There is a very strange article by Rabbi Avi Shafran in Ami magazine and Cross-Currents, which returns to a theme that he has written about on several previous occasions. It is entitled "Beware of Orthodoxy!" However, the "Orthodoxy" to which he refers is not Orthodox Judaism, but rather orthodox thinking in other disciplines, especially science. Rabbi Shafran criticizes the "idolatry" of "unyielding reverence for currently regnant scientific dogmas" such as evolution. (Strangely, he also mentions the existence of extraterrestrial life - which is in fact far from universally accepted amongst scientists.) He interjects that there is no religious problem with these notions. And he concludes by urging people to remember that "skepticism of accepted notions is the very core of the scientific method."
I have four questions on his article.
First, while there certainly is a problem of too much rigidity in science, why did Rabbi Shafran paint a picture which is so black? Rabbi Shafran does not consider the possibility that the evolution of life from a single cell has been accepted due to the abundance of evidence for it and the absence of evidence against it! Indeed, even Rabbi Shafran himself writes that "it is always worthwhile to remember that scientific orthodoxies have been toppled by new discoveries." Since that is the case, clearly scientists are not all that closed to orthodoxies being toppled!
Second, what is an article about scientific methodology doing in a magazine about Judaism? According to Rabbi Shafran, there are no religious issues involved in these aspects of science. So why is it relevant to Judaism? (I have my own answer to this question, which will hopefully appear in the next post.)
Third: Rabbi Shafran criticizes "-isms" - such as atheism, communism, nationalism - for being objects of unquestioned veneration. Now, I am no atheist or communist, but it seems to me that those who align themselves to those systems do so because they consider them to be true, meaningful, or beneficial. Couldn't the same be said for another "-ism": Judaism? Surely the worth of a system should be judged by its innate value, and not by whether it is an object of unquestioned veneration - otherwise, couldn't Judaism be subject to the same critique?
Fourth, the irony of a spokesman for the Charedi community criticizing those who have "unyielding reverence for currently regnant dogmas" is enough to make one choke. Is he not aware that this criticism applies a hundredfold to those in the Charedi community? Or does he believe that scientists should not have unyielding reverence for currently regnant dogmas in science, but religious people should have unyielding reverence for currently regnant dogmas in religion? And if so, why?
(See too this post.)