to know G-d, which I find to be greatly assisted by modern science, in particular molecular biology.


    I didn't mean punch of proof, I mean spiritual punch. If he describes at length how the majesty of the natural world is a great indication of God's wisdom, and I turn around and read in a science publication about the mechanistic ways these things came about, the intent and power of Chovos has been nullified. We need a reformulation, which RNS tries to do with his "new teleology."

    I personally was shaken to the core in 10th grade AP Biology when I saw a computer graphic of a chromosome unfolding. And now has come my greater, if incomplete, understanding of evolution. There is a great gap in my understanding, from small physiological adaptations of a single organism, to the eventual random emergence of the chromosome from proto-life. I could invoke God of the gaps for myself, but I know that others have no problem understanding that gap. That is, scientists seem (?) to be content to explain microbiology in terms of evolution, apparent wisdom notwithstanding. So indeed I find myself groping for something to replace that once-powerful "direct hand of God" with something like RNS's model.

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  44. Don't forget that many scientists who claim that the evidence for evolution is overwhelming also claim that god is a delusion and anyone who teaches religion to their children are guilty of child abuse.

    I suppose that this is really the crux of the matter. Creationists would agree with the atheist scientists on this point - that one must choose between belief in G-d or a very old universe + evolution. They agree on the dichotomy and have simply selected opposite sides. Put in this perspective the Slifkin ban makes perfect sense.

    Apparently Rav Moshe Feinstein agreed with this dichotomy? I searched "The Challenge of Creation" for "Feinstein" on google books and didn't get a hit. Does Rav Natan address Rav Moshe's position?

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  45. Ameteur's point reminds me of this recent survey:

    http://www.pewforum.org/U-S-Religious-Knowledge-Survey-Who-Knows-What-About-Religion.aspx

    In the "knowledge of other topics" section, 96 percent of atheists correctly identified Charles Darwin. That's the highest score of any religious group for any religious question!

    Obviously the theory of evolution has critical importance to an atheist's mechanistic worldview. But rational religious people who don't fear mechanistic explanations and can read Genesis non-literally also accept the theory, because it is overwhelmingly supported by evidence!

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  46. Blogger Natan Slifkin said...

    R' Slifkin, you mentioned in your post the "religious moon landing deniers". I had heard once something vague about this. Who are they? Why do they object to the idea of landing on the moon?

    I first heard it in the Mir, but apparently it's quite prevalent amongst Breslovers. One of their reasons is "HaShamayim Shamayim l'Hashem," which was certainly traditionally understood to mean that the region of the luminaries is a celestial quasi-divine domain.

    October 4, 2010 11:43 PM


    I seem to remember something like this in the teachings of Reb Nachman and the beliefs of his followers, but now I don't recall clearly. Can anyone provide a citation for this, and an estimation about what percent of Breslovers (mashpi'im and chassidim) who deny the moon landing today, and similarly the percentages in the Mir and any other community? Thanks.

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  47. A few (or is it one?) commenters have posited a dichotomy between the established scientific view of a very ancient world and its evolutionary unfolding vs. divine creation. While this 'all or nothing' position may be favored by athiests and fundamentalists (taking opposite sides - of course), it ignores the middle option of a divinely initiated creative process that is largely allowed to proceed according to divinely established physical laws. Why is it more respectful of the Deity to assume that He has to constantly tinker with His creations in order to make them work, or to start from scratch for each new creation? Why attribute to Him the direct responsibility for all the unpleasant events in the life of the world? If the world were so manufactured and regulated there would be no novelty. Instead, allowing physical laws to operate freely results in novel creatures and novel interactions that aren't totally predictable. I would think that this makes for a far more interesting, complex, and less predictable creation. Of course, GOD reserves the option of interfering when there is a perceived need. Even such interference, however, can be viewed as occuring within the framework of the divine physical laws.

    Why is evolution so disfavored in some religious circles because it is inconsistent with a literal translation of phrases in Genesis I? After all, most religious people (hopefully) don't believe that GOD actually created things by speech which is the literal understanding of the repeated phrase 'GOD said' in Genesis I. Then 'GOD made' can also be understood in the sense of indirect causation rather than a direct action.

    Isn't it more impressive to realize that all of life is based on one basic template. All proteins in all species from microbe to man are produced from complex DNA molecules using the same triplet coding of sequences of base pairs (some virii use the similar RNA molecule and a single subtle change in one of the 4 nitrogenous bases). Moreover, all the amino acids comprising those proteins have the same configuration in space (L - chirality), while all the sugar moeties (saccharides) have the mirror-image configuration (D). As far as is known, amino acids and sugars could all have mirror-image configurations and remain viable (not mixed, however). So, why is all of life on earth based on the same configurations? Doesn't that, by itself, strongly suggest that all of life derives from a single ancestor?

