Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Penfold's Perspective

Recently, after receiving a particularly large amount of criticism, I wrote a post titled "Isn't It Lashon Hara? Do I Have Noble Motives? And What Do I Hope To Accomplish?". I described the purpose of my posts, and I also requested readers to write comments explaining why they appreciate this forum. One person sent in a particularly lengthy explanation, and so I decided to reproduce it here. The author has unfortunately but understandably chosen to stay anonymous, and chose the pseudonym "Penfold."


I've followed R. Slifkin's output closely for the last fifteen years or so, such that it is not easy for me to summarize all the benefits that I have derived from this blog. But since he's asked, I can hardly refuse.

If there is one overarching theme to R Slifkin's approach to Judaism, it's taking reality seriously. We've learned a lot about the history of the universe over the past couple of hundred years, and any attempt at intellectual seriousness requires an honest appraisal of these findings.

What is often underappreciated by those in the rejectionist camp is that the scientific endeavor is long past simply positing theories regarding the past; it can in fact reliably make predictions as to what we can expect to discover across a huge range of fields. R. Slifkin stands for an Orthodoxy that can make sense of this without simply positing “Last Thursdayism”, whereas his opponents provide us with few, if any, tools for doing so. To take one small example, the revolution in deciphering ancient DNA over the past decade, led by (among others) R. Avi Weiss's nephew David Reich of Harvard, has been simply breathtaking. We're finally learning when and where different sub-species of human interbred and we are now able to paint an increasingly granular picture of how homo sapiens spread across the globe over the last sixty thousand years. While perhaps not without its difficulties, R. Slifkin's approach allows for an integration of this knowledge into one's outlook. Conversely, from what I've seen, his opponents have almost nothing useful to say about the astonishing mosaic, with all of its predictive value, that these scientific breakthroughs have painted.

In a more minor key, R. Slifkin’s contributions lie not merely in his non-literal approach to the first chapters of Bereishis, but in providing license to view the terms used in the Torah, such as the “rakia”,  in the context of the worldview of its recipients, without the need to unconvincingly posit that they in fact refer to features of the universe revealed by recent scientific findings.

Furthermore, I've found R. Slifkin’s work in assembling the justifications for maintaining our halachic system without a need to accept Chazal’s factual assessments to be of immense value: a perusal of the (excellent) Talmudology website shows how closely entwined Chazal’s understanding of metzius (in daf after daf of Shas) was with commonly held notions of the time. Simply insisting that this must all be disregarded in favor of a combination of forced explanations and shoulder shrugging does little to move the discussion forward, whereas R. Slifkin tackles these issues head on.

On a rather different tack, R. Slifkin’s sharp critique of Charedi society is useful precisely for reasons not often appreciated by those outside of it. In terms of internal rhetoric, Charedi instructors, at least in the yeshivos I learned in, have little reticence in harshly criticizing other philosophies and communities, whereas those promoting the spiritual advantages of non-Charedi approaches are often far more circumspect in criticizing those to their right. This frequently leaves inquisitive Charedim in a position where they may, for example, find one aspect or another of R. Aharon Lichtenstein’s Torah U’Maddah oeuvre enticing. But when weighing that up against the profound (often substantive) deficiencies of non-Charedi Orthodoxy that they have been conditioned to be immensely sensitive to, they are left with the sense that, when it comes to the advantages of Torah U’Maddah or other virtues of non-Charedi Orthodoxy, the “game’s not worth the candle”. What may often come across as unremitting negativity towards the Charedi world on R. Slifkin’s part is actually a useful counterbalance in illustrating that Charedi approaches have significant societal and spiritual costs as well as benefits, costs that Charedi media and literature are typically rather reticent to discuss.

None of this means that I feel the need to agree with everything R. Slifkin writes, or that I am convinced that he has provided the ultimate resolution to every question he takes on. After all, if rationalist Orthodoxy is to have any pretense of being worthy of its name, it can hardly mandate the belief that one individual has all the answers. But in providing a robust exposition of a coherent and fruitful Orthodox worldview, R. Slifkin does sterling work, day in, day out, and for that I am deeply grateful.

102 comments:

  1. "To take one small example, the revolution in deciphering ancient DNA over the past decade, led by (among others) R. Avi Weiss's nephew David Reich of Harvard, has been simply breathtaking. We're finally learning when and where different sub-species of human interbred and we are now able to paint an increasingly granular picture of how homo sapiens spread across the globe over the last sixty thousand years."

    Personally, I draw a large distinction between acknowledging the age of the universe and the types of life forms living during those epochs and positing natural selection as a mechanism for evolutionary development. Aside from being absurd on its face, there is virtually no evidence for it, just lame gestures in the general direction.
    Just my own two cents.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aside from being absurd on its face, there is virtually no evidence for it

      That's both an argument from incredulity and a blatant denial of mountains of evidence. You're a good little science denier.

      Delete
    2. Weaver, I have a question for you. How many university level courses in biology (or science) for that matter have you taken? And be honest about this. How much scientific laboratory and / or field research have you conducted? How many peer reviewed papers in the sciences have you published?

      I would assume you would be dismissive of someone who might posit a Talmudic interpretation if that same person did not have the requisite knowledge / expertise in Talmud and its many supporting texts? And yet here you are, with what I suspect is little background in science or its philosophy providing grand critiques of its practices and understanding of nature. Even the most practiced scientist is humble in the face of nature and its mysteries which is why they work so hard to master a small understanding of just a part of those mysteries; yet here you are, dismissive as always (Yes I have read some of your other sad posts on this blog) without I would assume any real expertise to back your arguments up. Some people just talk; others talk intelligently, based on a lifetime of study and practice. You are obviously the former. Maybe best if you go back to some Haredi newspaper / blog etc so you can feed on your own confirmation biases.

      Delete
    3. @Weaver, you obviously never read Darwin's Origin of Species.

      Delete
    4. That is why some religious people say evolution was Divinely directed. This may be Rav Dr. Slifkin's position.

      Delete
    5. Please could you post a link to this research, would be interested to read further

      Delete
    6. Avraham, or it is also possible that G-d pre-programmed the laws of nature to direct evolution. This would account for G-d's seemingly limited involvement. But this is only speculation. In any event, the latter view does not dilute religion at all.

      Delete
    7. Dave - see the book discussed in this Wikipedia entry: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Who_We_Are_and_How_We_Got_Here

      There are videos of his lectures on YouTube too:
      https://youtu.be/fHdCuhYRHqo

      Delete
    8. avi and JD,

      you are disparaging weaver's scientific acumen for no good reason since he makes an excellent point. positing natural selection as the mechanism for evolutionary development is very problematic from a scientific perspective. first of all, it is essentially not falsifiable. popular responses to issues such as the peacock's tail, that are commonly accepted among biologists (for those readers unfamiliar with the question of the peacock's tail, google it, it will broaden your understanding of evolution), demonstrates this. second it is impossible to present it as anything more than speculation (although it is speculation that seems intuitively reasonable). to proceed beyond the stage of speculation we would need to be able to quantify the cost and benefit of any change in phenotype, something which we simply don't have the tools to do. in other words, natural selection posits that evolution "chooses" the most competitive trait (among the available options), and how do we know that the particular trait chosen for was the most competitive option? because natural selection chose it.

      avraham and turk hill,

      what you are implying is intelligent design, something that i imagine NS does not want to be associated with, as it is not respectable in scientific circles (NS-if i'm wrong about that please correct me). if one accepts ID, then what's the point of evolution? where's the controversy? some form of ID driven evolution is implied by many traditional commentaries to bereshit (RMBN, RDK) and is explicit in the malbim. if one accepts ID rather than natural selection as the engine driving evolution, there is no conflict between bereshit and evolution (except perhaps the timetable). that's why so many bible accepting christians (and some jews) are attracted to ID.

      signed: a charedi with a secular education

      Delete
    9. Darwin isn't the last word on these things. I hear Simulation Hypothesis is winning over people even like Richard Dawkins.

      Delete
    10. Wow, the snide and nasty tone of many of the responses reveal that there may be a lot more than scientific dispassion at play here!

      Just a couple things first:

      "That's both an argument from incredulity and a blatant denial of mountains of evidence. You're a good little science denier."

      Avi, do you usually adopt terminology from the hard left which tries to draw verbal power from the phrase "holocaust denier"? Just wondering.

