Sunday, May 15, 2011

My Favorite Opponent

NOTE: Due to technical problems with Blogger - the service that hosts this website - the previous post disappeared for a day, along with the comments. It's back now. Another peculiar ramification of the Blogger outage was that, for those who receive these posts by e-mail, Blogger sent out a random post from the past - and it chose the Purim post! Hopefully these technical problems will not happen again. And now, for today's post.

During the Great Science and Torah Controversy, I unfortunately managed to develop many opponents. Even more distressingly, the majority of those who voiced their opposition to my approach acted in a very unpleasant way. This unpleasantness ranged from issuing harsh condemnations without any explanation or willingness to discuss their objections, to slandering me at a personal level with sheer nastiness. Some of these people are just generally not very nice; others are ordinarily decent people, but felt so threatened by my approach that they reacted viscerally.

Of all my opponents, one stands out from the rest in consistently acting like a superb mensch. Rabbi Simcha Coffer of Toronto might keep some unsavory company and have some very strange views (of course, he thinks the same of me), but the way in which he has conducted himself is admirable and a lesson for us all. He is unfailingly polite and respectful, explains his objections in detail rather than issuing arguments from authority, and even allows open comments on his blog.

The more I learn about how deep is his opposition to evolution, the more impressed I am that he manages to remain courteous. True, in his primary post about evolution, he was forced to concede that theistic evolutionists also legitimately see God's presence in creation, and had to content himself with arguing that they are irrational for seeing direct design in the laws of nature but not in the specific features of the animal kingdom (check out the comments to this post). But this did not stop him from seeing evolution as being the greatest intellectual threat to Judaism that exists.

Lately, Rabbi Coffer has been responding to my critique of Ami magazine's article about the Orthoprax. He himself sees a simple solution for those who lack emunah in God or Torah miSinai: Just give them the books and shiurim of Rav Avigdor Miller. (No, I'm not kidding, you can see his claim here.) Rabbi Coffer's latest post responds to my previous post (the one that temporarily disappeared) in which I lamented the Orthoprax Posek's wife being unnecessarily devastated that her husband attended a conference on evolution. Rabbi Coffer makes the incredible claim that attending a conference on evolution is equivalent to attending "a conference on Bible criticism and atheism combined," and is even worse than going to a brothel!

I know that many of my readers will simply be laughing at this, but think about it from his perspective: This is how terrible he thinks evolution is, and yet he still manages to always be polite and respectful in his critiques of me! Every person, at every end of the religious spectrum, should take a lesson from this.


  1. As it says in Avos "Yafeh talmud torah im derech eretz"

    BTW, the theory of evolution isn't the biggest threat to Judaism today. That people see it that way is the biggest threat to Judaism today.

  2. BTW,

    Have you seen R. Dr. Michael Avaraham's book on the subject ("God plays with dice", in Hebrew)? It sounds very interesting...

  3. That looks interesting, thanks for the link. Serendipitously, I just came across an important article by the same person, in Techumin 29, on organ donation.

  4. What he says is this: 'Personally, I recommend listening to the shiurim of HaRav Avigdor Miller ztz’l.' I don't think this will work, though. Rabbi Miller makes fun of evolution and human civilization in general.

    It's funny, but R. Simcha Coffer is also my favorite opponent of yours but for a completely different reason. It's his name! It never fails to bring a smile to my face.

  5. To some, it is clear that the world is becoming ever more spiritual and that the progress is enabled in a significant way by breakthroughs in secular knowledge. We have modern welfare states, there is increasing sensitive to human rights, devotion to pursuing peace, et cetera. Others maintain that the world is becoming ever more materialistic and immoral, and that the regression is caused by secular knowledge, in particular by Darwinism.

  6. To Moshe Refael:

    Yes, because people want to be in control, but the world is chaotic. Or vechoshech meshamshim be arbuvia. It's getting better and worse at the same time.

  7. I've read how Miller deals with evolution. In some of his books, he starts off by calling Darwin a "Great Prevaricator", which basically is just his way of winning his argument by calling Darwin a liar, and not worthy of a legitimate dignified debate based on the evidence. Not a good read for orthoprax, or anyone with a minimal education in science for that matter.

  8. IMO, the issue boils down to one's concept of "emet". Is it:

    A) Something you are told.
    B) Something you discover.

    (A) erodes over time. (B) builds over time. (A) is static, closed. (B) is dynamic and open-ended. (A) is threatened by new information. (B) is enriched by new information.

    Personally, I go with (B). And I think Torah ultimately does too. The word "emet" itself means being/staying true. Meaning, the mark of emet is that it does NOT erode over time.