    Even more, the physical difference between man and mouse appears to be largely a question of which genes are turned on or off. At the very early stage of life there is little obvious distinction between a mouse and human embryo (or early stage fetus). The fetal development, however, proceeds along different lines due to those gene switches.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Y. Aharon writes:

    "Why is it more respectful of the Deity to assume that He has to constantly tinker with His creations in order to make them work, or to start from scratch for each new creation?"
    ========================

    The problem is with the common premises:

    1. The Torah is from Sinai;
    2. There is an unbroken Mesora of the Torah from historical Sinai until our time;
    3. The Torah contains the secrets of Ma'aseh Bereshit;

    Given these premises, scientific developments should be natural to the recipients of the Mesora.

    This is not the case for many acclaimed recipients of the Mesora. This fact is deeply threatening, as it invalidates at least one precious premise. The easiest solution, for many, is to hold on to the premises and fight the facts.

    ReplyDelete
  49. A few (or is it one?) commenters have posited a dichotomy ...

    It is one (yours truly) on this thread, although I would be surprised if this hasn't been broached previously. You can look here for a FAQ on the general issue.

    it ignores the middle option of a divinely initiated creative process ...

    The proponents of the dichotomy would discount rather than ignore the middle path. I suggest that it is patronizing to think that the idea never crossed their minds.


    After all, most religious people (hopefully) don't believe that GOD actually created things by speech

    An alternate understanding is that the anthropomorphic references of G-d refer to these properties in their absolutely true meanings, while the human manifestations are the best possible renderings that the physical world can produce.

    i.e. the "hand of G-d" is the real hand. The hand of a person is a cheap copy of the real thing, and so to with speech, etc.

    In other words, yes, G-d absolutely did create the universe ex-nihilo through speech. I don't think that anyone anywhere has a "rationalist" explanation of creation ex-nihilo, so why shouldn't it have occurred through speech?

    ReplyDelete
  50. Yitz, I was, indeed, following up and disagreeing with your comment about either accepting the idea of a very ancient natural world or a world created some 6000 years ago. I also noted that "yitznewton" expressed some doubt about reconciling the scientific account of the age and origins of the world with belief in its divine creation. Hence I attempted to address both of you (and the readership, as well).

    You misunderstand my use of the term ignore. It doesn't carry the implication of ignorance, but of avoidance. The difference between 'ignore' and 'discount' is that 'discount' generally implies at least some mention - even if disdainful, whereas 'ignore' implies lack of mention. Hence, I wrote about those who ignore the middle ground.

    As to understanding creation via divine "speech", my point was that it is not understood literally. You, too, don't understand it as comparable to human speech. You designate it as some kind of "absolute meaning" of the term to which the human version is but a crude analog. Then it is not speech as normally understand, and thus a reinterpretation. You don't see this as inconsistent with a belief in a literal understanding of the creation story, but I do.

    Your approach may be appropriate in the isolated Hareidi world, whereas mine and R' Natan's is appropriate for those whose education has exposed them to scientific facts. I note, parenthetically, that the link to Rav Gedalya Nadel's sefer provided in the most recent post reveals that he, too, accepted the idea of a very ancient world and the consequent reinterpretation of the term 'yom' in Genesis I. Rav Nadel, I should add, was the rav of shikun Hazon Ish in the heart of the Hareidi world of Bnei Brak who was so designated by his rebbe, the Hazon Ish.

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  51. B"H
    Natan
    I accept your challenge. For details see http://slifkin-opinions.blogspot.com/2010/10/dr-betech-accepts-r-slifkins-offer-to.html
    Isaac Betech

    ReplyDelete
  52. You are accepting on the condition that we first debate evolution? That's not called accepting, that's called refusing, because you know that I have already categorically rejected your proposal to debate evolution.

    To put it another way: if I say that I accept your proposal to debate evolution if you publicly denounce the Gedolim, could that be described as an acceptance?!

    So you are effectively refusing, but claiming that you are accepting. This is why people see you as a disingenuous person who obfuscates matters.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Furthermore, as I explained in this post, there is no reason whatsoever to make the debate about your model contingent on a debate about evolution.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Dr. Betech, I am not posting your latest three comments, in which you have simply cut-and-pasted your extremely lengthy comments to a previous post. Everyone already read what you wrote, there is no value in pasting it here again. People can read the comments in the original location, along with the responses by other readers.