      JD - Sorry, I'm not charedi, and I'm pretty sure Sir Francis Crick and Kurt Gödel weren't either. But they both won Nobel Prizes, which is more than can be said for you. (If it matters, I do have a 4-year degree from a good university. In any event, I am free to express my opinion regardless.)

      Some general follow-up:

      I believe in scientific evidence, which is why I believe in an ancient universe and do not deny the existence of the fossils found in their strata - because there is solid evidence for it.

      However, I think gradual evolution by natural selection is unconvincing for many reasons, and even Rabbi Slifkin himself has agreed that explanations given by natural selection are often strained.

      1. There is no Darwinian fossil record showing a gradual evolution from species to species, and scientists have long ago stop trying to fill the gaps in the fossil record. On the contrary, we have events like the Cambrian explosion, which science - let alone Darwin himself - has no explanation for. True speciation (not moths changing their wing color) has little evidence going for it.
      2. To consider the almost unfathomable complexity of the human body and look for an explanation of it in - get this - chance, is laughable. Wouldn’t you look for a designer or higher intelligence? That the trillions of cells in the human body essentially function as supercomputers is due to blind luck? Seriously? Did the DNA code write itself? At least Francis Crick had the honesty to invent the theory of panspermia instead of natural selection. (Although I will admit that Crick did not know as much about DNA as do Avi, JD and Turk Hill.) It seems like evolutionary biologists are always positing theories about what could have or might have happened but never seem to stop and consider if it makes sense that that’s how it actually happened.
      Biologists stick with natural selection because they don’t have a better working theory. Of course, anything involving metaphysics is by definition outside their realm, but they should at least acknowledge the weakness of what they have. And, pace Kant, you won’t find an origin explanation of a system from within that system – it by definition ultimately must lie outside of it.

      Delete
    11. Putting all of your eggs in the evolution basket would seem risky. It assumes we know all of the answers right now. For the past 1000 years there are other very great rabbis who also tried to align tanach mythology to the science of the day, and it looks quite silly in retrospect. Hmm. Didn't Maimonides do exactly that?

      Delete
    12. I tried to be rational when i was in college and follow the organization for orthodox jewish scientists. the problem is that their troops are generally in retreat. when you listen to the science long enough, it's not clear that there's room for G-d in there at all, and then, just, why bother. So why is G-d rational when science says it's just not necessary. I do not understand the orthodox rationalist viewpoint that is able to thread that needle, somehow.

      Delete
    13. @Weaver

      I don't think you're understanding Crick's perspective correctly. He doesn't posit panspermia "instead of natural selection", but rather to explain the initial origin of microbial life on Earth, which we don't yet have a good explanation for.

      I can recommend the book "Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry Coyne, which does a good job of tying together the multiple threads of evidence that support evolution by natural selection. If anything, on the molecular biology side it's a bit outdated now (it was published about 10 years ago) but it is still a good read, especially given your concerns about fossils and "speciation".

      The book "Who We Are and How We Got Here" referenced in the original post is a very good introduction to the study of ancient human DNA and the tracing of human lineages by genomic analysis. This is an extraordinarily rapidly changing field, so much so that the book is also not quite up-to-date even though it was published in 2018. But it is the best overall summary, short of going into the primary literature.

      Delete
    14. positing natural selection as the mechanism for evolutionary development is very problematic

      Good thing scientists don't do that, then, isn't it? The mechanism is genetic mutation. Natural selection is just an explanation for why some mutations survive and some do not.

      in other words, natural selection posits that evolution "chooses" the most competitive trait (among the available options)

      That is false. Natural selection is an explanation for why some traits survive and some do not. It does not claim that any particular trait is optimal for any definition of optimal.

      do you usually adopt terminology from the hard left

      Do you often ask irrelevant and politically-charged questions?

      There is no Darwinian fossil record showing a gradual evolution from species to species

      Nothing to do with natural selection.

      To consider the almost unfathomable complexity of the human body and look for an explanation of it in - get this - chance, is laughable.

      Argument from incredulity.

      Biologists stick with natural selection because they don’t have a better working theory.

      Are you conflating natural selection with evolution? One is a hypothesis and one is a theory with plenty of direct observations to back it up.

      Putting all of your eggs in the evolution basket would seem risky.

      I don't know which eggs you are referring to, but evolution happens. We can directly observe it. If you refer to speciation, you are correct that it's merely a hypothesis at this point.

      Delete
    15. "Personally, I draw a large distinction between acknowledging the age of the universe and the types of life forms living during those epochs and positing natural selection as a mechanism for evolutionary development."

      You're avoiding the crucial point: Forget about evolutionary mechanisms, what about common ancestry?

      Delete
    16. its easy to make maps of human development. i'd like to see an explanation of how a single cell managed to get going. there are so many interconnected and interdependent systems going on there that I simply don't believe this happened at random. it can't. all the evolution books ignore this stage and focus on the later stages.

      Aside from the fact that has already been pointed out here that the fossil record actually shows a rapid species appearance without any intermediate forms, exactly the opposite of what evolution would predict.

      Delete
    17. Actually, the fossil record shows the opposite of what a literal creationist would predict.

      Delete
    18. This is my replies to both Weaver and Avi

      Weaver. Typical off track statement. What does Crick and Godel have to do with this argument? But then again I didn’t expect anything really coherent from you. Yes you can express your opinion but a 4 year college degree which has no connection to the topic at hand (I suspect) makes you an amateur.
      Now to deal with some of your points.

      1.Yes palaeontologists ARE most definitely filling in the so called gaps. I will give you just one incredibly well documented example. The fish to amphibian transition. There have literally been hundreds of papers and many good fossils that document this transition. There are even popular works that available to the layman.

      2.As for the complexity argument, you would be well advised to study up on evolutionary-development (Evo-devo) studies as well as early DNA studies. They have a lot to say about these issues. In fact, the so-called complexity that you complain is simpler when you consider embryology and control genes that monitor the whole process.

      3.Do you even know what a SCIENTIFIC theory is? Your use of the term is not correct.

      You don’t want to accept these ideas. Fine. I know, based on your previous postings that arguing with you is a waste of time. But I will not allow nonsensical claims to go unchallenged. It might be good as I stated inn my previous post that you actually acquire the necessary expertise before wading into such a complex subject.

      Now Avi, the reason I am disparaging his scientific acumen because he does not have the background to make such claims, and his points are far from excellent. I will deal with some of the points you raise here.

      Natural selection is entirely falsifiable and have been demonstrated via lab experiments and by fossil study. Your charge comes in part from Popper who made that same claim about natural selection and then retracted it after he was shown to be wrong. More than that some philosophers of science have argued that the idea of falsifiability may not even apply (in the narrow Popperian sense) to historical sciences such as evolution and paleontology. Your use of the Peacock’s tail is wrong as it is very good example of both sexual selection and natural selection and has been documented as such in the scientific literature. I have no idea which sites you are referring to on google, but probably they are anti-evolutionary to begin with, which seems to be a bit biased.
      You might actually try and read papers that don’t confirm your own biases. We most certainly do have the tools to know which phenotypes are most successful as they are those that lead to reproductive success. Certainly if the environment does change that will affect the variation upon which it works and that reproductive success will change. Underlying your claims here is that by showing one supposed anti-evolutionary example, you have now falsified evolutionary theory sounds rather smug. Science does not work like that. No well-established theory totters just because one brings a supposed counter example that supposedly falsifies it. And I will ask you the same question as I asked Weaver, what science background do you have in biology? You use some of the lingo, but what hard research have you done? Strong claims should be backed by strong credentials and even stronger accomplishments. More than that it is a fools argument to use religious reasoning which some in the religious community do to attack evolution. Religion deals with metaphysics and does not have the tools to “falsify” the claims of science which are based on an examination of how nature operates. The two world views do not mix, (which frightens some in the religious community as they want to use their own superior claims to quash its rival. In fact there is no rivalry as they are two different ways of thinking). Now we can go on like this forever but I wholly reject yours and Weavers arguments. They are weak and unconvincing.

