Sunday, April 7, 2019

Fatal Defect?

Last time we looked at a newsletter from Yeshivas Torah Moshe, featuring a Q&A with Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, he was talking about how Zionist shuls just talk non-stop during davenning and about how there is no reason to say a misheberach for the IDF. In the latest newsletter, Rabbi Meiselman makes an interesting theological claim about the human body. But first, a story.

I have an interesting scar on my abdomen. Many years ago, it was arranged that I would give a lecture at a certain shul in Los Angeles. A Syrian Jew who had signed up for the shiur pulled out a blade and knifed me in the stomach.

It was a good thing that he did so, because I was lying on his operating table at the time and he was saving my life. The previous day, I had been suffering from terrible pain. I was forced to cancel my lecture at the shul, and the Syrian, who had planned on hearing me speak, instead performed an emergency appendectomy on me.

Now let's get back to Rabbi Meiselman. After claiming that there is no legitimate scientific evidence for the universe being billions of years old, the next question posed to him was "According to the Torah, what is the point of the appendix and is it necessary?" Rabbi Meiselman replies as follows:
ANSWER: The biological world is vastly more complex than anyone realizes. Current scientific theory asserts that because humans evolved from other organisms, we have accumulated vestigial organs left over from non-human ancestors. Fifty years ago, it was thought that the spleen was such an organism. Splenectomies were done with casual ease. Now, we know that it has many important functions and is a major part of the immune system.

Hashem told Iyov, you can't even fathom the vast wisdom imbedded (sic) in the smallest creature. The Sifri in Haazinu says Hashem designed every aspect of the human body to function and achieve its purpose. There are no vestigial organs that evolved and got left inside us by accident. Everything is part of a total design.

Dovid Hamelech asked Hashem why he created spiders. Hashem gave him a simple example of how useful spiders are for Dovid Hamelech personally by having them weave a web in front the cave that Dovid was hiding in. When Shaul Hamelech’s men went searching for him, they saw the web woven around Dovid’s cave and figured it is useless searching it since the web made it obvious that no-one had been inside for a very long time.

The appendix performs a function in the body that we do not know. But we do know that Hashem made it part of the human body for a purpose.
An orangutan receiving an appendectomy
Rabbi Meiselman's response is deeply problematic. First is the misrepresentation of science. While decades ago there were scientists who considered various organs to be merely vestigial and therefore useless, few take that position today. The general view today is to be wary of pronouncing something to be vestigial. Furthermore, even if something is vestigial, this does not mean that it no longer has any use at all. It may still retain some of its original function or even have a new function. In the case of the appendix, it is thought to house beneficial bacteria and enhance immune functions.

But here's the thing. Yes, the appendix seems to have some minor benefits. On the other hand, it can also rupture and KILL you. After my own brush with death, I looked into it, and discovered to my shock that even nowadays, there are thousands of deaths annually from appendicitis that is not treated in time! And historically, the death rate must have been enormous.

The only reasons why doctors do not routinely remove everyone's appendix today are that (A) the surgery itself carries a certain degree of risk, and since appendectomies can be quickly done in the rare cases where they are needed, it is better not to do it unless there is call for it, and (B) the appendix may be useful for reconstructive surgery if other parts of the body fail. But if you lived in a time before modern surgery, and you had to choose between living your life with an appendix (and no possibility of it being removed) or living without one, it would be vastly better to choose living without one.

Whatever minor benefits the appendix has, these are certainly outweighed by the fact that it can kill you. Even today, people who go to live in the small research/military town of Villas Las Estrellas in Antarctica, where there is no easy way of reaching a hospital, have to get their appendix removed before they go.

The human body is an amazing thing. But it does not demonstrate that it was designed from scratch, with optimal design. Rather, it demonstrates that it developed from animals. That's why so many of us get lower back pain - because the spine was originally in a horizontal position. That's why we get goose bumps when we are cold or scared - because our animal ancestors had fur which would stand on end and keep them warm or make them look bigger to scare away predators. And that's why we have organs which have some benefits, but which can also go badly wrong and kill us.

There's no theological problem with any of that. As I discussed in The Challenge Of Creation, several 19th century theologians welcomed the theory of evolution, because it finally solved the problem of sub-optimal design. If God designed man from scratch, then these quirks are theologically problematic. But if God chose to develop man via a process of "creative wisdom" (to use Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch's description of evolution), via which He used laws of science to develop man from earlier forms, then these quirks are inevitable side-effects of the amazing creative process that was used.

The charedi community often professes great disdain for the fundamentals of modern science concerning the antiquity of the universe and biological evolution. On the other hand, with the exception of the anti-vaxxers, the charedi community usually professes great respect for modern medicine. The appendix - and in particular, the practical situation of going to Antarctica - is an interesting case where the two are inextricably linked. Would Rabbi Meiselman advise people in such a situation against having an appendectomy? If not, then it exposes the flaw in his worldview. Because if man was designed from scratch by the ultimate engineer, the advantages of an organ should outweigh its disadvantages.

106 comments:

  1. Why Pray for Tzahal-IDF:

    http://shilohmusings.blogspot.com/2016/04/guest-post-why-pray-for-idf.html

    How to Pray for Tzahal-IDF:

    http://shilohmusings.blogspot.com/2016/09/how-to-pray-for-tzahal-idf.html

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  2. Even if one posits, "The appendix performs a function in the body that we do not know. But we do know that Hashem made it part of the human body for a purpose."

    1-It doesn't follow that cutting off/out an infected body part is wrong or otherwise problematic.

    2-Perhaps a purpose Hashem has for man (currently) having an appendix is to give him appendicitis. Just as one should vaccinate appropriately before travel, an appendectomy before travel to Antarctica could be similar. I don't see this statement to which Rabbi Slifkin is reacting as inherently problematic.