    If you have something new to say, you are welcome to post it. Why not explain your model of creation - the one that you insist every Jew must accept, which you believe to be irrefutable, and yet which you are strangely reluctant to actually describe?

    ReplyDelete
  55. B”H
    Natan Slifkin said...
    Dr. Betech, I am not posting your latest three comments, in which you have simply cut-and-pasted your extremely lengthy comments to a previous post. Everyone already read what you wrote, there is no value in pasting it here again. People can read the comments in the original location, along with the responses by other readers.

    IB 8/Oct.’10
    Again you have not read carefully my last 3 comments; otherwise you would have noticed the important differences.
    I hope you will post them.

    Natan Slifkin said...
    If you have something new to say, you are welcome to post it. Why not explain your model of creation - the one that you insist every Jew must accept, which you believe to be irrefutable, and yet which you are strangely reluctant to actually describe?
    October 8, 2010 9:29 AM

    IB 8/Oct.’10
    As I posted yesterday, I accept your challenge; I am waiting for your acceptance.
    After that, we will have to protocolize the public neutral debate.
    In that forum, our rationalist audience will listen all the details, the proofs, the actual debate, and finally they will be able to arrive to their own facts-based conclusion.
    Isaac Betech

    ReplyDelete
  56. Again you have not read carefully my last 3 comments; otherwise you would have noticed the important differences.

    I noticed some very minor (and to my mind, unimportant) differences amongst dozens of dozens of sentences that were simply cut-and-pasted. If you have something to add that you consider important, submit it as a new comment - without repeating everything that you said already.

    As I posted yesterday, I accept your challenge; I am waiting for your acceptance.

    Don't you realize that when you just repeat that which you have already said and which I have already responded to, you just make yourself appear annoying and foolish?
    We have already established that I do not and will not accept your debate. GIVEN THAT FACT, we are wondering why you don't accept my proposal, in light of your claim that such a debate leads to truth and that such a pursuit of truth is something which interests you.

    ReplyDelete
  57. B”H
    IB 8/Oct.’10
    Again you have not read carefully my last 3 comments; otherwise you would have noticed the important differences.

    Natan Slifkin said...
    I noticed some very minor (and to my mind, unimportant) differences amongst dozens of dozens of sentences that were simply cut-and-pasted. If you have something to add that you consider important, submit it as a new comment - without repeating everything that you said already.

    IB 10/Oct.’10
    My new summary letter was aimed to clear the multiple misrepresentations you have done of my position.
    Refraining repeatedly from publicizing it is your decision in this non-neutral debate forum.


    IB 8/Oct.’10
    As I posted yesterday, I accept your challenge; I am waiting for your acceptance.

    Natan Slifkin said...
    Don't you realize that when you just repeat that which you have already said and which I have already responded to, you just make yourself appear annoying and foolish?
    We have already established that I do not and will not accept your debate. GIVEN THAT FACT, we are wondering why you don't accept my proposal, in light of your claim that such a debate leads to truth and that such a pursuit of truth is something which interests you.
    October 10, 2010 8:42 AM

    IB 10/Oct.’10
    I accepted your proposal days ago. For details see http://slifkin-opinions.blogspot.com/2010/10/dr-betech-accepts-r-slifkins-offer-to.html
    If you insist on skipping the debate on evolution, no problem, just admit this defeat and write something like this:
    I, Natan Slifkin, admit that I do not know any scientific proof supporting the evolution of the species, neither the mechanisms of evolution, nor the common ancestry (the so called “fact” of evolution).
    After that, we can move on and debate as you are proposing.
    Isaac Betech.

    ReplyDelete
  58. My new summary letter was aimed to clear the multiple misrepresentations you have done of my position

    The way to do that is as follows: BRIEFLY describe my alleged misrepresentation of your position, then BRIEFLY explain what your real position is. Not cutting-and-pasting dozens of paragraphs.

    If you insist on skipping the debate on evolution, no problem, just admit this defeat

    So everyone who refuses to debate is admitting defeat? You know, the Gedolim refused to debate the validity of the hashkafos of my books (and incidentally, so did you). Does that mean that they and you are admitting defeat?

    With regard to what you want me to write - no problem! I just want to modify it very slightly. Here are two versions for you:

    I, Natan Slifkin, admit that I do not know way of proving the evolution of the species, neither the mechanisms of evolution, nor common ancestry, to Dr. Isaac Betech.

    Another version:

    I, Natan Slifkin, admit that I do not know of any irrefutable scientific proof supporting the evolution of the species, neither the mechanisms of evolution, nor the common ancestry (the so called “fact” of evolution).