    The anti-evolution camp believes what appears to be erosion (re: creationism) is merely illusory, due to erroneous claims made by scientific world. "Eventually" evolution will be proven false. "Eventually" a 6000-year-old world will be proven true and thus stand the test of time.

    Yes, normative science has been wrong before, and I would guess that 19th C. Darwinism is not the last word on how exactly human beings came to be, but to dismiss it entirely and chop billions of years off the Earth's age when so many areas of independent evidence converge to say otherwise - that starts to border on the absurd. (Really, it makes Torah people look like idiots, which classifies it as a bonafide chilul Hashem.)

    One last thing... There is a place for option (A) above. NOT in cosmology and creation, but in the down-to-earth realm of human interaction. Torat chaim, ahavat chesed, rachamim, chaim & shalom. THESE are the truths of Torah which stand the test of time!

  9. Does R'SC believe that there is no subgroup (or only a nonmaterial subgroup) that does not find R'AM convincing?

    Joel Rich

  10. Actually, leaving evolution aside, Rabbi Miller's books are no good because he ridicules geology for its claims. He wrote before the theory (a visible "theory" nowadays) of plate tectonics was accepted, and his ridicule has been refuted, which makes his book look bad (especially because of his doctrine that we can judge an entire philosophy based on one problem with it). That alone is a reason to keep people away from his books.

  11. 1) I don't see why people are so threatened by biblical criticism. It might come from a misunderstanding of the term. Biblical criticism actually means to question and analyze the bible. The word criticize is used differently that in every day english. Of course a part of biblical criticism involves determining the origins of the texts, and the authors, but that is not everything.
    2) I heard a tape by Rav Miller called 5 minutes a day. The tape discussed how to be able to have emunah. His eitza was to think of Hashem for 5 minutes a day, and talk to him, hence the title 5 minutes a day. I was young when I first heard this tape, but I now realize that the method he suggested was similar to operant conditioning, no different than what other religions tell followers, "Speak to the lord and you will feel him". I cannot see how such an approach would work for a rationalist.

  12. Yoel B, it's not just evolution or geology that he ridicules - it's the whole human civilization. If you listen to his tapes carefully you will realize that they are a total disaster. Talking about 'Uncle Tom's Cabin', Rabbi Miller recommended to make a brocha every morning 'that didn't create me a Negro' because it's much better to be white than black. So? Change peoples' attitude that the race shouldn't matter. But he sees oppression as the divine mandated order of things. How about this gem: Abraham Lincoln was assassinated because he emancipated the 'shwartzes'? Nice. I feel like tossing a grenade.

  13. A charedi friend once gave me a copy of RAM's Sing, You Righteous. I was horrified by the nastiness of the rhetoric. I can see where RSC got the idea that evolution is a worse evil than prostitution; RAM went even farther than that.

  14. I suppose it's much easier to acknowledge an opponent who's been throwing you nothing but softballs from day 1 than a serious challenger like fkmaniac.blogspot who, judging from the way systematically ignore him, must be a very uncomfortable fly in your ointment.

  15. I don't know how you can say those things. On that blog which he runs according to you, they constantly twist your opinion and distort your views in order to paint you dishonestly as something you are not. This is done by his cohorts Isaac Betech and some other rabbi who posts on the site whose name I don't remember nor care to think about.

    He allows it on his own blog and promotes it - how can you possibly think he is against what they are doing in his name on HIS BLOG?

  16. R. Slifkin, you make a mistake: "Civility" is not a virtue when it is unmoored from intellectual humility. The inability to ever consider that one might be wrong can result in either extreme hostility or extreme graciousness. Both of which you have experienced. Obviously the latter is less threatening, but they both reflect the same epistemic closure.

    True intellectual humility will always result in civility, which is why you have never failed to remain polite and even apologetic of some of your "opponents."

  17. Having just finished Dawkin's "The Greatest Show on Earth" and then reviewing The first 50 pages of Rejoice O Youth, I personally find R. Miller's arguments against evolution pretty convincing. Perhaps not original, as many of his arguments can be found in creationist literature, but convincing nevertheless.

    I would be curious to hear the flaws in R. Miller's arguments against evolution specifically, as opposed to his polemics.

  18. Moshe Rephael:
    The fact that you think that having "modern welfare states" indicates that "that the world is becoming ever more spiritual" and that such institutions represent "progress" is absurd. Only Socialists and Charedim think like that.

  19. I suppose it's much easier to acknowledge an opponent who's been throwing you nothing but softballs from day 1 than a serious challenger like fkmaniac.blogspot who, judging from the way systematically ignore him, must be a very uncomfortable fly in your ointment.