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    1. OK, so don't posit that it must have a function and that the human body was perfectly designed. Say that there are potentially fatal defects and Hashem deliberately put them there to give Himself an easy way of killing someone.

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    2. Right the main purpose of the appendix was to have a ticking time bomb in our body

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    3. "That's why so many of us get lower back pain - because the spine was originally in a horizontal position."

      Have any studies been done to see whether jungle natives also suffer from lower back pain to the same extent?

      Perhaps its our unhealthy lifestyle? Written as I slouch on the sofa.

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    4. This doesn't follow at all. Where does R' Meiselman imply that a person shouldn't get an appendectomy when it's needed? Something went wrong when the body went out into the world; the appendix was infected or the like, and now it's dangerous. The most perfect design never needs outside repairs? You're making a huge leap here.

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    5. The point is that if you don't have the possibility of a modern surgical process, then you are better off without an appendix than with one.

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  3. I like that. Part of the design is to make a part whose only function is to fail. That truly brings greatness to the Creator.

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  4. * Seems to me that RM's point is basically correct (even if his info is not entirely current): There were organs that science understood to serve no purpose until fairly recently. Their purpose was later discovered.
    * From his theological perspective, he understands that we may assume the appendix, too, serves a purpose, even if science is not aware of it. They have been mistaken before and may be mistaken now.
    * Even if science now recognizes a purpose of the appendix, this is not necessarily its whole purpose - perhaps it plays a more important role than recognized.
    * The fact that it must sometimes be removed does not negate all of this. Obviously, a "perfect" body would never become ill at all. Clearly, at this point in time, the human body (and the world) is not meant to be "perfect". The point is that the organ is not purposeless.
    * Even IF the overall benefits of the appendix are indeed outweighed by the risk of appendicitis, it is possible that this is due to changes in our lifestyle. Perhaps in other eras it was not only purposeful but even, on a whole, beneficial. (I suspect this is true, for example, of our appetite levels - they once served to ensure we got sufficient nutrition, but now cause obesity).
    And perhaps it is still beneficial overall (in some unknown way) if one is in a place where emergency surgery is an option.

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  5. By definition if you want the most optimal design you are not going to be having more than one species.

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    1. Not really. You could not live at all without other species. Each fills a different niche and depend on each other.

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    2. Let alone the fact that there are different environments on Earth and the "optimal species" in one will be quickly extinct in another. Even within one environment, as the environment constantly changes, that one "optimal" species will quickly cease to be so. The best way to counter this fundamental reality of existence is random mutations and hopefully some work. The result is many species.

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  6. I was injured in the IDF. It caused a syndrome. The solution was to remove my first rib on both sides. They serve no function and removing them sovled the problem. I can still left weights with no limitations.

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  7. A couple better examples re "vestigal", though they can't kill you like an appendix: the pyramidalis muscle can help contract the linea alba, and plays a role in animals with tails - has no function in humans and indeed is missing in 20% of humans; and auricular muscles which control movement of ears and are useless in humans except for party tricks.

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  8. Yes, God made man with defects, that's why we have the Mitzvah of Bris Milah.

    No, man didn't come from animals - he was a creation perhaps similar to animals. The Torah says God created Adam. One who suggests otherwise, is merely subscribing to unproven fantastical theories.

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    1. @Kofer

      The Torah says we were in Egypt for 430 years, that Reuven had sex with Bilhah, and that Shlomo ha'melech committed idolatry. Therefore "One who suggests otherwise, is merely subscribing to unproven fantastical theories."

      The Torah either speaks literally or it doesn't. I don't think any branch of Orthodox Judaism takes every single word of Tanach literally. If so, why are we pushing so hard to literalize the creation stories when so much of their detail goes against the grain of modern day common knowledge and science ??

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    2. Chacham from the mah nishtaneh, every place that the Torah is not to be taken literally, chazal make note. If they don't make note, then you don't have the license to assume it doesn't mean literal. If you do assume such, you are doing so without license.

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    3. Right! That's why Kofer Hakol believes that the earth stands still and that the heart and kidneys are where the mind is housed.

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    4. I don't have the gall to call you the Rasha, but I guess we'll find out if you're the Tam or the She'eino yodeya...

      This is the crux of the issue, which was the intention of my comment.
      The fact that chazal change the literality of the Torah by its very definition demonstrates that the Torah is not to be taken literally on many occasions. Who are you to say that "EVERY place that the Torah is not to be taken literally, chazal make note". Where is your source for such a claim? Furthermore, where is it insinuated that one does not have license to understand parts of the Torah as non-literal if the topic at hand is not in the realm of halacha?
      And what about the words of chazal themselves? Are we meant to take everything they say literally as well? (Again, I'm not talking halachic matters here). I'm interested in your approach to this.

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  9. Rabbi Slifkin, have you read Rabbi Moshe Averick's "Nonsense of a High Order"?

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    1. Nope. But what I've seen about it does not excite me. Also, I once got the following comment on this blog:
      "Nathan Slifkin is a mvazeh Gdolei Torah and an ersatz Jew. Go play with your stuffed animals, that's something you're good at. Moshe Averick"

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    2. You know for sure it's him?

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    3. You don't know so an accusation is worthless and unethical.

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    4. I am just quoting a comment that was posted here. When someone posts a comment with a name, I have no reason to think that it is a fake name. There were also other comments submitted under that name. Of course it's theoretically possible that there are two Moshe Avericks who write bad Jewish polemics.

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    5. I wasn't saying anyone gave a fake name but how do you know this Moshe Averick is Rabbi Moshe Averick and more specifically the Rabbi Moshe Averick in question? Did he ever say it?

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    6. I'm thinking maybe I heard an Averick I know saying he wrote you.

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    7. In any event I have spotted only two things ftom this Moshe Averick as comments on your site. Unless you can provide more than just suspicion it's worthless speculation. You apparently can't bring yourself to say it's him. You could have asked the poster of these comments. He's been giving his name.