      Delete
    19. JD,

      although you address yourself to avi, you are referring to my arguments so i assume that is an oversight. you asked if i had any professional biology background. as it happens i do (an MD from an american medical school), but i think that is an irrelevant detail, an argument stands or falls on it's merits, not on the authority of the one who made it.
      Popper may be a terribly clever fellow, but i am making the argument of natural selection being unfalsifiable, on my own.

      your point about some philosophers questioning the absolute necessity of falsifiability is correct, but certainly you would agree that if indeed it can not be falsified, that weakens it's power as an idea considerably.

      i don't know what you mean by "Natural selection is entirely falsifiable and have been demonstrated via lab experiments and by fossil study". i can't think of a fossil study that could even theoretically falsify the idea of natural selection, and i would appreciate it if you could explain to me (i mean that sincerely, no sarcasm) what type of lab experiment you are referring to.

      now to your main point: the peacock's tail is not a single (alleged) counterpoint to natural selection, it is simply a representative example of an entire genre of similar biological phenomenon. in his book The Selfish Gene, dawkins cites numerous examples of such phenomena, and many more can be found throughout the zoology literature.

      i would like to lay out the argument in a simple fashion for those readers that are less familiar with biological jargon, so please don't be offended JD, i'm not talking down to you. it goes like this:
      1. the peacock has an incredibly long and unwieldy tail. at some point it's ancestors didn't, so this is a trait that evolved in the peacock.
      2. the tail does not confer any apparent survival advantage to the individual peacock, and has obvious disadvantages (eg. harder to escape from predators), so why would nature select for this trait? in other words, why would the genes for longer tails survive when competing against those with shorter tails?
      3. a possible explanation is sexual selection, peahens prefer to mate with long tailed peacocks.
      4. question returns, why did the gene in peahens to prefer long tailed mates survive, when competing against those females that were not attracted by long tails? (since the genes of those that prefer a long tail are at a disadvantage since their male offspring are less likely to survive).
      5. a popular answer is that like dangerous behavior, long tails are attractive precisely because of the disadvantage that they confer. a long tailed male is advertising how strong/fast/alert/etc. he must be as he has managed to survive despite the disadvantage. therefore his progeny is more likely to survive as well, and the gene for preferring long tailed males spreads through the female population.
      so far so good, standard natural selection, here's the problem:
      if i predict ahead of time that natural selection will eradicate the gene for the long tail because of the disadvantage that it incurs, there are two possibilities, either that turns out to be true, or it is false.
      if true, natural selection has been demonstrated, since my prediction occurred, but if false natural selection has still been demonstrated, since by it's very disadvantage, the tail induces an advantage.

      that is the very definition of an idea that can't be falsified, and is very problematic scientifically speaking.

      i had difficulty understanding the last part of your comment re religious reasoning and metaphysics. i happen to be religious, but nothing i wrote was based on that, and my arguments could just as easily have been made by an atheist.

      a charedi with a secular education

      Delete
    20. RDNS,

      "You're avoiding the crucial point: Forget about evolutionary mechanisms, what about common ancestry?"

      what's the problem with common ancestry? how does that conflict with a literal simple reading of bereshis? all it says is that plants came forth from the earth, fish from the water/mud, and animals from the earth. it says nothing about the mechanism, or how many generations or iterations they went through before reaching their final form. since nothing is stated, any proposed mechanism is as good as any other, and none conflict with the literal reading of the pesukim.
      unless you are bothered by fish having their origin in the water and plants arising from the earth. but in that case, why not assume that abiogenesis happened twice?

      natural selection on the other hand is much more problematic, since it implies that there is no plan, and everything is random (from the perspective of purpose, obviously it is not random in the sense that every affect has a cause).

      signed: acwase

      Delete
    21. “You're avoiding the crucial point: Forget about evolutionary mechanisms, what about common ancestry?”
      The short answer – I have no idea, but it wasn’t powered through natural selection. There is simply no viable evolutionary mechanism and viable fossil record to support it. It’s not enough to say “Hey, whales and humans both have similar skeletal structures in their forelimbs – *somehow* whales turned into humans through pure, dumb luck.” The burden of proof would then be to explain and demonstrate, in great detail, exactly how that happened – “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, as our atheist friend Carl Sagan once observed.
      What we have is (a) an ancient Earth (b) a scattering of fossils progressing from simple to complex embedded in the geological strata (including a seemingly random Cambrian explosion) (c) utterly mind-boggling and awe-inspiring biological life of stunning complexity. Darwinian evolution states this this all essentially happened by accident. Even if we had the necessary millions (billions?) of fossilized transitional forms, it would be a tall order. And we don’t.

      Delete
    22. JD - I will ignore your angry, rambling, diatribe and only note that, with regard to your obsession with credentials, you don't need have to have a PhD in theoretical physics to recognize that, for example, positing infinite parallel universes is a pretty far out theory and unlikely to be true.

      Delete
    23. 2. the tail does not confer any apparent survival advantage to the individual peacock

      That's a layman's (and perhaps an ignoramus's) view of both evolution and natural selection. A trait need not aid in survivability to be "selected". What the idea of natural selection says is that traits which are harmful will be selected against. There is also the idea (not sure if it's part of natural selection) that evolution only "cares" about getting a species to the point of breeding the next generation. If a peacock's tail helps attract a mate, it is beneficial from the perspective of evolution, even if it has downsides with respect to predation. The idea of natural selection is that survival of the individual is utterly meaningless, and all that matters is survival of the species.

      The short answer – I have no idea, but it wasn’t powered through natural selection. There is simply no viable evolutionary mechanism

      Again with the argument from incredulity and the denial of evidence. You're a broken record on this topic. Why not just admit you have a religious prejudice which leads you to ignore decades of research and demonstrable reality?

      Delete
    24. @Weaver

      You should really read the books I recommended in my earlier post (especially the one by Coyne), which would help clarify some misconceptions you have about how evolution works.

      Delete
    25. Weaver, I understand where you're coming from and in a large part agree with you. Let me share how I view things, and perhaps you will get a different perspective. You write

      Aside from being absurd on its face, there is virtually no evidence for it, just lame gestures in the general direction.

      I agree that saying people come from whales or monkeys via natural selection sounds absurd. I don't know how old you are, but you have to realize that for most of the (non-chareidi) millennial generation, natural selection isn't absurd at all. It's a foregone conclusion, it's their mother's milk. To them, a human coming from a whale via natural selection is no more unlikely than a tree from a seed, or a butterfly from a caterpillar.

      As for the second thing you said, that there is no evidence for it, I think you're making a fundamental mistake. If you want to argue with the scientific consensus, I believe it's futile to use scientific conventions, such as evidence in the scientific sense. Of course scientists believe they have mountains of evidence for natural selection! How could it be otherwise? And you don't even need books, this is easily confirmed with Google.

      It's useless try to beat scientists on their own turf, with their own tools. Rather, if you want to disagree with the science, you have to come from outside the scientific framework. You don't agree that scientific conventions are the ultimate arbiters of truth. You believe some parts of science, and not all of it. You take advantage of technology developed with the help of science, without admitting to everything that science claims. You can agree that in the scientific sense, there are mountains of evidence for natural selection and evolution, without necessarily being convinced by the very concept of scientific evidence. Personally, after reading Why Evolution is True , I came away less convinced than ever. Not because I think the evidence is unscientific, quite the opposite. Recognizing that the evidence shown (testable predictions, fossil record, lack of alternative proposed mechanisms) is the apex of the scientific standard, I'm still totally unconvinced. Needless to say, one will only be convinced by an explanation's ability to make testable predictions, if one believes that the ability to make testable predictions proves an explanation. Of course I can be mocked as a science denier for that, but that shouldn't bother Torah Jews, who have constantly been mocked throughout the generations.

      Delete
    26. @Weaver

      No one now argues against the evolution of the eye. Now the argument of the evolution of the eye is completely conceded, read Richard Dawkins.

      Delete
    27. "Again with the argument from incredulity and the denial of evidence. You're a broken record on this topic. Why not just admit you have a religious prejudice which leads you to ignore decades of research and demonstrable reality?"

      Avi - Your little pop-psychology references are cute, but because this is so simple, maybe you can spell out exactly how a cell, which essentially functions as a supercomputer, developed by random accident. There are hundreds of other biological features you would have to explain as well. Again, you really have to spell it out because highly complex systems don't generally pop into existence by accident. In case you get smug (I know, you read the wikipedia entry on "logical fallacy"), I also named two Nobel Prize-winning scientists - Crick and Godel - who basically agree with me.
      While you're at it, you could also explain why (relative to what Darwinian evolution demands) there are few transitory forms and little fossil record. Evolutionary biologists actually acknowledge this, calling it punctuated equilibrium, but they have no idea how or why that happened, either.
      I'll be waiting.