    Now can we move on? I'm looking forward to hearing your explanation of your model, including a description of when each group of animals lived.

    ReplyDelete
  59. Dr. Betech, you wrote:

    "If you insist on skipping the debate on evolution, no problem, just admit this defeat and write something like this:
    I, Natan Slifkin, admit that I do not know any scientific proof supporting the evolution of the species, neither the mechanisms of evolution, nor the common ancestry (the so called “fact” of evolution)."

    But Dr. Betech, that was not Rabbi Slifkin's reasoning for declining your "evolution debate," so why should he write something like that? Don't you think honesty is important? Rabbi Slifkin has already written countless times his specific reasons for declining your invitation. In my opinion these were very sensible and justified explanations/reasons. But regardless of whether you agree or not, they certainly didn't include what you are asking him to state.

    ReplyDelete
  60. B”H
    Natan,
    If you want to discuss any point regarding my position, please publish my whole summary letter and then provide an answer point by point.

    If you want to skip the scientific debate on evolution, please publish your admission of defeat with the unmodified text, without omitting the introduction to it.

    Isaac Betech.

    ReplyDelete
  61. Isaac, if you want to skip the debate on the hashkafic validity of my books, please publish your admission that the Gedolim were wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  62. B”H
    Natan
    No, I do not want, please see in my summary letter point II 6 where I explicitly accepted.
    I am still waiting for you to publish and answer my summary letter.
    Isaac Betech

    ReplyDelete
  63. Dr Betech, the very fact that you ask for a proof of evolution shows that you do not understand the scientific method. There is no proof of evolution, because there cannot be one. Failure to falsify is all there is. For honest people that is enough.

    ReplyDelete
  64. B”H
    Dear Moshe Rephael,
    This point was already addressed in my summary letter (point V) sent to NS, but he refused to define the falsifiability of his position.
    Isaac Betech

    ReplyDelete
  65. For those interested in reading Dr. Betech's "Summary Letter" - he already posted it in the comments on the blog post titled "The Case of Dr. Isaac Betech" on October 4, 2010 8:02 AM and 8:07 AM.

    Dr. Betech calls it a "Summary Letter" while I would call it a way-too-long, confusing and rambling group of factual distortions and misrepresentations all in what seem to be a deliberate attempt to clutter and confuse the thought process of those reading it.

    Dr. Betech claims he tried to post his “Summary Letter” of rambling (ir)rationales again to this blog post, and apparently, Rabbi Slifkin has no interest in giving Dr. Betech’s post another airing.

    It seems as though Dr. Betech believes that if he constantly repeats himself, ignores the answers he is given, and claims he has proven that which he has not, he has made a point of some sort.

    ReplyDelete
  66. B”H
    OK, no problem, do not post the updated summary letter, it will be enough if you answer it point by point.
    Isaac Betech

    ReplyDelete
  67. Isaac, why don't you retract the falsehoods in your summary letter? For example, see the comment by Mechapeset to "The Case of Dr. Isaac Betech" at October 5, 2010 4:52 PM. Direct link: http://tinyurl.com/32fbpop

    And while you're online, why not respond to my question to you regarding Rav Hirsch? I responded to your question on that post, why don't you respond to mine?

    ReplyDelete
  68. FWIW, the following is my personal conclusion about the matter...

    Age test results from current measurements are based on the premise that relevant physical conditions as well as the natural laws of the universe themselves were the same a very long time ago (10k years or 10 billion years).

    My thinking is that the premise itself does not lend itself to experimentation and thus it is not a scientific issue. After all, we only have the present day universe to observe.

    In any case, I assert that the premise must be clearly and loudly unbundled from the experimentation at hand if one hopes to achieve any kind of clarity.

    Rabbi Coffer says: As it happens, the issue of inherent contradictions in the methods themselves is more problematic from a scientific perspective because it attacks the science on its own terms

    Indeed! Nonetheless, I personally can't get involved in that debate as I don't have the tools to independently evaluate scientific reports. Smithsonian magazine stretches the upper limit of my scientific literacy and I frankly don't aspire to go beyond this. I accept that Rabbi Coffer, Dr. Ostroff, and Dr. Betech all have far greater background than I, have independently evaluated the scientific data, and have rejected the conclusions of the scientific community for two reasons. One is that they do no accept the premise and they also have objections to the science that is built on it.

    For my own purposes, I don't feel qualified to make a judgement on either issue. Rather, I can make a judgement on the appropriate authorities to provide guidance. For the premise I select our esteemed Gedolim and for the science, I select the scientists. I make the latter selection simply because the scientific community is the recognized authority on scientific matters.