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    8. In another comment on your site is a comment by Nate Averick in 2016 and on the bottom he writes Moshe Averick RBS. Are you claiming Rabbi Moshe Averick has the name Nate?

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    9. I have no idea if Moshe Averick is the same person as Nate Averick. But there's only one Moshe Averick who appears on Google, and it's the same person who lives in Beit Shemesh and does appliance repair, and who wrote the book, and whose Facebook page has lots of very disparaging comments about Jews that he disagrees with. I think that it's very reasonable to presume that it's the same Moshe Averick who authored these comments on my blog.

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    10. I don't think so. I found this one who lives im Beit Shemesh.
      https://m.facebook.com/moshe.averick.5?lst=100003760711960%3A100022372546423%3A1554837775&fref=nf&pn_ref=story

      By contrast here is Rabbi Moshe Averick.
      https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/moshe-averick/

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    11. Another picture of the Facebook Moshe Averick in addition to the one I gave you at a Carlebach festival. Looks kind of funky to be a Rabbi. Where does Rabbi Moshe Avetick have time for his unmentioned electronic repair when he's having his mentioned teaching career? Why doesn't the Moshe Averick of Facebook mention anything of his authorship on it? Wow how unnecessarily modest.
      https://m.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=211416736280743&id=100022372546423&set=a.137310630358021&source=56

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    12. It's the same person!!! Look at the photos! Plus according the Beit Shemesh email lists, in order to get both appliance repair and the book, you have to dial the same cellphone number!

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    13. So do many family members look similar.

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    14. With all due respect - you are nuts.

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    15. That was uncalled for and not nice if you meant it seriously nor is it true just because you disagree with someone. If you were serious you owe me an apology now. Doesn't fairness apply to you too? I looked at the pictures. I was just saying that the pictures were not a hundred percent as far as I could see necessarily showing the same person.

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    16. @RDNS and @YA

      What's the problem here??? So what if the pictures are identical? So what if the phone numbers are the same? So what if the names are identical? So what if his previous comments match those on the blog? Our purpose in this world is to ignore anything involving common sense, to sweep the facts under the rug, and be "dan eis koyl ha'adam l'chaf zechus"! And in order to do so we have to pervert every bit of evidence that exists in order to come up with idiotic conclusions. Not only will God forgive us, He will give us a front row seat in Gan Eyden!!!

      LO-friggin-L

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    17. You apologize. The general public reading your insult yet after talking about disparaging comments would say you did wrong. Apologize or do you not recognize even Halacha and Hashkafa to put a check on your behavior? The puctures were not clear enough as far as I could see to say for sure it's him. I put a message on his Facebook page asking if it's him. I am qiock to forgive and forget.

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    18. You are right, I should not have called you nuts, and I unreservedly apologize. I should have said that it's nuts to claim that it's not the same person.

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    19. I wholeheartedly forgive you and also I forget the insult. Please firgive me if I wrote too harshly. Have a wonderful Pesach.

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    20. And no you shouldn't have said it's nuts to claim it's not the same person. People are not always recogniziable as the same person from picture to picture and one person can recognize the same person and another may not. It's happens enough. That's not called nuts. You were angry so then you said things that you then have to stick with from that point on? In any event I did not say it is not the same person. I was wondering about it. You simply were wrong to have said what you said. It would have been better to have simply apologized without further comment.

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  10. Rationalist Judaism said:

    “The Charedi community often professes great disdain for the fundamentals of modern science…”

    my response:

    Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan was an Orthodox Rabbi who lived in New York City from 1935 CE to 1983 CE. During his relatively short life, he wrote approximately 60 books about Torah topics, including the English translation of Yalkut Meam Loez, which is around 20 hardcover volumes.

    He was also a brilliant scientist, who was listed in THE WHO’S WHO OF AMERICAN PHYSICS.

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    1. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan is the on of the targets of R Meiselman's book. He is not representative of the typical Charedi outlook. That said, you are 100% correct that there any community is full of people with different opinions. That is why he said "often" and not "always".

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  11. Must probably a lot of the functions that it performed have become lacking in our Hyper Pharmaceutical medical intervention age. In regular normal natural environment it would play a much bigger role in the body's health and bacterial balance.
    Lest you say that the great scientists have made the world a better improved upgraded environment, then read this articles story that just broke after the amazing scientists and doctors tried to hide it: https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/world/deadly-germs-lost-cures-a-mysterious-infection-spanning-the-globe-in-a-climate-of-secrecy/ar-BBVFPi7
    Also read up on the mind-gut connection and the rise of superbugs, maybe vaccines isn't the great Savior you believe it is.

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    1. Vaccines prevent viruses, not bacteria. Superbugs are bacteria. They're two separate things.

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    2. not charedi,
      there are vaccines against viruses (eg measles) and there are vaccines against bacteria (eg pneumococcal pneumonia). they are both based on the same basic technology, stimulating antibodies against an antigen associated with the offending substance. superbugs include yeast as well as bacteria.

      a very charedi physician.

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    3. You're right, I forgot about those.

      I believe the rise of superbugs is due to the overuse of antibiotics rather than vaccines, no? That was the point I was trying to make.

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    4. In any event, EliG's point is a typical strategy given by detractors: because some new problems was created by modern science, therefore modern science is Wrong and Evil. It's true that superbugs are really bad... but measles and polio and pneumonia and meningitis and E.coli and salmonella and cholera and Shigella and many many other bacteria and viruses and also fungi and their infections are now managed or treated or cured and no longer cause the same misery that they used to. Sure, superbugs or whatever other "side effect" of modern medicine needs to be dealt with, but baby and bathwater!!

      By analogy, should we not use cars or trains or planes because of the increased frequency - and deadliness - of accidents?