      Delete
    28. Gentlemen, it's futile to try to have a scientific argument with Weaver, because ultimately his objections are religious, not scientific. But note how he is claiming that difficulties with explaining the *mechanism* of evolution are reason to believe that it didn't happen - the classic mistake that people make. In addition, note how he is focusing on "kashyas" against evolution, rather than on whether the available evidence points more strongly to evolution or to all animals being separately created.

      Delete
    29. but because this is so simple, maybe you can spell out exactly how a cell, which essentially functions as a supercomputer, developed by random accident.

      Perhaps you could explain what connection there is between evolution and the origin of life. Only in the minds of ignorant science deniers (and the ignorance is entirely willful) are these ever conflated. We know evolution happens because we see it in experiments and by observing nature. We know that evolution occurs due to genetic mutation, and we know several causes of mutation. (No honest scientist will claim we know all of anything.) These are things we can observe happening. They are not questioned by anyone without an anti-science agenda.

      And your supercomputer reference is a laugh. I work as a software developer, and have been programming for 30 years. I've taken courses in CPU design. There is no way a cell could be considered to behave or be modeled by a supercomputer in any fashion.

      There are hundreds of other biological features you would have to explain as well.

      Nope. You don't understand science. We know for a fact that evolution happens. We know that biological features are caused by gene expression. Together, that makes evolution the leading theory for the development of terrestrial life. I know of no competing scientific theories. "God did it" is not a theory.

      Delete
    30. NS - No, my objections to natural selection are rational, not religious in nature. Where the evidence is robust (age of the earth, life forms found in respective strata, etc.) I agree - I don't think God created the earth to look 4.5 billion years old.

      In any event, think my position is being misunderstood. I think there WAS a gradual development/evolution of life (the Cambrian explosion shows this nicely), and indeed, the evidence points this way. It's just that there is not nearly enough evidence to support n.s. as a mechanism, especially in light of the staggering claim it makes - that life developed as random accident.

      Incidentally, I support much of your work on this blog - keep up the good work.

      Delete
    31. "Darwin isn't the last word on these things. I hear Simulation Hypothesis is winning over people even like Richard Dawkins."

      That's right up there with infinite parallel universes! Interestingly, for all his prominence, Richard Dawkins isn't even an especially qualified voice on this. He has a PhD in zoology (nothing wrong with that) and did his thesis on pecking chickens.

      Delete
    32. @Weaver

      The variants that natural selection acts on may be random, but natural selection certainly isn't. The book by Coyne would help clarify this terminology.

      Delete
    33. It's just that there is not nearly enough evidence to support n.s. as a mechanism, especially in light of the staggering claim it makes - that life developed as random accident.

      You seem to be conflating Natural Selection with Evolution. Natural Selection is an explanation for why some mutations survive in a population and why some do not. It is not a mechanism at all. The mechanism for change is genetic mutation, and it is something which demonstrably occurs. Science claims that mutations are random because there is no evidence at all for a guiding force behind mutations. If you claim otherwise, you are bringing in a religious/non-science perspective.

      I suspect that you are also using the colloquial definition of "accident", which conflates it with "mistake". In formal settings, such as science, "accident" is more akin to "outcome" or "result".

      Delete
    34. Avi - "Perhaps you could explain what connection there is between evolution and the origin of life."

      ??? I'm not talking about the origin of life; cells had to evolve into their present state.

      "We know evolution happens because we see it in experiments and by observing nature. We know that evolution occurs due to genetic mutation, and we know several causes of mutation."

      You're missing the basic difference macro and micro evolution. They are very different. Various beak shapes in finches that come to predominate, or black moths that survive better than whites ones is not what we're talking about here.

      "And your supercomputer reference is a laugh. I work as a software developer, and have been programming for 30 years. I've taken courses in CPU design. There is no way a cell could be considered to behave or be modeled by a supercomputer in any fashion."

      Um, sorry, not true. Cells are often compared to computers, a little googling should uncover that for you. Consider one example from George Gilder (and before attacking and mocking, please actually read and think about what he says):

      "In each of the some 300 trillion cells in every human body, the words of life churn almost flawlessly through our flesh and nervous system at a speed that utterly dwarfs the data rates of all the world’s supercomputers. For example, just to assemble some 500 amino-acid units into each of the trillions of complex hemoglobin molecules that transfer oxygen from the lungs to bodily tissues takes a total of some 250 peta operations per second. (The word “peta” refers to the number ten to the 15th power — so this tiny process requires 250×1015 operations.)

      Interpreting a DNA program and translating it through a code into a physical molecule, the cells collectively function at almost a thousand times the processing speed of IBM’s new Blue Gene/L state-of-the-art supercomputer. This information processing in one human body for just one function exceeds by some 25 percent the total computing power of all the world’s 200 million personal computers produced every year.

      Yet, confined as they are to informational functions, computer models stop after performing the initial steps of decoding the DNA and doing a digital-to-analog conversion of the information. The models do not begin to accomplish the other feats of the cell, beginning with the synthesis of protein molecules from a code, and then the exquisitely accurate folding of the proteins into the precise shape needed to fit them together in functional systems. This process of protein synthesis and “plectics” cannot even in principle be modeled on a computer. Yet it is essential to the translation of information into life."

      A bit more complex than any human-written code. And this evolved through random mutations, right?

      Also, can you please avoid ad hominem attacks and insults? It makes for a very unpleasant exchange and doesn't make your position seem any stronger.


      Delete
    35. I'm sure comparisons to general purpose computers makes for great metaphores for laymen, but cells are not general purpose. Each cell has a set of abilities, and they can't do anything beyond them. Comparing them to supercomputers, except in the most silly of ways, is disingenuous. And architecturally, a single cell is nothing like a supercomputer. Maybe like a single compute cell in a multi-core chip.

      A bit more complex than any human-written code. And this evolved through random mutations, right?

      Again, you can't stop with arguments from incredulity. This is proof-positive that you are anti-science.

      The bottom line is that mutations are random, mutation explains how genes change, and we see nothing in nature to explain variety of lifeforms except the differences in genes. The fact that you can't imagine it being random has no bearing on the scientific argument. There is no other theory which fits the data.

      Delete
    36. Also, can you please avoid ad hominem attacks and insults?

      Can you cite one?

      Delete
    37. Avi - you didn't remotely address the technical technical points raised in the article - and I didn't even broach the subject of DNA, which drove Crick to believe that DNA could not have evolved. Was he also anti-science?

      "Again, you can't stop with arguments from incredulity. This is proof-positive that you are anti-science.
      The bottom line is that mutations are random, mutation explains how genes change, and we see nothing in nature to explain variety of lifeforms except the differences in genes. The fact that you can't imagine it being random has no bearing on the scientific argument. There is no other theory which fits the data."

      Throwing around cute terms like "arguments from incredulity" might win you points on the debate team, but you seem to repeatedly miss my point. I'm incredulous because natural selection makes tremendous claim - that unbelievably complex biological mechanisms can to be as a result of accidental random mutation - with not nearly enough evidence to back it up; not because I just feel like it.

      That fact that n.s. is the best theory science has at the moment is utterly irrelevant - it doesn't make it more true!

      Maybe there is another mechanism, just not n.s. Or maybe (gasp!) God had an active role in the development of life in this world. Why is that idea so beyond the pale for you?


      Delete
    38. Turk Hill May 15, 2020 at 5:27 PM
      @Weaver
      No one now argues against the evolution of the eye. Now the argument of the evolution of the eye is completely conceded, read Richard Dawkins


      Are you referring to people who accepted evolution for other things but not the eye as it's too complex? Surely you aren't referring to people who deny evolution outright?

      Rabbi Dr. Natan Slifkin May 14, 2020 at 6:16 PM

      You're avoiding the crucial point: Forget about evolutionary mechanisms, what about common ancestry?


      Forgive my ignorance. Evolution is supported by the fossil evidence etc., but why by common ancestry? Is common ancestry based on similarity? Why would a literal reading of Bereishis lead us to expect less similarity. Why should the Creator use more variety than necessary? Thank you.

      Delete
    39. Weaver - Or, could we say that G-d pre-programmed the laws of nature to play an active role in the development of evolution. In other words, G-d, although not the direct source is involved in the chain of evolutionary development. This would account for the seeming randomness found in natural selection.

      Delete
    40. @Chaim I was referring to the former. As I wrote previously, tho, it is possible that G-d programed natural law to develop evolution on its own, but based on the laws that G-d had ordained. If we accept this view, we can safely assume that G-d is not involved in the world as a whole, meaning, that natural selection can seem random since it acted according to the laws of nature, but not G-d directly. Do you like this idea?

