Friday, February 24, 2012

Spontaneous Generation Defended In "Tradition"!

The problem with reporting an astounding statement on Rosh Chodesh Adar is that people assume that it is a Purim joke. So let me begin this post by assuring my readers that it isn't.

A few months ago, I submitted a letter to the RCA journal Tradition in response to Rabbi J. David Bleich's article regarding spontaneous generation and Anisakis worms. You can read my letter here; the thrust of it was that Rabbi Bleich's refusal to admit to the Talmud's mistaken belief in spontaneous generation seriously hampers his analysis. The new issue of Tradition, which was just released, includes my letter, and an entire article by Rabbi Bleich in response. I will break down my own rejoinder into a series of posts.


The most astonishing part of Rabbi Bleich's article is that he defends the belief in spontaneous generation as being scientifically valid! Although he admits to finding it more plausible to posit that the Sages were not discussing such a phenomenon (which I will explain in another post to be equally implausible), he argues at length for the scientific viability of spontaneous generation.

Rabbi Bleich writes that "any person who has even a passing familiarity with philosophy of science" will know that "Pasteur’s rejection of spontaneous generation is an empirical generalization and hence not logically compelling." In other words, the fact that all creatures that have been studied have been found to reproduce by conventional means does not categorically preclude the possibility that there are other species which spontaneously generate. Well, yes, it is true that we cannot categorically disprove the existence of spontaneously generating creatures. But how someone can raise this as a serious argument is beyond me. After all, we also cannot categorically disprove the existence of werewolves, vampires, leprechauns, or Santa Claus. But no reasonable person will believe in their existence, for reasons that I explain at length in Sacred Monsters.

Rabbi Bleich then claims that there is actual scientific support for spontaneous generation. He first states that "Physicists have demonstrated that a massless sub-atomic particle known as a Goldstone boson can be spontaneously created in a vacuum and do not regard the generation of life in a laboratory as merely grist for science fiction" with a footnote pointing towards the impressive-sounding Path Integrals in Physics; Volume II: Quantum Field Theory Statistical Physics and other Modern Applications. I am not a physicist and cannot comment on whether Rabbi Bleich's description of Goldstone bosons is accurate. However, I do know that the generation of a massless sub-atomic particle has no bearing whatsoever on the spontaneous generation of lice from sweat, mice from dirt and salamanders from fire. Physicists, notwithstanding experiments regarding generating RNA in a lab, would indeed not regard such spontaneous generation of animals as grist for science fiction - they would regard it as grist for fantasy. Even science fiction has to at least have some basis in reality.

Rabbi Bleich continues to state that "Even more strikingly, evolutionists would have us believe that all life on planet Earth arose out of some type of primordial chemical soup." Yes, they would have us believe that theory. Whether it is valid or not is up for dispute; I personally have no opinion on the matter. However, the theory of simple organic molecules evolving from primordial chemical soup and subsequently into rudimentary cellular life provides absolutely no reason to believe in the  spontaneous generation of lice from sweat, mice from dirt and salamanders from fire. You might as well say that the metamorphosis of tadpoles into frogs provides evidence for werewolves.

Rabbi Bleich concludes by invoking nishtaneh hateva to account for why we no longer witness spontaneous generation. He insists that "there is no scientific reason to assume that an asexually reproducing species did not exist in talmudic times but became extinct over the course of millennia or that members of that species metamorphosed into sexually reproducing lice through intra-species evolutionary processes." This must be some strange new usage of the phrase "no scientific reason," of which I was previously unaware. In fact, there are numerous scientific reasons which converge to the conclusion that the spontaneous generation of lice, mice and salamanders has never occurred. They are:
  • The complete absence of evidence for such phenomena, despite extensive attempts to find such evidence;
  • The fact that such phenomena would run contrary to everything that we know about biology (which is quite a lot);
  • The fact that the ancient belief in such phenomena can be easily accounted for, due to the lack of systematic study of the natural world in those days.
  • The fact that situations formerly thought to provide evidence for these phenomena (such as rotting meat "producing" maggots) were shown by Louis Pasteur to provide no such evidence.

I have learned not to be surprised that there are still people who defend the belief in spontaneous generation. What surprises me is that such a view can be presented in a journal published by the RCA.

58 comments:

  1. This is very convenient for me because he's stringent on a lot of issues that seem to me like a reasonable person would not be, regardless of the Halakhic arguments. Now my intuitions are validated and I can ignore him.