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    5. No Yosef R my point was " In regular normal natural environment it - the appendix - would play a much bigger role in the body's health and bacterial balance."
      God created a perfect body to be fully healthy in a natural environment with a healthy diet.
      If something doesn't work properly its because of Scientist and doctors who don't know what causes true health!!
      Have you seen the Rambam in Hilchos Deihos perek daled that if you follow his healthy diet he guarantees you will live a long healthy life and never get sick!!
      Its all based on the heretical belief that we are all an accident of "evolution" and we have to fix it, if one believes that God created us then the science and medical fields would be a lot different.

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    6. As others have already pointed out, believing Hashem created us, and even that he did it in six days 5779 years ago, doesn't mean that He created a medically perfect world. That's ultimately pointless and useless. The world is perfect, and it contains a device, the appendix, by which He can kill a person. That's all part of the perfection, and it leads to a higher purpose.

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    7. Before the 1940s there was no such thing as a pharmaceutical, and the appendix still did next to nothing. That is where the idea came from that it does nothing. It is not a new idea. In fact, the new idea is based on new imformation, showing it does a little something. But by all means blame pharmaceuticals for all of life's problems. They have more evidence of benefit that any idiotic homeopathy the local vitamin store has dreamed up to drain your bank account.

      Of course I realize some of us are not too interested in evidence and live instead based on beliefs about things.

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  12. If God designed man from scratch, then these quirks are theologically problematic.

    Not at all. G-d chose to make us imperfect to stimulate us for efforts to preserve ourselves, not to feel ourselves as perfect invulnerable monsters, and seek G-d for help.

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    1. Glad to see that you disagree with Rabbi Meiselman. So no need to claim that the appendix is an important and beneficial organ, then.

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    2. Appendix has certain benefits. The fact that like other organs it can kill us chas v'sholom is not an argument for evolution.

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  13. The appendix is useful for adults too. No physician should want to remove your appendix unless needed. The amount of people who don't get appendicitis is about 100%. https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/why-do-we-have-appendix-purpose-discovered-reason-scientists-does-gut-bacteria-midwestern-university-a7524086.html

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    1. Like many others here, it appears that you didn't actually read the post.

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    2. I did but I can reread it.

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    3. The article I posted (https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/why-do-we-have-appendix-purpose-discovered-reason-scientists-does-gut-bacteria-midwestern-university-a7524086.html)
      says that the appendix is very important according to researchers. To the start of the 21st century it was called useless and now it is seen as very important.

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  14. To those who engage in elaborate hyper-speculations to justify what appears to be God’s obvious mistakes, you might contemplate Occam’s Razor. You might muse over men’s vestigial nipples while you ponder the solution.

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    1. Actually now we know about the reason men have nipples and it is not a mistake. We all start off female in the womb. We have the same blueprint in the beginning. There are other benefits that men and male fetuses can have from nipples.If you cease looking for an explanation that's not what's meant by Occam's Razor but certainly what the New Atheists do. They look for explanations but when inconvenient they will just say there's nothing to explain. Also they will come up with more complicated theories to avoid sompler ones if the simpler ones would suggest a lack of ultimate randomness at the very base of reality.

      https://m.ranker.com/list/why-men-have-nipples/laura-allan

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  15. While I disagree with R' Meiselman on most issues, I must come to his defense here, since RDNS is taking him up on what he doesn't say rather than on what he does say.

    R' Meiselman was asked a simple question: "What is the point of the appendix?" He answered that Hashem created everything in the human body for some beneficial purpose, and it doesn't matter if we don't understand it yet. (As RDNS points out, we do apparently understand something about beneficial bacteria.)

    To this RDNS responded that the appendix can also make you ill and even kill you, and these risks outweigh the small benefits. These facts constitute evidence for evolution as opposed to Hashem creating Man from scratch.

    When some commenters pointed out that the imperfection in the human body also serves a purpose - that of keeping us feeling our vulnerability and relying on Hashem to keep us safe rather than forgetting about Him and acting like invulnerable monsters, or perhaps to allow Hashem to give us yisurim for the purpose of spiritual awakening, RDNS replied that they are disagreeing with R' Meiselman as in that case the appendix need not be physically beneficial at all, and this is not what R' Meiselman said.

    Now, it is disingenuous to claim that R' Meiselman would disagree with those comments. He is a great believer in hashgacha pratis in its most orthodox chareidi interpretation, and he would be the first to claim that the physical vulnerabilities of the human body, from its susceptibility to cancer, through appendicitis and down to the common cold, are not bugs but features for spiritual purposes.

    The reason R' Meiselman didn't say this is because it is not what he was asked. He was asked about the physical purpose, and replied that it must have one. This is a fundamental difference between evolution and R' Meiselman's belief. Evolution may cause the existence of organs which are ENTIRELY vestigial or "evolutionary blind alleys", whereas IF Hashem designed man from scratch, then by virtue of His perfection (and by virtue of occam's razor, mentioned by one of the comments) He would not design organs which were entirely physically detrimental, but instead would build the neccessary vulnerabilities into organs which are beneficial in the normal course of life. Hence his belief (which RDNS factually agrees to) that the appendix does have some physical benefit (and it doesn't bother him if we don't know what it is yet, as science has been wrong before about the spleen).

    Now a word about the risks outweighing the benefits, as evidenced by the dangers of appendicitis versus the seeming ability to live a perfectly normal life without an appendix.

    The notion of weighing up risks versus benefits only makes sense if you believe that people are left up to the caprices of chance, in which case by all means have your appendix removed to avoid the chance of appendicitis. But R' Meiselman believes in strict hashgacha pratis (at least for Jews), meaning that there are no "risks", only the benefits! Hashem brings appendicitis upon those who deserve it, either as punishment or as an awakening - a spur to teshuva perhaps. If Hashem wants to give yisurim to someone who has had their appendix removed, He will simply visit them with a different illness instead. Conversely, someone who is not deserving of yisurim will not get appendicitis "by chance" just because they neglected to have it removed. (And I do believe that he would advise a Jew going to Antarctica not to do so.)