      Delete
    41. Turk Hill - Yes, I'm definitely open to that. It's the complete randomness argument that I find unconvincing.

      Delete
    42. I'm incredulous because natural selection makes tremendous claim - that unbelievably complex biological mechanisms can to be as a result of accidental random mutation

      That's not what natural selection claims. You repeatedly conflate different concepts and make repeated argument from incredulity. It's not just a cute phrase. It points out a logical fallacy. You are essentially saying that evidence does not matter; logic does not matter; all that matters is what fits in to your imagination. Reality, and more specifically, science does not work that way.

      Or maybe (gasp!) God had an active role in the development of life in this world. Why is that idea so beyond the pale for you?

      No one here is claiming God didn't have a hand, because all of us here are theists, at a minimum. You are making a purely religious argument "I can't believe it could be random therefore God!" That's not a scientific argument in the slightest. It's fine for you to take that position, but it's completely dishonest to continue to claim you believe in the science. You clearly don't.

      Delete
    43. @Weaver

      Your distinction between micro-evolution and macro-evolution is kind of artificial. If you are interested in seeing evidence of how natural selection acting on random genetic variation leads to variety in the living world, you CAN'T dismiss the cases of Darwin's finches, moth coloration, etc. -- which are classic and well-documented examples of exactly what you are looking for.

      There is an enormous amount of evidence for natural selection in every corner of the living world. Even in human populations. Again, the overview books designed for non-specialists will help.

      I have to say that I also don't find the analogy of protein synthesis to a computer to be a compelling analogy, except perhaps as an "isn't that neat" claim. The speeds of computers and of protein synthesis are governed by completely different mechanisms.

      Delete
    44. Turk Hill, I have no problem with theistic evolution. Just your wording had thrown me off. Thanks for the clarification.

      Regarding your comment from 12:24 AM, is it accurate to reword the end of your comment, that "we can safely assume that G-d is not [manifestly] involved in the world as a whole, meaning, that natural selection can seem random since it acted according to the laws of nature, but [seem as if] not G-d directly...." ? I'll drink to that. But if you mean it in some sense of autopilot, not having studied all the sources well I'm only familiar with authorities who forbid that.

      @Joe Q., I just got finished saying that I have no problem with theistic evolution, but if you think that the specific proofs from the moths and finches are so simple, there's a surprise waiting for you in the anti-evolution literature. For the moths, there was no 'newness'. Both colors were present from the beginning, just their populations rose and fell according to the soot on the trees. This also means that when the lighter-moth population declined there were more resources available to the darker moths without any competition, and they were able to increase accordingly. By the finches, the various 'species' were later seen to interbreed under certain conditions, so you'd have to redefine 'speciation' to claim that it occurred.

      Delete
    45. @Chaim I just found a comment by RDNS which agrees with my premise: "It's a misconception that evolution upends the argument from design. It just pushes it back to the laws of nature."

      Delete
    46. @Chaim

      Re: the moths -- that is the point. The mutation giving rise to a population containing different colorations is random, and then natural selection acts on that variation and changes the frequency.

      Speciation is not as tightly defined as non-biologists usually think, and has to do with more than just interbreeding. After all, horses and donkeys will also interbreed under certain conditions, despite diverging from a common ancestor several million years ago and having different numbers of chromosomes, and we know various human lineages interbred after 400,000+ years of divergence. Geographical isolation, gene drift, etc. have a lot to do with speciation.

      Delete
    47. @Joe Q.

      "Your distinction between micro-evolution and macro-evolution is kind of artificial. If you are interested in seeing evidence of how natural selection acting on random genetic variation leads to variety in the living world, you CAN'T dismiss the cases of Darwin's finches, moth coloration, etc. -- which are classic and well-documented examples of exactly what you are looking for.I don't think so. Of course there is some variation within species - no two animals are exactly alike! We have known for millennia that if you breed two black horses for example, the offspring will probably be black as well.
      That's a far cry from mutations which would eventually lead to grow other limbs or to develop into another animal order. Has this ever been observed? To complicate things further, most mutations are actually harmful and would be especially unlikely to confer a survival advantage.
      All this is distinct from the problem of the development of staggeringly complex organs and systems common to all/most animals, which had to evolve from scratch.

      Delete
    48. @Joe Q.

      "The variants that natural selection acts on may be random, but natural selection certainly isn't. The book by Coyne would help clarify this terminology."

      Thank for the reference. I haven't read the book but incidentally, a quick search on Jerry Coyne shows him to display the attitudes typical of those who take Darwinian evolution to its logical conclusion:

      “Born to Jewish parents, Coyne considers himself a secular Jew, and an outspoken anti-theist. He supports the theses of metaphysical naturalism and the conflict thesis. He claims that religion and science are fundamentally incompatible . . .

      “ . . . Coyne came to believe in the idea of determinism after reading a paper by Anthony Cashmore on determinism and the criminal justice system. He states that recognising there is no free will makes one more empathetic and less judgmental . . . "

      In 2015, Coyne published a book called “Faith Versus Fact: Why Science and Religion Are Incompatible”. Some reviewers were less than impressed:

      ‘The science journalist John Horgan wrote a highly critical review of the book in Scientific American stating that:
      “Mr. Coyne repeatedly reminds us that science, unlike religion, promotes self-criticism, but he is remarkably lacking in this virtue himself. He rejects complaints that some modern scientists are guilty of "scientism," which I would define as excessive trust – faith! – in science. Actually, Faith vs. Fact serves as a splendid specimen of scientism. MR. COYNE DISPARAGES NOT ONLY RELIGION BUT ALSO OTHER HUMAN WAYS OF ENGAGING WITH REALITY. THE ARTS, HE ARGUES, "CANNOT ASCERTAIN TRUTH OR KNOWLEDGE," AND THE HUMANITIES DO SO ONLY TO THE EXTENT THAT THEY EMULATE THE SCIENCES. THIS SORT OF ARROGANCE AND CERTITUDE IS THE ESSENCE OF SCIENTISM.

      I think this fits the mindset of some commenters here to a “T”!

      Just food for thought.

      Delete
    49. Joe Q., technically you are right about the moths. But within evolutionary theory, natural selection is the minor player that cleans away the unfit; while 'mutation' produces the fit. I don't think anyone disagrees with natural selection as a loner. It's how certain extinctions occurred and continue to occur. Creationists think that the moths were created suddenly. When trees turned black the population of the lighter ones declined. NS was an eliminator. But that's not a basis to say that natural selection partnered with random mutation to create the species.

      Speciation is not as tightly defined as non-biologists usually think, and has to do with more than just interbreeding.
      Certainly. For example, the offspring have to be fertile, which is not the case with horses and donkeys. But it is the case with the different types of finches.

      Speciation is not as tightly defined...
      It used to be more tightly defined. When evidence came in the definition was loosened to a way that isn't very falsifiable.

      .. as non-biologists usually think
      Are you implying that I'm not a biologist? That is correct. Are you? Are you maybe a non-biologist more skilled at reading biologists than other non-biologists?

      Delete
    50. Turk Hill, I suspect that when you submitted your comment at May twenty, twenty twenty, at 12 twenty, my comment from May 19 twenty twenty at 5:14 wasn't published yet. I think we're on the same page.
      I also googled that quote and it led me to an excellent article by RDNS. Thank you!

      Delete
    51. chaim, You’re welcome! I'm glad you liked the article. Yes, you are correct. We agree.

      Delete
    52. @Weaver -- The choice to read the book or not, is yours. I recommended it because it provides a good overview of the evidence for evolution by means of natural selection, and would dispel some of the misconceptions about that topic that your previous comments have shown.

      @Chaim -- Again, I find your perspective somewhat skewed and anthropomorphic. Mutation is random. It produces all kinds of variation, some beneficial, some deleterious, most neutral. Natural selection changes the frequency of these variants over time, depending on reproductive advantages vs. disadvantages in the local environment. The formation of genetically distinct, non-interbreeding species happens over time.

      The "far cry" you mention is not such a far cry. There are loads of examples of mutations that lead to extra digits or limbs throughout the animal kingdom. (A former colleague of mine has six fingers on each hand -- her thumb is doubled.)

      At some point about 10,000 years ago an even more momentous mutation in Homo sapiens led to a massive survival advantage (more significant than extra digits) and was driven to high frequency in all populations where it emerged, through natural selection. If you can drink milk without having horrible gastrointestinal cramps, you can thank that mutation.