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  2. Sub atomic particles do pop in and out of existence in some cases. This is a property of Quantum Mechanics (http://www.astronomycast.com/2009/06/ep-138-quantum-mechanics/) which to be blunt is just weird, and kind of breaks my brain.

    However this only applies to particles on the Quantum scale, so an electron can pop into existence. Actually that is not true, an Electron and a Positron can pop into existence but must do so together to conserve charge and various bits of Quantum state.

    But event the smallest cell is orders of magnitude, and quantum effects drop off exponentially with size.

    If someone is using General Relativity or Quantum Mechanics to prove their point unless it has to do with items on the atomic scale or very massive objects they don't know what they are talking about.

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  3. Someone should send R Bleich a link to the Wikipedia page for Russell's Celestial Teapot.

    This also raises the question, "Is there any traditional dogma that quantum physics *can't* be misused to defend?" ;)

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  4. Rabbi Bleich's articles are extremely verbose and written in a high-falutin' style which make them difficult to read, but doubtless leave many readers with the impression that their content must necessarily be similarly extremely sophisticated.

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  5. we also cannot categorically disprove... But no reasonable person will believe in their existence

    Exactly. And reasonability requires "probability" language, not "possibility" language. Statements like "it's not impossible" or "anything's possible" have a place - in expanding one's imagination. In the realm of fantasy. But like you say, it is too far removed from reasonability to even make for decent science fiction!

    This is why, as Greg says, quantum physics is so often misused - in hopes of bringing fantasy (the "anything's possible" mentality) into the realm of reasonability.

    Elchonon also makes a very astute point. In the same vein, you might notice that many charedi-oriented articles/writings contain obscure and high-browed sounding vocabulary - presumably so readers will say, "Gee, this guy's no intellectual slouch. Maybe the donkey DID talk. Maybe women SHOULD sit at the back of the bus. Maybe I'M the crazy one here!"

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  6. Why are you surprised that a controversial position would be published in Tradition.

    Publication does not mean endorsement.

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  7. 1) I find it astounding that you are (consciously or subconsciously) advocating silencing the point of view of Rabbi Bleich. Is he not entitled to voice his view? You can then send a response, which he will respond to, which you will respond to, ad infinitum.

    2) I'm not sure that you want to insult or degrade Rabbi Bleich. He is not your average Rosh Yeshiva - he is quite well versed in science - especially philosophy of science which you (as yet) have not shown proficiency in. He has written numerous books and scholarly articles - as such, it behooves you to be respectful of him. There was an undercurrent of contempt in this post. (Yes, I know, appeal to authority - but I am not advocating that you agree with his position because he believes in it; rather, that you treat him with respect because he has shown himself to deserve it.)

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  8. These videos are a guilty pleasure for me. I especially like when they say mess-orah and koff-rim.

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  9. Zach Greg and Elchonon got it exactly right. Quantum stuff has no relevance to anything except other quantum stuff, precisely because the chances of any such quantum effects taking place on the scale necessary for Chazal to notice it in the history of the universe is so low as to be non-existent. Additionally, the fact that Pasteur's observations are not logically compelling (a) require no knowledge of any philosophy of science and (b) have no bearing on whether it is reasonable to ignore them - which is the important question, because there are no logically-compelled beliefs since epistemological stances are normative stances in the first place! And finally, I'm going to go out on a limb and make an accusation that I might not if I had any sort of political or social capital to lose in the rabbinic world: I don't think Rabbi Bleich has a CLUE what is in that book he cited, I think even if he does he has no clue how to read it, and he just stuck it in there so he could cite sources for his irrelevant claims and wage a psychological attack on the skeptical faculties of the reader - I mean, if this guy's citing a path integral textbook, and I don't even know what a path integral is, he MUST be right!

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  10. My hunch appears even more likely after looking up the subject on Wikipedia. Path integrals and their applications require knowledge of a wide range of mathematical fields such as partial differential equations, probability, and analysis that, unless Rabbi Bleich either spent many (many many many) hours teaching himself, or was at one point a graduate student specializing in applied math, is simply not capable of comprehending. And that's just the math end of it - even if he understood the math he'd have to know a whole lot of physics too!

    Of course I suppose if we applied Rabbi Bleich's standards for Chazal to him, the possibility of him having opened that book is a lot more plausible.