    So to sum up R' Meiselmans view, of course he believes that the vulnerabilities of human physiology are features not bugs, yet every organ must have a physical benefit since it was designed by Hashem, and the vulnerabilities are up to Hashems hashgacha, so risk-benefit analysis is futile, and is certainly not evidence for evolution.

    The above is all what I believe is R' Meiseman's view, not necessarily my own!

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    1. If vulnerabilities are a feature, then there is no need to posit any benefit to the appendix - it's just an easy way for Hashem to kill a person if needed.

      If Hashem can easily kill a person in lots of ways even when they have had their appendix removed - then there's no need for the appendix.

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    2. RDNS, did you read my comment properly or just skim through it?
      From R' Meiselman's perspective of denying evolution and claiming that Hashem designed mankind from scratch, why would He waste by including superfluous organs just for the purpose of punishment when He can (and certainly has in many other cases) just build the vulnerabilities directly into beneficial organs?

      And you yourself admit that medical science believes there are beneficial bacteria and immune system functions to the appendix, and that doctors are aware of the limitations of their current knowledge and are wary of declaring anything to be entirely vestigial! So although R' Meiselman perhaps misunderstood the latest scientific views as you point out, you admit that at the end of the day these views happen in practice to align with his!

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    3. While I don't support RDNS' conclusions in this post, I do think it's absolutely foolish to even entertain the notion that the appendix was created solely for spiritual reasons, to test, to show us our vulnerability, etc. Yes, indeed, these are things we should think about and help make us better, but to posit that the divine plan was only for this is nonsensical.

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    4. N8, looks like you share some visceralities with RMM. But I and others are on a different page. Maybe it has some relation to how much one factors the spiritual into ones awareness, and how much the physical should be complete without it - who knows?

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    5. @Chaim

      I believe deeply that Jewish practice is meant to be a spiritual endeavour, but not strictly a spiritual endeavour (hence why I used the word "solely"). To claim that something has ONLY a spiritual or kabbalistic basis is an approach that, in my humble opinion, is nonsensical and dangerously tends to negate the physical, and often historical, reality around us. The physical is the theatrical screen on which the image is displayed while the spiritual is the original projector, but you can't have one without the other, and whatever is on that screen has to match what's in the projector.

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    6. If Hashem can easily kill a person in lots of ways even when they have had their appendix removed - then there's no need for the appendix.

      Not sure if that would win the argument. Isn't there lots of variety in the way Hashem accomplishes one thing. It's almost unnecessary to give examples, but some seeds have wings, some burrs, some are ingested and later dropped with fertilizer, some explode out, one plant turns into a sort of ball and pulls out of the ground and rolls away, spreading seeds in a new place ….

      I'd think that variety helps us have more of a token of an inkling of how wise He is.

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    7. Saying that the appendix is there just so that God has a way to kill us is ludicrous. If one even wants to push aside the medical benefits of the appendix, there are a lot more logical and grounded approaches. And it doesn't paint a pretty picture of God either.
      What's more powerful is that we have organs within us that link us to the non-human world around us, thereby not setting us too apart from all of creation. Alternatively, it's a recognition that God created a world that is not static, and that our approach to societal matters evolve as well (all within the realm of respecting halacha of course). It should be a wake-up call to those who do everything they can to change the world around us to match Jewish life hundreds or thousands of years ago.

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    8. (I am lower case "chaim", not to be confused with upper case "Chaim" commenting below.)

      N8, ok, but you'll be left with many of Darwin's Kashehs on creation.

      To claim that something has ONLY a spiritual or kabbalistic basis is an approach that, in my humble opinion, ... dangerously tends to negate the physical, and often historical, reality around us.

      Don't know what your experiences are, but in my area this problem is non-existent. (We have other problems....) And anyway there's virtually no room for discussion of the soft science of what creates given problems.

      I suspect that the differences of opinion on this subject can be reduced to the differences between TIDE and TUM. Food for thought.

      Delete
    9. "N8, ok, but you'll be left with many of Darwin's Kashehs on creation."
      I am not following you.

      When you say "in my area this problem is non-existent" I am not understanding if you mean that this problem is non-existent irrespective of my comment you quoted (about things being ONLY spiritual), or that the problem is non-existent despite the fact that you believe things can be solely spiritual. Please clarify.
      Furthermore, whether this issue is non-existent "in your area" is not the point here. It's non-existent in mine as well. The point is that it is an issue in some sects of Judaism and that has a strong effect on the rest of Judaism.

      "there's virtually no room for discussion of the soft science of what creates given problems"
      Indeed, given problems are multifactorial. But when there's a misguided viewpoint that has a stronghold in the aetiology of those issues, then it warrants discussion.


      Delete
  16. A real scientist should point to actual *empirical studies* as to the effect of prophylactic appendectomies upon mortality.

    A simplistic polemicist in the Meiselman or indeed Maimoneodonian tradition is of course free to shoot from the hip and take wild confirmation biased guesses predicated on a world far simpler than it really is.

    My hypothesis is that the polemicist will not even display the slightest embarrassment that the most significant adverse effects of appendectomies are long term risks which continue long after surgery. He will ignore inconvenient evidence and fail to acknowledge mistakes.

    http://lmgtfy.com/?q=empirical+studies+as+to+the+effect+of+prophylactic+appendectomies

    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5209958/

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you define an organ as "vestigial" as meaning that having that organ removed creates no long term reduction in mortality, the scientific evidence shows that the appendix is not vestigial. Overall, even after eliminating risks associated with surgery, you are better of with an appendix then without one. This "rational Judaism" is no more committed to empirical truth than Charedism. People's Front of Judea versus Judean People's Front.