      The "staggeringly complex organs" did not emerge "from scratch", but follow a pattern of development of increasing complexity over time. A book like Coyne's would outline this.

      I am not a biologist, but have spent my career in a related field. Took a bunch of biology courses at the undergraduate and post-graduate level, and have done a lot of reading in the field since then (I try to read at least a couple of general-readership biology-related books each year)

      Delete
  2. Whoever this is is extremely eloquent. Thank you for putting into words what so many of us feel.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a very good review of R. Slifkins' position and work. Thank you for this review.

    ReplyDelete
  4. One can't write a balanced opinion on this subject without mentioning the sometimes immature bantering that Slifkin will many times resort to.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oddly, I've never seen that once.

      Delete
    2. One can't find a well-reasoned post on this site that someone like Ron will not nitpick for a stray phrase he didn't like and use that as a rationalization to denigrate the author, dismisse the reasoning behind his critique, and ignore its substance.

      Delete
    3. "Immature bantering"? There are many times when I disagree with the CONTENT of Rav Slifkin's criticisms of the Charedi community, but I have never seen it to be immature.

      Delete
    4. not seen that either. gotta give it to him he really is quite rational.

      Delete
  5. A clear concise working definition of "haredi" or "ultra-orthodox" is not easily achieved. Here's a suggestion for separating the wheat from the chaff - anyone who posts comments to RDNS's blog under his/her actual name is NOT haredi. Allegiance and participation in the haredi society carries the price of shame and stigma for honesty and transparency.

    The reverse does not obtain b/c many non-haredi also use pseudonyms for various reasons. An exception to the rule is for RDNS antagonists whose only purpose is to refute and bash everything that he says and therefore have a permit to be reading his heretical posts.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. @Reb Yitz (a VERY proud non-haredi who uses his REAL NAME)

      Sorry, but it's got less to do with the price of shame for transparency and more to do with the unfortunate habit of RNS to shamelessly mutilate, misconstrue and misrepresent the words of those he perceives as his foes. No cowardice in hiding one's name on this blog; just simple prudence.

      Delete
    2. Why does a charedi need to hide if the only charedim who read the site all of like mind. It's not like Gedolim or their gatekeepers are lurking and keeping lists.

      Delete
    3. As one of the anonymous people commenting here (merely once in a rare blue moon - and thanks Rabbi Slifkin for tolerating my anonymity over the years), I'm sure I speak for many when I say that's plain wrong. And Yitz Waxman is on to something, I don't post under my real name because I'm not interested in being bothered by chareidi friends of a certain persuasion; I'm okay with Mishlei 5:17. And for what its worth, after reading his blog over the years I met Rabbi Slifkin one time and found him to be a nice, pleasant, amicable person, a far cry from the sinister personality you described. I find your words about Rabbi Slifkin to be exceedingly off-base and perfectly illustrative of why some people here like to remain anonymous.

      Delete
    4. Anonymous, why do you post under "Anonymous" instead of a fake name? R' Slifkin has asked many times that we do so.

      Delete
    5. >>unfortunate habit of RNS to shamelessly mutilate, misconstrue and misrepresent the words of those he perceives as his foes<<

      Reb Kedarlaomerite,

      How does the use of a pseudonym offer protection from RDNS's nefarious attack of your words?

      No, that doesn't even begin to make sense.

      Delete
    6. >>L. BeriaMay 14, 2020 at 5:45 AM
      Why does a charedi need to hide if the only charedim who read the site all of like mind. It's not like Gedolim or their gatekeepers are lurking and keeping lists.<<

      Yet, indeed there are bad consequences for failure to adhere to expected standards of public conduct without at least "plausible deniability". I have a friend/acquaintance that was once a teacher at a heder. IOW, a "rebbi". He recounted a story of a colleague of his that was admonished by the principal for being seen at a movie theater. Now you might wonder how was it possible for him to get caught, given that the only persons that could have seen him were fellow patrons of the cinema and why would they implicate themselves of the very same infraction? Answer - parents of one of his students were in attendance and snitched on the teacher. They reasoned that it was OK for them to indulge, but the heder rebbi should be held to a higher standard of abstinence.

      Delete
    7. @Reb Yitz
      "How does the use of a pseudonym offer protection from RDNS's nefarious attack of your words?"
      I'm not talking about protecting one's feelings. I mean protecting against slander. It's very simple. Someone criticizes RNS in a comment under his real name. RNS feels insulted, so he quotes or misquotes that person without context, or simply fabricates a quote in that person's name. (if he can do that with speeches and written articles e.g. the last several posts about RCK, Rabbi Avi Shafran etc., why not with comments on this blog?). It turns into a heated debate in the comments section, and suddenly that person's ridiculously-sounding alleged quote is on the internet for all to see. Not a very smart move. Solution: comment under a pseudonym. (Or if one is even smarter, stay far away from this blog in the first place.) Does that now begin to make sense?

      Delete
    8. >>Does that now begin to make sense?<<

      Nope. If you post your words, pseudonym or not, the words are subject to critique.

      But since your concern is slander, then perhaps you would care to substantiate your charges against RDNS?

      >>Quotes or misquotes that person without context<<

      >>simply fabricates a quote in that person's name<<

      You are cordially invited to substantiate the top two incidents of the above.

      Cheers

      Delete
    9. @Reb Yitz

      "Nope. If you post your words, pseudonym or not, the words are subject to critique."
      Yes. Agreed. As I tried to explain, I do not think there is any reason to avoid critique. In fact, it is quite welcome. Again, I think there IS reason to avoid presenting your real name to someone who has a propensity for misquoting in grotesque ways. I guess I can repeat the question. Does that NOW begin to make sense?

      "...then perhaps you would care to substantiate your charges against RDNS?"
      Gladly.

      "Quotes or misquotes that person without context"

      See, for example, the post entitled "On Respecting the Charedi Gedolim". RNS there portrays Rav Shlomo Miller as "comparing me to the wicked son of the haggadah and putting me in the category of child abusers.."
      Now, comparing RNS to the rasha of the haggadah may be insulting, but it is not surprising or particularly strange. There are, after all, eerie similarities between the rasha's words and RNS's attitudes. But "putting me in the category of child abusers" does seem a strange thing to do, and uncharacteristically unreasonable for Rav Shlomo Miller to do. Which is why you should click on the link provided there, where you will see that he did no such thing at all! See for yourself.

      "simply fabricates a quote in that person's name"

      See the post entitled "When Charedi Spokesmen Misrepresent what Charedim Really Believe". After quoting part of a Haaretz article by Rabbi Avi Shafran, RNS devotes most of the piece to ridiculing the notion that Torah can protect against corona-virus. Anyone would think that Rabbi Shafran said that it does. Wait, RNS actually says straight out so! He writes of Rabbi Shafran "After making the false claim that charedim 'really believe' that yeshivos protect from coronavirus and maintain the world..."
      Again, please read Rabbi Shafran's article, where he never says such a thing. He says that charedim believe Torah protects in general, and that it can be likened, in our view to an essential service such as the electrical grid, which should not be shut down in a hurry. See for yourself.

      Anyway, those are the first two more recent examples that popped into my head right away, but i assure you there are several more. If you would insist, I may be able to provide a long list, but it would take me some time. The point again is that this is not someone whom it would be smart to criticize under a real name, as he may act pettily and dishonestly with your words (or non-words).

      I would really appreciate it if you would respond and share your thoughts about the above, Reb Yitz.

      Cheers to you as well.

      Delete
    10. Rav Shlomo Miller was asked, in the background context of the Kolko affair where Rabbonim had covered for abusers, why the Gedolim did not do more against abusers. He replied (paraphrasing): But we did! We spoke out against Slifkin!

      With regard to Rabbi Shafran, he set out to defend the Gedolim, but proceeded to change what the Gedolim had actually said. Since his goal was to defend the Gedolim, I deemed it reasonable to discuss his position as if he was defending what they actually said.

      Delete
    11. I urge everyone (Reb Yitz, and maybe you too, Rabbi Slifkin; I imagine you yourself somehow believe what you wrote) to simply go back to the Rav Miller interview, and to the Haaretz article, read them carefully, and try to determine with an open mind, whether they have been presented in an honest way on this blog, or in a perfidious technique employed to make the subjects look foolish. I am by no means nitpicking, as the differences between what they have said and how they were presented may seem subtle, but they are all the difference between reasonable and ridiculous. Such are the dangers of being quoted by someone with an agenda to smear.