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  69. My thinking is that the premise itself does not lend itself to experimentation

    Sure it does. I addressed this in Challenge of Creation ch. 10.

    I accept that Rabbi Coffer, Dr. Ostroff, and Dr. Betech all have far greater background than I, have independently evaluated the scientific data, and have rejected the conclusions of the scientific community for two reasons.

    You missed out the actual reason. Because they are religiously opposed to the conclusions.

    For the premise I select our esteemed Gedolim

    Why? And which Gedolim? See my post "Who is an Expert in Torah"

    and for the science, I select the scientists. I make the latter selection simply because the scientific community is the recognized authority on scientific matters.

    A very reasonable approach!

    ReplyDelete

  70. Y: My thinking is that the premise itself does not lend itself to experimentation

    NS: Sure it does. I addressed this in Challenge of Creation ch. 10.


    I am aspiring to common ground so that I can have a meaningful dialogue, and for this purpose it makes more sense for me to concede this point. Read through the entire thread for elaboration if you are interested.

    Ditto on the other points.

    ReplyDelete
  71. B"H
    Natan Slifkin said...
    Isaac, why don't you retract the falsehoods in your summary letter? For example, see the comment by Mechapeset to "The Case of Dr. Isaac Betech" at October 5, 2010 4:52 PM. Direct link: http://tinyurl.com/32fbpop

    IB 13/Oct.’10
    The bottom line of that link is:
    But Dr. Betech blatantly ignored Rabbi Slifkin’s answer, and now claims to have “proved” that which he did not prove. Dr. Betech is misrepresenting the facts. What a shock.
    OCTOBER 5, 2010 4:52 PM

    I did not ignore your answer, I answered to you on September 16, 2010 8:22 PM

    Natan Slifkin said...
    And while you're online, why not respond to my question to you regarding Rav Hirsch? I responded to your question on that post, why don't you respond to mine?

    IB 13/Oct.’10
    I hope to answer you B”N in the post entitled The Wisdom of R. Hirsch in the next hours, when I have some free time.
    Isaac Betech

    ReplyDelete
  72. If you consider those to be "answers" via which you "proved" that I consider you a worthy person to discuss such issues with, then vocabulary has simply lost all meaning.

    ReplyDelete
  73. B"H
    Natan Slifkin said...
    If you consider those to be "answers" via which you "proved" that I consider you a worthy person to discuss such issues with, then vocabulary has simply lost all meaning.
    October 13, 2010 5:29 PM

    IB 13/Oct.’10
    This is a new question.
    Your accusation was that I “blatantly ignored” your answer. I did not, I answered to you on September 16, 2010 8:22 PM.

    Regarding your new question, if you want, I will post the original sources and your audience will judge by themselves if you considered me a worthy person to discuss such issues with.
    Do you want?
    Isaac Betech

    ReplyDelete
  74. No. Whether I considered you a worthy person to exchange hyrax-related sources six years ago does not determine whether I consider you a worthy person to discuss evolution with today, for the reasons that I gave. Hence posting the sources from six years ago is not relevant.

    ReplyDelete
  75. B"H
    IB 13/Oct.’10
    Thank you for your last answer.
    I can consider this as an answer to point II 1 of my summary letter, please answer the rest of the letter.
    By the way, I have updated my summary letter with all the new stuff from the last days.
    Would you like me to post the updated version?
    Isaac Betech

    ReplyDelete
  76. No, you are way too long-winded, evasive and disingenuous, and you are simply irritating many people in this forum.

    ReplyDelete
  77. Y. Aharon - I hear your points on the dichotomy issue. Thanks for the clarification.

    Y.Aharon said: You designate it as some kind of "absolute meaning" of the term to which the human version is but a crude analog. Then it is not speech as normally understand, and thus a reinterpretation.

    I'm not following your point because it is too obvious. I suppose we'll have to agree to disagree on the parameters of "literal interpretation". Because it is obvious that G-d and man do not speak in exactly the same way, I don't consider my understanding to be a reinterpretation.

    So how do you interpret G-d's speech?

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  78. Yitz, while I understand the difference between idiomatic expressions and stories that may or may not be taken in a literal sense, part of the issue here is when to take a word or phrase literally or idiomatically. Thus, the creations 'days' are either literal 24 hour days, or idioms for indefinite eras. I, of course, much prefer the latter interpretation so as to avoid conflict with what I know of world and scientific evidence.

    As to GOD's 'speech', that is a metaphor for GOD's will made concrete and has no cognate to human speech. An attempt to draw such a connection with some mystical type language conveys no information and is best left unsaid.

    ReplyDelete

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