      Delete
    2. "Overall, even after eliminating risks associated with surgery, you are better of with an appendix then without one."

      Only because you can get it removed later if it become life-threatening. If you are in situation where you can't get it removed later (e.g. those mentioned in Antarctica), then the net of it is that you are better off without the appendix.

      Delete
    3. David Ohsie:

      The reason why this operation is done is that the appendicitis risk appears to rise from 0.13% per year per person to 9.4% in the Antarctic for reasons which aren't clear, and with limited evidence due to sample size.

      If you read the study, the long term complications of a missing appendix would be fatal without surgical intervention as well. You are very slightly less likely to need surgery again later to deal with small intestine blockage complications (1.5% over 14 years) than needing surgery for appendicitis (0.13% per year or very roughly 1.8% for 14 years); but the latter includes a cohort of patients for whom appropriate treatment could be non surgical but antibiotics - see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21550483). There's also an estimated 0.12% long term increased hernia complication rate, a 0.08% increased Crohn's disease rate, protective decrease of 0.06% in incidence of Ulcerative Colilitis.

      All are at the extreme low ends of any statistical significance. It's difficult to draw any firm conclusions and I stated my position too strongly, as did the self proclaimed Rationalist Jew.

      Delete
    4. @Hominid: The potential downsides are because of the surgery, not the lack of an appendix. While the study notes that 9.4%, it doesn't say that this is the reason for the surgery.

      Delete
    5. It's not credible that blocked intestines are directly caused by surgery carried out a decade before, and we start to get in the realm of the ridiculous of, for example, claiming that the aorta isn't important for human survival if it was magicked away and replaced with a non inflamammatory smoothly integrated equivalent. If nothing else an appendix seals the human intestine in a manner not prone to give rise to infection, scar tissue or inflammation and the benefit from that function approximately equals the increased risk of appendicitis.

      The apparent order of of magnitude hike in the rate of appendicitis in the Antarctic is bigger than any other relevant factor and you would be disingenuous to suggest that the study mentioned this fact but thought it irrelevant to the risk / benefit calculation.


      There's no evidence Rabbi Slifkin was aware of any of this.

      This whole post appears to be predicated on a lightly researched BBC popscience article rather than appraisal of the actual relevant evidence.

      Delete
    6. "It's not credible that blocked intestines are directly caused by surgery carried out a decade before". The cause of that is thought to be the surgery itself: "Following appendectomy, adhesions subsequently may cause a small bowel obstruction (SBO)." Most complications of this sort happen soon after surgery: "The greatest incidence of SBO occurred within 3 months postoperatively". (See graph there). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4863779/

      Delete
    7. "The apparent order of of magnitude hike in the rate of appendicitis in the Antarctic is bigger than any other relevant factor and you would be disingenuous to suggest that the study mentioned this fact but thought it irrelevant to the risk / benefit calculation."

      The paper you cited mentioned it because obviously if the rate was that high there, it would definitely be worth it, but it is not clear that this is not a statistical artifact, so study is still needed on whether prophylactic surgery is really a good idea.

      Delete
    8. Evolution itself says the appendix must serve a crucial function.

      "Researchers from Midwestern University traced the appearance, disappearance, and reemergence of the appendix in several mammal lineages over the past 11 million years, to figure out how many times it was cut and brought back due to evolutionary pressures.

      They found that the organ has evolved at least 29 times - possibly as many as 41 times - throughout mammalian evolution, and has only been lost a maximum of 12 times.

      "This statistically strong evidence that the appearance of the appendix is significantly more probable than its loss suggests a selective value for this structure," the team reports.

      "Thus, we can confidently reject the hypothesis that the appendix is a vestigial structure with little adaptive value or function among mammals." "
      source-https://www.sciencealert.com/your-appendix-might-serve-an-important-biological-function-after-all-2

      Delete
    9. David Ohsie: I'm not accepting your definition of "surgical" adverse events as all events which occur within 3 months of the operation. Of course if you break off part of the human body which ought to be there it is most likely to start going wrong soon after you break it; but that isn't because the operation was carried out incorrectly, and something was incised that shouldn't be; or because of infection caused by surgery.

      Your second comment was already made by me out of intellectual honesty "for reasons which aren't clear, and with limited evidence due to sample size." It's a striking result nevertheless.

      Delete
    10. The repeated emergence of the appendix suggests that it served/serves some function in mammals, not that it serve a function in every species that it remains in.

      Delete
    11. @Hominid: Even if done properly the surgery has risk. Small bowel obstruction is one risk.

      Delete
  17. I find the question strange...Just because the appendix has a purpose does not mean it has to have a benefit for all people and at all times.

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  18. Much of your criticism is based on unfounded extrapolation. You assume, without evidence, that the appendix was just as problematic for humans before the time of surgery as it is now, and was never worth the benefits it provides.
    This is laughable when you take into account how radically different our diet is today than of even 100 years ago. Without cross-cultural studies to prove that appendicitis was a constant common phenomenon throughout the history of the human diet, your critique has no basis.

    Rambam in Moreh Book III says we cannot lay the troubles humans cause themselves with their own destructive behavior on G-d's doorstep.

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  19. More wisdom from Rambam about design in nature and the human body in particuar.