    I ignore the Maniac because his manner is disgusting. Also, it would be way too time-consuming to show all his mistakes and distortions of what I write. Besides, I would hope that most people are smart enough to see that, in his fervent obsession to discredit me, he just hopelessly distorts things. and is entirely accurate in describing himself as a maniac. I once wrote a longer statement explaining why I stopped engaging him in debate - see But if people ever have a specific question for me regarding one of his challenges, they are welcome to ask me. I just don't have endless time to respond.

  20. "How I cried when my husband told me that he was attending a conference on evolution with his kiruv partner."

    I'm curious: Out of a hundred conferences which promote evolution, what percentage of them suggest (roughly speaking) that
    A. God did it.
    B. God may have been involved somehow.
    C. God is not necessary at all.

    I suspect that the wife in the article and R' Coffer would say that C is the big winner. What might you say?

  21. 'RAM went even farther than that.'

    Ralph, what did he say?

    YEA, why providing housing, food, education and health care to the people that cannot afford it rather than leaving them helpless is not progress? What's wrong with a poor man being able to eat meat and fish rather than just bread? What's wrong
    with sharing? I think it's in the spirit of Torah! Please see Pirkei Avos 3,7 and Taanis 24a maaseh of Elazar ish Bartota which illustrates how he fulfilled his own dictum.

  22. Observant Jews have every right...and perhaps even a duty when it comes to those in a leadership position... to be credulous about the incredible.

    Just to point out to Mr. Borges that his sword cuts both ways. A rationalist can just as well ask who is "duplicitous" when Mr. Borges pretends that well supported theories....well past the stage of any mere hypothesis.... should be dismissed because he, personally, is overwhelmed by the challenge they cause to the messorah. Are we actually expected by Mr. Borges to think it is a positive trait to advocate views that have been continually falsified for generations?

    Keeping ourselves and our children on the derech is very difficult for families in all these "camps". It is certainly true that there is a great challenge to remaining observant while trying to reconcile our messorah with what we learn about reality based on science. But, it is equally true that there is a great challenge to keeping observance while basing one's observance on falsified claims. Both approaches will have problems keeping people on the derech [as the definition of "derech" pertains to each view].

    In the end, as much as we may lack respect for what we consider "way out" points of view, we still need to tolerate each other. What kind of People would we become if we considered the likes of R. Coffer to be "an infiltrator" or "5th columnist"? I certainly don't want to see that type of thought gain traction. And, for this reason, I sincerely hope that Ami and Mr Borges fail miserably in their attempt to spread intolerance within our People.

    Gary Goldwater

  23. because it's much better to be white than black

    I personally have a dichotomy in regarding Rabbi A. Miller. On the one hand, I see quotes indicating that he was an unapologetic racist. Perhaps he could have been the official rabbi of the KKK? I also bristle at rabbis or anyone keeping score for G-d, while he seemed to relish this.

    If anyone could post links confirming or denying any of this, I would be grateful.

    On the other hand, I admire his devotion and sincere expression of gratitude to G-d, even if I find his approach to science to be lacking. I also admire his followers such as Rabbi Coffer for the same.

  24. I would be curious to hear the flaws in R. Miller's arguments against evolution

    Without having read the book, I would guess that he posts a series of really cool conditions, complexities, and co-dependencies that make life or certain life forms possible, and that defy our understand of naturalistic development. IOW, intelligent design

    I'm not sure that this is the correct venue to hash them out, but you can try me at

  25. Yitz, I also have a feeling of dichotomy that maybe, just maybe it's me that's somehow is OTD. Can it really be possible that anyone thinks that evolution is worse than prostitution? No, they were misquoted, taken out of context, they never really said, it cannot be true! Can so many famous Rabbis be wrong? No, it must be me! However, facts are stubborn things and there is no way of getting away from them. Look, the really disturbing stuff is in the tapes and not in the books, which are edited. Here is a sample from a tape #743 called 'Redeemed from Gentiles' that I listened to in my car on Chol Hamoed Pesach.

    R. Miller explained that Khomeini came to power by Divine providence to motivate Iranian Jews to do Tshuva, because we, the Jews, are the reason for anything that happens in the word! The Jews under the Shah were not very interested in Yiddishkeit, but now we have Persian Jews going to yeshivos and Beis Yakov, marrying yesiva bochurim, establishing frum homes! This was all caused by the providential hand of Hakodosh Boruch Hu who loves his people so much!

    OMG, one million human beings died in the Iran-Iraq war for a few Jews to start putting on tefillin, which they could have done as easily before! The human rights of the Iranian people were rolled back hundreds of years, the economic development stalled. The regime became a center of Islamic terrorism and threatens to develop nuclear weapons to destroy Israel.