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  11. I never quite understand this knee jerk reaction to defend Chazal as science experts. Most charedim don't seriously think their gedolim know nuclear science. Well, if that's the case -- if Rav Elyashiv is not an expert on nuclear science -- why must Chazal have been experts in science?

    And we're not even talking about Chazal being expert scientists. We're talking about them being scientists who were 1,000 years ahead of their time. Are the "gedolim" today also 1,000 years ahead of their time in scientific knowledge?

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  12. the equation that should have worked was the Klein Gordon equation. This did not work because of two reasons (negative probabilities for one) so Dirac came up with the Dirac equation. But this still had a flaw of negative energy states. So he guess that the universe has a sea of negative particles that fill that state so the electron cant fall into them. But a electron and positron can still be created and destroyed spontaneously if this is under the plank time scale. that means to say this does not violate conservation of mass energy. the place this becomes viable is on the surface of a black hole. so what is that rabbi talking about i don't know. Now all of this is going on under the plank scale and the only place where it becomes viable is on the surface of a black hole. is that where spontaneous generations of insects is supposed to be taking place? Now i don't mean to brag but i actual remember reading the rambam and the mishna he brings it from on this issue and the simple peshat of the mishna and the rambam was that they were not talking about the surface of a black hole.

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  13. 'Rabbi Bleich concludes by invoking nishtaneh hateva to account for why we no longer witness spontaneous generation. He insists that "there is no scientific reason to assume that an asexually reproducing species did not exist in talmudic times but became extinct over the course of millennia... '

    There's an interesting switch of terms here from spontaneous generation to asexual reproduction. These are completely different. In any case it is illogical to say that a spontaneously generating species can become extinct. Extinction occurs when all members of a particular species die out and hence there are none left to sexually (or asexually) re-produce. However, in a species that spontaneously generates from nothing, there is no need for any other members of the species to exist.

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  14. I have often thought that if you take 2 parts quantum mechanics, 1 part string theory, 1 part kabbalah and maybe about 7 parts of Hand-waveium you could write a book that would sell like crazy.

    Only problem: I don't know how to write that kind of nonsense (And will be happy to keep writing books on programming)

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  15. I trust Rabbi Bleich has the services of a good chiropractor, since he is bending himself like a pretzel using all his considerable knowledge and ingenuity to make an exceptionally intellectualy peverse and twisted agument. But aren't at least some of the Editors of tradition concerned that their distinguished will become a laughing stock.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  16. > "there is no scientific reason to assume that an asexually reproducing species did not exist in talmudic times but became extinct over the course of millennia

    Asexual reproduction is not the same as spontaneous generation.

    The article is a long winded version of the old argument, “You can’t prove absolutely that I’m wrong, so I’m justified in my belief.”

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  17. I am happy that Tradition published your letter and R. Bleich's response. I agree with earlier comments: let Tradition publish bad as well as good arguments (provided the source is respectable), and let its readership decide who is right. If we are opposed to censorship, we must accept that we will sometimes strongly disagree with, and even find ridiculous, ideas that make it into print.

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  18. R. Slifkin, could you please clarify re. Higgs Boson's point? Namely, is R. Bleich's possibility of an "asexually reproducing species" existing in Talmudic times a defense of spontaneous generation, or asexual reproduction? Might he be arguing that Chazal believed that lice reproduce asexually, but not that they are generated spontaneously? I don't have access to the article so I can't draw my own conclusions.

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  19. He is referring to their being generated from sweat.

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  20. Excellent article. I think this is an excellent illustration of how some poskim affiliated with the name 'Modern Orthodox'(I am not sure that Rav Bleich would identify himself as such, but he is affiliated with the 'flagship' of Modern Orthodoxy- YU) hold views of science that are more consistent with a Chareidi approach than MO. It may not be reasonable to follow the psak of a Rav whose basic core of values and beliefs on the topic are alien to yours.

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  21. R' Zach,
    The interesting thing about string theory is that it seems to be able to support just about anything theoretically - imho it's in many ways close to kabbalah (maybe they will converge) when you start getting into multiverses. I'm just afraid to look to see how much better I did at the ratzon hashem in some of those other verses.
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  22. But generation from sweat isn't asexual reproduction -- ? --

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  23. Natan Slifkin said...
    "He is referring to their being generated from sweat."

    And he calls it "asexual reproduction". Looks like someone didn't research his article well enough.