      Delete
  6. R. Slifkin stands for an Orthodoxy that can make sense of this without simply positing “Last Thursdayism”, whereas his opponents provide us with few, if any, tools for doing so.

    R' Slifkin doesn't make sense of anything. He simply says the ancients were ignorant. The Amoraim were ignorant, the Tanaim were ignorant, the Neviim were ignorant, Moshe himself was ignorant, and everything in the Torah, from creation to the flood, is simply an allegory for what scientists have decided today. It's possible this is true, and RNS brings many authorities who seem to hold that way. But saying "science right, traditional interpretation of Torah wrong" certainly doesn't make sense of anything and certainly doesn't add to an understanding of the Torah, any more than what RNS derisively calls "last Thursdayism". At best his contribution is showing the authoritative Torah sources that are different the standard chareidi viewpoint (but it's not like these were unknown before his books).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, clearly you have a reading comprehension problem, as the phrase "last Thursdayism" is from the writer of this piece, not from R' Slifkin.

      More importantly, it seems clear that you've never read a single thing he's ever written.

      Delete
    2. Well, I read the Challenge of Creation, and the Camel the Hare and the Hyrax. I believe I also read Mysterious Creatures. I also read many articles on this website. I would agree that R. Slifkin has made contributions to the zoology of the Torah (from a non-chareidi viewpoint), and my comment was more to the content of the Challenge of Creation, and similar articles that I have seen here.

      Delete
    3. Mr. Unknown, to be clear, he says that people who lived 1, 2, and 3 thousand years ago indeed WERE ignorant of TODAY's knowledge. And there is nothing wrong with that.

      (In fact, as I have said here before, assuming that they DID know what we know today raises bigger problems, such as how did they let Klal Yisrael get conquered? How did they let people die of easily curable diseases? Also, did they know things that will be discovered in the upcoming 100 years? Or did they only know everything up until 1980?)

      Delete
    4. Yosef, that may be a valid perspective. But it certainly doesn't help make sense of the Torah. There are millions of scientists around the world who don't believe the (traditional interpretation of) the Torah. And R. Slifkin is just one among them. As far as I can tell, he doesn't introduce any particularly novel way of reading the psukim, other than saying the literal interpretation is untrue, and that they must be describing whatever the scientists decided.

      It's not an amazing contribution to say "I believe the scientists, so I am smarterer than the Gedolim! I read biology textbooks, so I am smarterer than the Roshei Yeshivah!" I agree that it's valuable to point out that there are Torah authorities, such as the Rambam in Moreh, and R. Hirsch, who differ with the standard chareidi viewpoint. But R. Slifkins books were not the first to bring this to light.

      Delete
    5. But it does help make sense of the Torah. It helps us understand what was said and thought and learned because it made sense to the people of that time. It is for US to apply things to today.

      It also helps us combat those who would mock the Torah for being "wrong." This understanding gets to say that Torah is NOT wrong.

      And for your second paragraph, which gets more than a little snarky, please remember that there is a difference between "smart" and "knowledgeable." I believe that Rishonim and Chazal (and Moshe Rabbeinu, if you want to go there) were brilliant, wise, and otherwise very very smart. I am also fine saying that they were not knowledgeable about today's science. Knowing something that was discovered hundreds of years after someone died does not make me "smarterer" than anyone, just in the right place at the right time.

      And of course the reverse is true: many people who are knowledgeable today are clearly not very smart...

      I'm not sure if R' Slifkin cares whether he is the first one who brought any of it to light. He packaged it in a certain way that was new and fresh at the time and unique to him. He is the one who got dumped on for talking about it. You cannot have it both ways: either he is an innovator who said things Beyond the Pale, or he is unoriginal and didn't say anything new - but then why ban his books?

      Delete
    6. It helps us understand what was said and thought and learned because it made sense to the people of that time.

      I'm sorry, I don't see that as being a great Torah chiddush. "Now that we know what really happened in the beginning, why did Hashem feel the need to write it this way?...oh, cuz everybody was IGNORANT". If its true, it's true, but it won't enhance my understanding of Bereishis. I still need to know what Hashem was trying to convey specifically, word by word, pasuk by pasuk, parsha by parsha, not simply handwaving it all as "teh theological stuff". And it's not some great discovery to point out that Hashem was talking to people who didn't yet discover the Taylor series.

      As for the difference between "smart" and "knowledgable", R. Slifkin in no uncertain terms implies that the reason why many Gedolim and Roshei Yeshiva oppose his position is because they never opened up a biology text and never saw the Mountains of Evidence. If only they would take the simple step of doing a bit of reading, they would become avid believers in evolution, and completely change their whole understanding of the Torah, as well as completely changing their chareidi approach. It doesn't occur to him that perhaps they (or at least some of them) were introduced to the Mountains of Evidence, and were not at all convinced, as happened with me and other people I know. So he imagines that the entire chareidi approach is predicated on the willful ignorance of the chareidim and their leaders.

      Delete
    7. Unknown, "as well as completely changing their chareidi approach".

      Why should one completely changing their chareidi approach if evolution is proved? You just concede about evolution and otherwise remain chareidi.

      Delete
    8. Chaim, that is what this entire past series of articles was about. The chareidi leaders' lack of scientific background supposedly leads them to do such chareidi things as keep yeshivas open during a pandemic. Etc, Etc.

      Besides, I think this point is self-evident. If chareidim would accept anything and everything that scientists claim is based on "overwhelming evidence", they would most likely not remain chareidi for long. The slope is very slippery. Can you imagine if based on overwhelming scientific evidence, the archaeological consensus was that there was no Exodus? No plagues? The Jews were never slaves in Egypt at all? Rabbi Slifkin and his ilk would be forced to admit the entire story of Yetzias Mitzrayim is an allegory (at this point, not sure if it would bother him). The charedim would have to do the same if they accepted everything science said. They don't want to go there, for good reason.

      Delete
  7. Does NS have a synagogue where he is rabbi? Or does he have a rabbi where he davens? Or does he have a friendly-neighborhood posek, or... what? Does he have a real physical community somewhere, where people "practice" judaism like his version?

    To me, I agree with @Unknown, and think that he plays a God of the Gaps, just that he disagrees with anyone nowadays who doesn't agree with what he considers proof that science fills a gap. My guess is that he doesn't even really know what science is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Many Jews- perhaps most observant Jews- practice "like his version." That you don't know any is your problem, not his.

      Delete
    2. Of course there are loads of Jews who believe that all that is irrational in Tanach is allegorical or metaphorical. It is obvious to any thinking person. And those things in Talmud that clearly deviate from what we understand nowadays are just their misunderstanding based on the time. When Torah talks about connections between rain and sin, I'm not personally sure what we do with that, or all of that stuff in Deuteronomy, but I'm sure there's a coherent set of things that make it all rational. There's no reason to be nasty just because you do not understand it.

      Delete
    3. Many Jews believe that God came down onto a mountain and talked to people? Even those people were so impressed that they decided to get themselves a pet cow. Really? Many Jews practice like his version? Wave the palm branch? Pray for rain?

      Delete
    4. Chaim Stern, he specifically addresses God-of-the-Gaps in his book. His is a God of Behind-the-Scenes-and-Therefore-of-Everything, not a God-of-specific-little-functions-that-we-cannot-explain-quite-yet-and-therefore-eventually-of-next-to-nothing.

      Delete
  8. I should moderate what I said. I recognize that his works, The Camel the Hare and the Hyrax in particular, include many contributions (from a non-chareidi perspective) to the understanding of the fauna of the Torah. I was just talking about his promotion of scientism in general.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. May we talk about what he said in his science & creation book that caused quite the stir, because it presented a different spin on a TMS, and that's worthy of note.

      Delete
  9. "If there is one overarching theme to R Slifkin's approach to Judaism, it's taking reality seriously. We've learned a lot about the history of the universe over the past couple of hundred years, and any attempt at intellectual seriousness requires an honest appraisal of these findings."

    Rabbi Slifkin does good work, but he takes reality seriously selectively. We've learned a lot about the history of the Torah over the past couple of hundred years, but you never hear a peep about it from him. If it's reality you're after you'll have to look elsewhere.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You make a valid point, but people have different areas of expertise. Ancient Near Eastern history is its own field, and history is not science.