    "Hear now what its true meaning is: He who produces a vessel must have had in his mind an idea of the use of that instrument, otherwise he could not have produced it. If, e.g., the smith had not formed an idea of sewing and possessed a knowledge of it, the needle would not have had the form so indispensable for sewing. The same is the case with all instruments. When some philosopher thought that God, whose perception is purely intellectual, has no knowledge of individual things, which are perceivable only by the senses, David takes his argument from the existence of the senses, and argues thus:--If the sense of sight had been utterly unknown to God, how could He have produced that organ of the sense of sight? Do you think that it was by chance that a transparent humour was formed, and then another humour with certain similar properties, and besides a membrane which by accident had a hole covered with a hardened transparent substance? in short, considering the humour of the eye, its membranes and nerves, with their well-known functions, and their adaptation to the purpose of sight, can any intelligent person imagine that all this is due to chance? Certainly not; we see here necessarily design in nature, as has been shown by all physicians and philosophers; but as nature is not an intellectual being, and is not capable of governing [the universe], as has been accepted by all philosophers, the government [of the universe], which shows signs of design, originates, according to the philosophers, in an intellectual cause, but is according to our view the result of the action of an intellectual being, that endows everything with its natural properties. If this intellect were incapable of perceiving or knowing any of the actions of earthly beings, how could He have created, or, according to the other theory, caused to emanate from Himself, properties that bring about those actions of which He is supposed to have no knowledge? David correctly calls those who believe in this theory brutes and fools. He then proceeds to explain that the error is due to our defective understanding: that God endowed us with the intellect which is the means of our comprehension, and which on account of its insufficiency to form a true idea of God has become the source of great doubts: that He therefore knows what our defects are, and how worthless the doubts are which originate in our faulty reasoning. The Psalmist therefore says: "He who teaches man knowledge, the Lord, knoweth the thoughts of man that they are vanity" (ibid. xciv. 10-11).


    This is the belief of most of our Theologians: and in a similar manner have the Prophets expressed the idea that all parts of natural products are well arranged, in good order, connected with each other, and stand to each other in the relation of cause and effect; nothing of them is purposeless, trivial, or in vain; they are all the result of great wisdom. Comp. "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches" (Ps. civ. 24); "And all his works are done in truth" (ibid. 4) The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth" (Prov. iii. 19). This idea occurs frequently; there is no necessity to believe otherwise; philosophic speculation leads to the same result; viz., that in the whole of Nature there is nothing purposeless, trivial, or unnecessary, especially in the Nature of the spheres, which are in the best condition and order, in accordance with their superior substance."

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  20. You find it odd that many Charedim disdain much of modern science, yet still profess great respect for medicine. I fail to see anything odd in the slightest about that. Does one agree with everything in one's choice of political party? Does one agree with every policy in his children's school? Does one agree with everything his rabbi says?

    I personally appreciate many achievements of modern science, but am also well aware that much of it, in many fields, is bogus and will be discredited in the next revolution of the cycle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Science is far from perfect, but modern medicine is based on scientific principles that don't change often, and aren't expected to. Sure, there are new techniques, and researchers don't know everything about every organ or plant and such, but choosing to follow your doctor's orders, which are based on known science, while showing disdain for the entire scientific community is contradictory.

      I also wouldn't be too quick to claim that "much of" modern science "is bogus and will be discredited." A few ideas and techniques, maybe, but only a small minority. The ignorance of science among charedim, who do disdain much of modern science, does not mean that science is usually wrong, because that's not true. I'll trust modern scientists and doctors, even if they occasionally make mistakes, over "alternative medicine" and "faith-based healing" and whatnot for the simple reason that modern science works more often than not, and far more often than other techniques (and it doesn't hurt to understand how it works, either). If you want to say that you don't understand science, that's fine; it's confusing, but there are resources out there. What's not fine is to completely disparage scientists and their ideas because it may contradict what you (general "you," not you in particular) believe. At the end of the day, scientific techniques either work or they don't, but the successes are too many to warrant full-on disparagement, which is far too common among charedim.

      Delete
    2. DF,
      Exactly which peer reviewed science do you consider bogus?

      Delete
    3. To even quibble with my simple comment - that not everything current science says is correct - shows how dogmatic the true believers in the religion of "science" have become. The Holy Scientists are infallible!

      Abe, I could easily point to entire fields of so-called science, ranging from alchemy and astrology in the past, to huge portions of social science today. But we can also speak of branches that may be based on kernels of truth, but have ranged into wild speculation. Paleontology, for example, which has been completely and totally revamped from the state of the field less than 30 years ago. Much of astronomy - for the majority of the 20th century astronomers were sure there was life on other planets. Now its been defensively qualified to "intelligent" life "forms", and yet there's still nothing. And I can speak of, but will avoid, the ever shifting predictions of "climate science."

      And what about medicine? If everything a doctor says is so reliable, why do we have second opinions? Even RNS acknowledges above that the medical view on the appendix has changed. He could have said the same thing about tonsils. And how about lobotomies, once all the rage in psychiatric treatment?

      You can easily write whole books on this subject. Point is, science is just like everything else. Some of it is true, some of it bogus. So to recap my one and only point: there's nothing at all strange about Charedim accepting parts of it and rejecting others. Any intelligent person should do the same. כבדהו וחשדהו

      Delete
    4. DF: You're misstating the arguments against your position. Nobody claimed scientists were infallible. Nobody denied that they make mistakes and that scientific positions have been refuted. Yes, there are different opinions, but that doesn't make the whole concept of "science" bogus. In fact, according to that line of reasoning, the entire Torah is wrong, because people disagree about how to interpret it. See how that works?

      The fact remains that the scientific process works, and part of that process is that certain arguments and theories will be refuted, while others will be proven correct (and that's how science works: theories are formulated based on current information, and those theories are reevaluated once new information becomes available; your arguments about astrology and other life forms only prove this point). So, to address your main point: charedim do not simply accept parts of it and reject others, they reject the entire process (kind of like what you're doing here). One can accept that certain theories are questionable or inconclusive while still respecting the process and understanding that people are trying to refine those positions. Instead, charedim disdain everything about science and the people who study it just because they disagree with parts of it or it contradicts what they wish to believe. So, yes, it is strange and disingenuous that they only pick the parts they like while disparaging everything about it.