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  24. His exact words are "Hazal asserted
    that kinim are generated by “sweat” and parasites by the body of their hosts. Granted, the lice we observe are all generated sexually. Nevertheless, there is no scientific reason to assume that an asexually reproducing species did not exist in talmudic times but became extinct over the course of millennia or that members of that species metamorphosed into sexually reproducing lice through intra-species evolutionary processes."

    I guess since it's not sexual reproduction, it's asexual reproduction.

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    Replies
    1. Chazal were talking about clothing lice not head lice, not once do you ever mention this in any of your writings on the matter. See Rav Belsky Zetzal's answer to this question in the Hamodia supliment on Rav Belsky.

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  25. What R. Bleich seems to be talking about is not "reproduction" at all. A subatomic particle that pops into existence is not the product of "reproduction."

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  26. I don't think that the technicalities of the terminology are the significant point to discuss here.

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  27. "I guess since it's not sexual reproduction, it's asexual reproduction."

    Asexual reproduction is not spontaneous generation! These are two different appraoches to the Gemara in Shabbos about lice!

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  28. I know, but it's clear from the context that he's not using the term in that way. It's not a big deal.

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  29. If R. Bleich were saying that Chazal believed not in spontaneous generation of lice, but in their asexual reproduction, then perhaps his position would be somewhat more scientifically reasonable. There are, after all, species that reproduce asexually. That's why I wanted to clarify whether that was really what he was saying.

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  30. Does R. Bleich accept your point that there is another legitimate halachic approach to the topic of the fish worms (i.e., the approach of R. Herzog et al.)?

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  31. No, but I will be discussing that in future posts.

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  32. Tradition magazine has to publish some good articles on Talmud and Rishonim. They are losing ground to Hakirah.

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  33. Please everyone stop saying that we should or should not respect someone given this or given that. An argument should be evaluated purely on it's own merit, independent of who says it. It shouldn't make a difference if R. Bleich, R. Elyashiv or even Avi Shafran says something, in all cases whatever is said should be evaluated purely on it's own.

    If it isn't, this should be one of the most basic tenets of Rationalist Judaism.

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  34. . I think this is an excellent illustration of how some poskim affiliated with the name 'Modern Orthodox'(I am not sure that Rav Bleich would identify himself as such, but he is affiliated with the 'flagship' of Modern Orthodoxy- YU) hold views of science that are more consistent with a Chareidi approach than MO.
    ======================

    R'Noam,
    An interesting general issue and perhaps subject for a different post, how many YU Roshei Yeshiva are not in harmony with TUM on a philosophical level (i.e. forget about MO lite- do they see any redemptive value in anything outside the walls of the beit medrash). I often think this is one of the causes of much of the cynicism about YU (not thatthere aren't other reasons :-))

    KT
    Joel Rich

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  35. Greg: "If it isn't, this should be one of the most basic tenets of Rationalist Judaism"

    The blog or the ideology? ;-)

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  36. I do not understand the point about "silencing R. Bleich." Tradition and other journals are under no obligation to publish articles that in their view fail to meet their standards. Journals reject articles all the time, and edit and revise ones they accept. Perhaps it is time that the editorial board of Tradition subject R. Bleich's articles to closer scrutiny. I cannot believe his article was subjected to any editorial review at all. Otherwise, Tradition may be in danger of losing its reputation as an outstanding journal presenting Modern Orthodox Judaism in an intellectually sophisticated and honest manner.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  37. I'm taking a class on RNA Regulation and I think Rav Slifkin's inclusion of RNA in this discussion is spot-on. A lot of proteins are ridiculously complex, but relatively simple RNA molecules can have similar functions. It makes a lot of sense that RNA was around earlier.

    I still don't see why great people seem to have an issue with ascribing a mechanism to God's design of life.

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  38. This post would have been alot better if we could read the article you were commenting on or the reply to which you now comment.

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  39. Literal belief in spontaneous generation is an odd stance to take. I was taught that Chazal was, of course, mistaken about such things - what with being human and predating such advances as microscopes by a millennium or so - but that they did the best possible with the information at hand, and more importantly, Halacha is what it is, it is established, and that is what we follow.

    Is this no longer taught?

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  40. "He is not your average Rosh Yeshiva - he is quite well versed in science - especially philosophy of science which you (as yet) have not shown proficiency in. "

    I don't know R' Bleich, but confusing spontaneous generation and asexual reproduction should not happen to someone with an elementary school level knowledge of biology.