      Whether you agree with him or not, R. Joshua Berman's Ani Ma'amin at least approaches some of the issues you refer to without overt flippancy. He makes some interesting concessions along the way, including the Exodus involving a far smaller number of people than a literal reading of the text would imply and that it took place in the 12th century BCE rather than the 15th century. He also makes positive arguments in favour of the text's unity, such as the "chiastic" structure of parshas Noach. See his recent Tradition article (which is excerpted from his book) for more:

      https://traditiononline.org/but-is-it-history-the-truth-vs-historical-accuracy-of-tanakh/

      Delete
    2. The author makes the important point that Science doesn't just posit theories about the past but predicts the future.

      I don't think biblical criticism is quite in the same camp. Much easier to deny Welhausen's documentary hypothesis than to deny evolution.

      Delete
    3. I agree. For doubters, see Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman new book Ani Maamin. It will dismiss the myth of Bible critics whose only aim is to belittle the Torah.

      Delete
  10. I must have had a vastly different life experience than the author of the post. The bashing most definitely goes both ways, unfortunately.

    I heard in a history lecture that the very name "Chareidi" started out as a pejorative used by some religious non-Chareidim to belittle their more fervent co-religionists; and that the Chareidim turned it into a badge of honor.

    Andy

    ReplyDelete
  11. Anyone who reads this forum appreciates it, otherwise they wouldn't be here. Not to say you aren't open to criticism. Certainly you are, and you have the decency and integrity not to shy away from it. In fact, in a very real way your critics are what makes this blog valuable. There's no fun reading someone regularly who preaches to your choir. But someone with a totally opposite viewpoint cant be stomached for long either. The trick is to find someone who agrees with you on just enough things, and also disagrees on just enough. The precise proportion can be debated, but I think between you and your critics you hit the right note.

    ReplyDelete
  12. "In a more minor key, R. Slifkin’s contributions lie not merely in his non-literal approach to the first chapters of Bereishis, but in providing license to view the terms used in the Torah, such as the “rakia”, in the context of the worldview of its recipients, without the need to unconvincingly posit that they in fact refer to features of the universe revealed by recent scientific findings."

    Look, forget about Chapter 1. WHAT ABOUT THE MIRACLES IN THE REST OF TANACH?

    ReplyDelete
  13. "Furthermore, I've found R. Slifkin’s work in assembling the justifications for maintaining our halachic system without a need to accept Chazal’s factual assessments to be of immense value: a perusal of the (excellent) Talmudology website shows how closely entwined Chazal’s understanding of metzius (in daf after daf of Shas) was with commonly held notions of the time. Simply insisting that this must all be disregarded in favor of a combination of forced explanations and shoulder shrugging does little to move the discussion forward, whereas R. Slifkin tackles these issues head on."

    You mean like the really nifty medical remedies that we just had in Dafyomi? I know, the Rambam says that we should just discount them, but isn't he really in a minority when it comes to that understanding?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I cannot tell which way you are leaning (ie the medical things in the Gemara are things that are being disregarded or tackled head on).

      I imagine that anyone could TRY some of the Gemara remedies and discover for oneself whether they work or not.

      But darn it man, you're a doctor and not a Talmudist...

      Delete
  14. I also would like to write in to support Penfold's commments. Building off of his (her?) last major point: it has been pointed out that Modern Orthodox people tend to view those on the right (yeshivish, chareidi, chassidish, whatever) as "more frum" ie Doing More Religiously Correctly. This is [not-so-]subtly reinforced by the secular media referring to these groups as ULTRA-Orthodox. Therefore, for example, MO shuls over the years have tended to have yeshivish rabbis. Now certainly, one would like one's spiritual/religious leader to be more of a spiritual/religious person than oneself is, but that should not necessarily lead to a rejection of certain aspects of one's way of life. This overall attitude tended to let the chareidi world off the hook in many ways, as their reputation of being more religious grants greater dispensation. The Gedolim are Gedolim, and who is to say otherwise? This perspective can lead to great disillusionment - if there is too much of a scandal around the Ultra-Orthodox, then there are those who might give up the religion since the "bastions" of it have fallen. Being able to point out the holes in the Emperor's new clothes, being able to highlight that chareidi society is not perfect - and then to explain it sociologically so that it is understandable and does NOT lead to simply writing them off and by incorrect extension all of Judaism - is a very important task/skill. Being able to talk about a different "strain" of Judaism, one that aligns with Dati Leumi / Yeshiva University / Modern Orthodoxy in many ways helps reinforce that one can be "more frum" and "ultra-Orthodox" yet still NOT be chareidi. Today, there are more MO rabbanim (it seems), and they indeed are more spiritual/religious than most of the members of their congregations, yet they do not reject Torah U'Maddah etc and do not need to put on the trappings of a chassidish/yeshivish/chareidi sort.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that used to be the case. Now MO or RZ Jews are more likely to see haredim as a fundamentalist extreme corrupt version of judaism and not as 'more religious' one. I don't see their choices as being more devout. Just misguided.

      Delete
  15. I am deeply thankful for your amazing work, your knowledge, your ability to write so clearly, and last but not least, your courage. You advance the notion that science and religion are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Our love of science and our passion for a full Jewish life can coexist peacefully.
    Again, thank you very much. Your work is very inspiring.
    Anne Ciner, Silver Spring, MD

    ReplyDelete
  16. Why I love this blog!May 14, 2020 at 10:38 PM

    I must confess. I love this blog because I happen to be very enamored and attracted to two distinctly different new strains of Judaism: "illogical Judaism” and “irrational Judaism.” As I will soon explain, there is a difference between illogical and irrational Judaism. Fortunately, both denominations can be found on this blog. That is why I love this blog!

    Illogical Judaism: I am indeed drawn to this fantastic brand of illogical Judaism. How excited I was to read something so illogical as statements like “protection” that can’t be quantified is categorically not true and not beneficial. Even better yet is the following illogical proof: If someone dies or gets sick after having been a Torah learner with great hasmadah, this proves that Torah doesn’t protect from illness and death. Hey, you know what, I have something for your next illogical post: I have an acquaintance who always ate healthy and never smoked a day in his life, but nevertheless died of lung cancer at age 50, what a fool he was to engage in activities that clearly don’t protect from illness and death – as evidenced by the fact that he died.

    Finally, those logical “Torah protects” fanatics actually maintain that it is possible that Torah won’t protect when the Torah itself says it won’t protect a person who is someich al haneis. I can’t believe that that old sage from Bnei Brak actually allowed for the Yeshivos to shut down when some cronies told him that corona is much more dangerous than originally thought.

    The fact that these logical “Torah protects” fanatics have all these supports from Chazal that Torah protects never swayed me, they ought to know that these statements are all polemics which are not to be taken seriously. Such fairy tales. Did you hear the one from Gemara Shabbos 30a about how Dovid HaMelech kept the malach hamaves away by learning Torah. Or the one (gemara in Ta’anis 20b) about how Rav Ada bar Ahava merited supernatural protection due to his never walking dalet amos without learning Torah. Crazy stuff.

    Irrational Judaism: Now this is another brand of Judaism that I so love. Unfortunately, there are naïve “rationalist Judaism” guys, who actually believe that because certain things are rational, they prove something. I just heard a “rational” fool say that he was positively certain without a doubt, that his three-yea- old who was left alone with some paints could not have painted the Rembrandt-like painting found next to him. How could this rationalist be so certain! It is not “illogical” to say that the paints the baby poured on to the canvas and mushed around with his fingers, created the beautiful painting. Doesn’t the rationalist know that if something cannot be logically proven it is not a proof! I love this blog because I will never see such stupidity here. Listen to this one. I saw on a “rationalist’ blog that I of course hate, the following absurd proof that “Torah protects.” They said that it would be irrational to say that Jews survived as a nation for the last 2000 years because they are a very smart, cunning, resourceful and savvy people. They actually believe that it is rational to say that Torah has protected the Jews as a nation in their long history. They even bring support from pesukim in the Torah, these Karaites! Devarim and Yehoshua as sources that hashem protects the Jews if they will learn Torah! I prefer the brilliant sort of statements made on blogs such as this: “Torah binds together Jews over the millennium, but it does not and can not protect people…”. Those rationalists - they actually think that Torah protected them in their long exile …as if it were a magical artifice.”

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.

The Noah's Ark Challenge

Question: Which home of Biblical creatures measures 100 cubits in length, 50 cubits in width and 30 cubits in height? The most common wrong ...