      Delete
    5. Not Charedi - I don't think we're actually arguing, or if we are, we are arguing about things impossible to prove. The crux of it all is your contention that charedim reject the entire process of science. I don't agree with that premise, and so we must come to a תיקו.

      Delete
    6. DF: Alchemy and astrology were pre-scientific. They were not based on repeatable experiment. Modern science was not invented until somewhere the time of Galileo who was one of the first modern scientists. At that point, the a lot of old "knowledge" was swept away because the new method (still employed today) of doing repeatable experiments was so superior when it came to empirical knowledge.

      This is not just prejudice towards what is modern. When it comes to mathematics, the ancient methods turned out to be 100% correct and the teachings of, for example, Euclid were continued and extended and not overthrown (in contrast to the physics of Aristotle) So your examples of alchemy and astrology actually strong evidence against your thesis.

      You have some sources for your claims about Paleontology? I think that they are completely wrong, but let's see the basis for your claims.

      Delete
  21. This post gave me goosebumps. Makes me think that the purpose of goosebumps is so that I can get that tingly feeling and encourage me to share that excitement with others. Nothing vestigial about that!

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  22. Rabbi Slifkin, how do you deal with the Talmud in Chagigah regarding not 'looking' or exploring what was before creation? If there are dinosaur bones dating back (as you claim) to before creation, wouldn't it be prohibited to explore such things? Even trying to figure out how creation happened such as the big bang theory, seems to clearly violate the Talmud's law against exploring such things.

    As an aside, of what value is it to know how old the universe is or how it evolved? Isn't that just pure theoretical speculation with no practical goal or purpose.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @Chaim

      "how do you deal with the Talmud in Chagigah"
      This looks like an opening to a great discussion.
      As always, it would be best to quote the exact source of what you're talking about instead of loosely referring to"the Talmud in Chagigah". Nothing in Torah is simple and it always deserves to be fleshed out appropriately, especially a topic such as this. Please quote the pertinent mishnah, and associated gemara of your choice, and let's take it from there.

      "If there are dinosaur bones dating back (as you claim) to before creation"
      Does RDNS say that dinosaurs were created before God created the world? If so, please quote where he says that. If not, why do you assume that "before creation" isn't referring to before day 1???

      "what value is it to know how old the universe is or how it evolved... no practical goal or purpose"
      Is the pure understanding of God's world of no value?
      And how far do you draw the line on a question like that: Of what value is understanding anything in history?

      Delete
    2. @Chaim

      Will the real talmid chacham please stand up

      Delete
    3. @N8ZL
      I noticed you love debating!

      Delete
    4. @Chaim

      I don't see it as debating, but as learning. I think the quote from Chagigah is an interesting one and it deserves proper attention, instead of being loosely quoted. I often find that people quote Torah without ever having seen the source, never mind not even knowing its true location. I was hoping it wasn't the case with you.

      I noticed you love ignoring main points of the discussion! lol

      Delete
  23. How could dinosaurs be created "before creation"? Gd created them, killed them off, waited a few hundred million years, then created man. If that's a crazy way to understand things, well, so be it.

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  24. Rabbi Slifkin, this isn't directly related to the article, bit would you please answer this question for me: We know the Hashem created an organism known as the Leviathan, which came in male and female form. Had they been able to reproduce they would have filled the oceans and destroyed the world. Rashi in Bereisheis brings this excerpt from the Gemara as divrei agada. If you believe it to be strictly allegorical then fine. But even in an allegory why would Hashem create something he would have to destroy, isn't the whole world perfect? Evolution would not be relevant here so I was wondering what you have to say on the topic, or if you can refer me to something you've written on it .

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    Replies
    1. If Kabbalah speaks to you, the Kabbalists have a lot to say on the matter.

      Delete
    2. @Brian

      "Rashi in Bereisheis brings this excerpt from the Gemara as divrei agada. If you believe it to be strictly allegorical then fine."
      "Then fine" implies that it's acceptable to see this as allegory, but that one should ideally view it as literal???

      "But even in an allegory why would Hashem..."
      When one blurs the lines between allegory and real life, an approach that is unfortunately one that plagues the orthodox world, they are then forced to offer acrobatic approaches to the misplaced logic they have thrust upon the allegorical insight, which often make matters even more complicated. Allegory is meant to be just that: allegory. It is not meant to be a basis for questioning or applying to physical reality, nor is it meant to have sound logic decipher it.

      A good starting point is the Rambam's introduction to perek ha'cheilek of sanhedrin. It's quite long, s if you're not up to reading the whole thing then just read up until the part where he categorizes the 3 different types of approaches of understanding chazal, and you'll learn quite a lot.

      Hope that helps.

      Delete
  25. Rabbi Slifkin, have you ever read any of the material published by young earth creationist? I haven't seen you address any of the numerous materials that they have published on this topic.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Whatever minor benefits the appendix has, these are certainly outweighed by the fact that it can kill you

    If the comment http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2019/04/is-he-trying-to-kill-someone.html?showComment=1554676238801#c2727852124377537646 claiming that virtually 100% of people don't get appendicitis is correct, then the correct way to frame the question is, does {the billion-times-over accumulated minor benefits of the appendix that everyone(?) has} outweigh {the tremendous damage that hardly anyone has}?

    This might leave a different question, why did Hashem create the appendix if after all in rare situations (within the total scheme of things) it is deadly? But that's not the original question, and is just in the category of why are there diseases, why is there pain, etc.

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  27. A wake up call from the Creator to all the doubters of His wisdom. Please realize that all your "great scientific opinions" is in truth like a imbecile talking!!

    https://nypost.com/2019/05/09/parkinsons-is-3-times-more-likely-if-you-have-appendix-removed-study/
    Must enlightening part of the article "These studies have led many experts to believe that the appendix, long thought a superfluous vestige organ, may actually play a role in fighting infection after all."

    ReplyDelete

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