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  41. "Publication does not mean endorsement."

    Not quite. If a journal publishes something, it is an indication that the editors believe that it is presenting something that is within the bounds of the field.

    " Is he not entitled to voice his view? "

    These views do not deserve to be voiced in a reputable journal any more than do views that vaccines cause autism, that HIV doesn't cause AIDS, or that the holocaust didn't happen. This is the kind of level we are talking about here.

    "He is not your average Rosh Yeshiva - he is quite well versed in science "

    No, he is not, unless he published this bit on spontaneous generation as Purim Torah, which is quite possible.

    The argument from Rabbi Bleich is SO far beyond the pale that it is hard to critique. He is basically rejecting everything in science.

    "appeal to authority"

    Appeals to authority have absolutely no validity in science.

    I have published over ninety peer-reviewed scientific journal articles, and have probably reviewed even more than that. I occasionally get an article to review whose conclusions just aren't justified scientifically. I do not mince words when I write my review. Bad science needs to be labeled for what it is. And this is worse than bad science, it is inconsistent with everything that science does. Science is COMPLETELY about empirical generalizations. That a philosopher might find it "not logically compelling" is irrelevant.

    "Quantum stuff has no relevance to anything except other quantum stuff, precisely because the chances of any such quantum effects taking place on the scale necessary for Chazal to notice it in the history of the universe is so low as to be non-existent."

    I once had a high school physics homework problem: A baseball player tried to explain that the reason he couldn't hit was the quantum uncertainty in the location of the baseball as it went over the plate. The assignment was to approximately estimate the wavelength of the baseball. Needless to say, it was so short as to be unmeasurable. The hitter just couldn't hit. Quantum phenomena don't matter for things the size of baseballs -- or, for that matter, lice.

    "But aren't at least some of the Editors of tradition concerned that their distinguished will become a laughing stock."

    They have set themselves up to be the next *Social Text*. If anyone doesn't know what I'm talking about, type "Sokal hoax" into google.

    "he is affiliated with the 'flagship' of Modern Orthodoxy- YU"

    I am also affiliated with YU. (I am a Professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.) Let me take this opportunity to state that Rabbi Bleich's opinion does not reflect that of the institution as a whole, nor of any other YU faculty member I know.

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  42. It would seem that the rav is debasing the respect to which talmidei chachamim are otherwise entitled. Why would it occur to him to publish that material in a Modern Orthodox (as opposed to Hareidi)journal? It's not only that he makes himself look foolish to much of that audience, but he also lowers the honor of torah. He also casts into doubt his objectivity and reliability in deciding modern technical issues such as the criteria that may be used in determining death.

    This issue reminds of the stern reaction of the late Chief Rabbi Herzog to the rationale used by a leading posek in Israel on the issue of using blood testing to determine paternity(actually, lack thereof). That posek ruled that the gemara which claimed that blood came solely from the mother would invalidate any blood type testing that relied on a possible mismatch between the blood types of the offspring and the putative father. Rav Herzog berated the posek for using a rationale that has long been disproven, and thereby bringing halacha into disrepute.

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  43. I think that "Goldstone Boson" could become a good short-hand reference for obscure science being abused in order to back up rabbinic statements that have been disproved.

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  44. R' Zach,
    The interesting thing about string theory is that it seems to be able to support just about anything theoretically

    I had a professor in university who did particle physics and he called string theory "Quantum Theology". In truth there are some real major issues with string theory, but that is a different conversation

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  45. I would not be surprised if there are indeed a few haredim who believe that current gedolim have knowledge of future science as well.

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  46. "He also casts into doubt his objectivity and reliability"

    Indeed the difficulty here is NOT that he is questioning the idea that spontaneous generation isn't possible. It is quite possible to be a solid scientist and take contrarian views -- at times I have done so myself. It is that he has by his statement that "empirical generalization [is] not logically compelling" voluntarily removed himself from the ranks of those who take science seriously. I would no more rely on someone like that in a scientific matter than I would rely on a Reform rabbi on a halachic matter.

    "You can then send a response, which he will respond to, which you will respond to, ad infinitum."

    Would you bother debating a Reform rabbi on a question of talmudic interpretation?