    What kind of morality is this? To be grateful to G-d for misfortunes that befall other people? To benefit from other peoples suffering?

    I believe that G-d loves all people and would never do anything like this. This is nonsense. Period.

  26. You do not have the right to criticize such an Odom Gadol as HaRav Miller, zt"l, or anyone from the heilege Slabodka Yeshiva, for that matter. Mechutzaf!!!

  27. I am not sure how anyone can doubt such things as the evolutionary process.
    From a secular perspective, have they not heard of antibiotic-resistant bacteria?
    From a religious perspective, have they missed the whole halachic controversy that Rav Slifkin himself likes to deal with on how olives and eggs have changed in size over the last 2000 years?
    That evolution happens in some form or another and has been for millions of years is a given. The argument is whether God is directing the process (according to us) or not (according to the secular world).

  28. R Avigdor Miller. Right.

    I've never thrown a book across the room in disgust, but one that came close was R' Miller's "Rejoice O Youth." In order to prove evolution false, he says that you have to assume not only that neither position has a claim on the truth, but that all scientists are self-interested liars.

    Once you assume your opponents are acting in bad faith, you've already answered your question.

  29. Carol,
    I donwt know how much Nachas Hashem gets from those persian jews in BY, But Yeshayahu Did have an issue of calling Koresh Mashiach for rebuilding the temple, even though he did the same with every nation that paid taxes when due.

  30. Carol - I think that maintaining the dichotomy is OK, and perhaps part of the divine plan.

    There is no reason why we cannot look to Rabbi Miller and be inspired by his qualities of "מסתפיק במעט" (a healthy antagonism to materialism), and gratitude to G-d, and also reject his racism and score keeping. I'd say that is On The Derech.

  31. "Rabbi Coffer makes the incredible claim that attending a conference on evolution is equivalent to attending "a conference on Bible criticism and atheism combined,"

    R' Slifkin: I wonder if you two would agree with each other if you would only have added one word to that statement. That word is "often."

    It would read like this:

    Rabbi Coffer makes the incredible claim that attending a conference on evolution is often equivalent to attending "a conference on Bible criticism and atheism combined."

  32. Yitz, no. His concept of G-d is perverted and dangerous to humanity. What is admirable in praising G-d for the wickedness of man? In sanctifying injustice instead of opposing it?

  33. I love the fact that a Purim-related post was randomly emailed out! After all, Purim is the holiday of divinely-ordained "coincidences." This must be a sign that the "random" mutations that serve as a mechanism behind evolution are also manipulated by G-d to reach his preferred outcome! :)

  34. Yitz, I'm sure that's what they taught at the evolution conference that the Orthoprax posek attended.

  35. Carol - I am suggesting taking the fruit and discarding the pits.

  36. Rabbi Slifkin, after taking another look at the hate site you refer to, I really can't understand how you say such things about a person who blatantly spreads lies about you.

    Did you not see his post from May 6 where he wrote: "Rabbi Slifkin’s strident and ongoing disparagement of Chazal's wisdom remains unchecked. " It's the first sentence in that blog post. And this is merely par for the course.

  37. I am suggesting taking the fruit and discarding the pit....

    It's a pretty big pit, and I'd say the fruit is rotten.

  38. Rabbi Slifkin’s strident and ongoing disparagement of Chazal's wisdom

    According to their point of view, the above is exactly correct, and it is important for all of us to be sensitive to this reality. Civil discourse does not preclude harsh rebuke.

  39. An unfounded assertion (which also happens to be an insulting one in the context of the fact that All orthodox Judaism reveres chazal) cannot simply be labeled an "opinion" or "point of view" and therefore automatically validated somehow. If God forbid Rabbi Slifkin says an unfounded insult about one of his opponents and then says 'well that's true according to my point of view' without demonstrating its basis - would anyone think that is valid criticism? No.

    The opponents who write at the hate blog simply elevate themselves thru ad hominem and straw man attacks. It starts with an insult like the above, then they "quote " something that is not Rabbi Slifkin's opinion, then they say how dangerous it is to Judaism and the whole world.

  40. I personally find Rav Avigdor Miller's "Jumping Lizard" argument to be hilarious, although I do have great respect for Rav Avigdor Miller Himself.

    Also, It's nice that you have at least one opponent who is polite.

  41. Waitwaitwait... I just read his post- That guy isn't POLITE! why do you say that stuff is polite!?

  42. Garnel Ironheart said...

    "I am not sure how anyone can doubt such things as the evolutionary process.
    From a secular perspective, have they not heard of antibiotic-resistant bacteria?"

    Haven't you ever heard of the difference between macro- and micro-evolution? Your comment seems to imply that you haven't. Lots of people believe in the latter but not the former.


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