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  47. Here's a good example of the problem with "Rationalist [Traditional] Judaism." Both Rabbis Slifkin and Bleich know in advance what the end result of his analysis will be - a defense of the traditional halachic structure. Faced with a halachah contrary to science, Rabbi Bleich proposes, as one option, that accepted science is wrong. This approach offends Rabbi Slifkin's scientific sensibilities. Rabbi Slifkin proposes that clearly erroneous halachah be maintained; this offends Rabbi Bleich's religious sensibilities. Neither approach is particularly rational.

    As an aside, perhaps someone should suggest to Rabbi Bleich that the worms in fact continue to spontaneously generate. The fact that some have been observed to hatch from eggs is in no way logically compelling evidence that all others do, and certainly those which frum yidden eat will be of the spontaneous type, as chazal have assured us.

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  48. If biological organisms worked according to the same laws as sub-atomic particles, you could drive your car at a brick wall and there'd be a chance that instead of hitting it, you'd disappear from one side and reappear on the other. Sub-atomic particles do this all the time!

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  49. Avi - it is not necessarily irrational to maintain laws even if erroneously based; it depends on the reason for doing so. Furthermore, I'm not saying that it's completely wrong to change the law; there is certainly merit to that argument, too, as long as it is for the correct reasons (i.e. not Rav Bleich's).

    Yehuda - love it!!!

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  50. "If biological organisms worked according to the same laws as sub-atomic particles, you could drive your car at a brick wall and there'd be a chance that instead of hitting it, you'd disappear from one side and reappear on the other. Sub-atomic particles do this all the time!"

    There is a chance that that will happen. There is also a chance that all the air in the room will move to one corner.

    The chance is incredibly small though, and you'd have to try more attempts than there are atoms in the universe to theoretically ever see it happen. I think the odds are even slightly better than monkeys randomly typing the words of Shakespeare.

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  51. You are without a doubt correct about spontaneous generation. Certainly, it does not happen and Chazal believed in it. I cannot understand how anyone can deny either one of these assertions.

    However, This is all irrelevent concerning the halachic implications involved. Even if Chazal believed in spontaneous generation(which I absolutely agree that they do) that would not cahnge the halacha in this specific case.

    The Gemmarah speaks about two species of worms that are found in fish. One is kosher the other is not. The one considered kosher is considered so because it is found embedded in the flesh of the host. The non-kosher species, however, is found in the entrails of the host and therefore is forbidden.

    The reason behind these rulings is certainly based on spontaneous generation, but those that are found in the entrails are clearly consumed and are therefore forbidden because they were consumed as opposed to being generated spontaneously.

    Now, the anisakis is found in both the entrails and in the flesh. If that is the case where did it come from? Or better, where would chazal have thought it came from. The only reasonable answer to this question would be that the consumed worms found its way into the flesh of the host from the entrails. Regardless of what Chazal thought regarding spontaneous generation, it would not have any bearing on this case and the worms would be forbidden to eat.

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  52. I will be addressing that in a future post. It's not my point here.

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  53. If biological organisms worked according to the same laws as sub-atomic particles, you could drive your car at a brick wall and there'd be a chance that instead of hitting it, you'd disappear from one side and reappear on the other. Sub-atomic particles do this all the time!

    This approach of adapting quantum scale phenomena to the observable world was exactly Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan explanation to 'rationally' explain the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea.
    It was cited most approvingly in Natan Slifkin's multiple editions of his book.

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  54. No, it was cited in Nosson Slifkin's book. Different guy.

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  55. I am a physicist and do understand Goldstone bosons quite well. i even oncetook a course in quantum field theory from Professor Goldstone. Except in some squishy metaphorical sense that has more to do with poetry than physics, they have nothing to do with spontaneous generation. It is true that, since they are massless, Goldstone bosons can appear spontaneously from the vacuum with arbitrarily small inputs of energy. So can other particles, except they may need to come in pairs to conserve quantum numbers and at least enough energy to account for the mass is required. But that has nothing to do with lice or nematodes. Actually it is possible, I suppose, for a louse anti-louse pair to appear from the vacuum given enough energy, but quantum mechanics does not only allow possibilities it assigns probabilities. The likelihood of a louse anti-louse pair appearing at some point in the lifetime of the universe, even given enough energy, is so close to zero that it is not worth considering.

    Quantum and relativistic physics as metaphor may be good for stimulating the imagination, but metaphor is a poor basis for understanding physical reality.

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  56. "The likelihood of a louse anti-louse pair appearing at some point in the lifetime of the universe, even given enough energy, is so close to zero that it is not worth considering."

    So you're saying there's a chance ;)

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