Wednesday, August 25, 2021

What Do The Experts Say?

During the Great Science-Torah Controversy of 2004-5, I was having a conversation with a friend, of blessed memory, who was a prominent figure in the American yeshivish community. He was widely regarded in that community as a knowledgeable, worldly person. And he asked me why on earth I was putting myself through all that ordeal for the sake of reconciling Torah with evolution. After all, he said, even the scientists don't believe in evolution anymore!

Of course, this is sheer nonsense. With the exception of certain fundamentalist Christians, every zoologists and biologist in the world - including many Christians aligned with the so-called "Intelligent Design" movement - believes that whales and bats descended from terrestrial mammals over millions of years (which is why whales have the disadvantage of needing to come to the surface to breath air rather than breathing underwater like fish). None of them believe that whales and bats suddenly materialized into existence in their final form a few thousand years ago, as is the traditional understanding of Genesis. 

Yet misconceptions like this about the state of scientific knowledge seem to be widespread in the charedi community. How does this happen? It doubtless stems from various anti-evolution literature (written by both Jews and Christians) which spread many types of misinformation, including the following:

  • presenting questions as refutations;
  • presenting Christian or Jewish fundamentalist scientists as objective authorities utilizing the scientific method;
  • presenting non-specialists as authorities;
  • presenting maverick specialists as representing the mainstream;
  • quoting actual mainstream specialists out of context (e.g. misrepresenting comments about the theory of evolutionary mechanisms to be instead referring to the accepted fact of common ancestry).

For the average layman, such misunderstandings are understandable. When they see reference to a book called "Evolution: A Theory In Crisis," written by a PhD biochemist, naturally they form the impression that even scientists don't believe (or don't have good reason to believe) that the Biblical account has been challenged by science. Little do they realize that the author of this very book, aside from being a devout Christian on the fringe of the academic community, is absolutely convinced that the evidence clearly shows that the animal kingdom (including man) evolved over millions of years!

That's why in my book on this topic, The Challenge Of Creation, I sought primarily to clarify the state of scientific belief rather than to stake a personal position. With common ancestry, which is accepted as scientific fact by the entire body of relevant authorities, I pointed this out and also gave a taste of the factual basis. With the mechanisms of evolutionary change, I explained that there is something of a spectrum, with a majority opinion in one direction, and a minority opinion in another direction, and I did not take sides. As a non-biologist, I lack both expertise and authority, and I freely admit it. But what I did develop skills at is identifying who the authorities actually are and what they actually say, and also identifying how people misrepresent the views and status of others.

With Covid and the vaccine, it's a similar situation. We see countless people who falsely (and presumptuously) believe themselves far more competent at evaluating scientific data than they actually are. We see a widespread lack of understanding as to who is an actual authority on the topic. There is a pervasive belief that a significant number of qualified authorities are against the vaccine, whereas the fact is that the overwhelming majority of people who are actually qualified to have an opinion on the vaccine are in favor of it.

I'll conclude with a simple home test that you can do to see if you have weaknesses in this area. (Passing the test won't prove that you don't have any, but failing it will prove that you have fatal weaknesses!) Here's the question: How many authoritative scientists say that vaccinated people who get infected with Covid carry 251 times the viral load of non-vaccinated people who get infected with Covid? Here's a link to get you started. It's a multiple choice question, and here are the potential answers:

A) Zero

B) One

C) Two 

D) Between three and ten

E) Between ten and a hundred

F) More than a hundred.

Try to figure out the answer before seeing what other people write in the comments!

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  1. "authoritative scientists"

    RNS, you have made Gedolim out scientists!!!!!!!

    No one can argue on scientists because they are authoritative!!!!!


    1. Lol! That's pretty hypocritical for someone who constantly preaches that one needn't abide by Gedolim, since they "don't really know"

      FYI, one can question any human being regardless of any initials or titles before or after their name. Be they Jewish, non-Jewish etc.

    2. Sure, you can question anyone. The issue is whether you have reason to believe that your questions have any validity.

      What's your answer on the test?

    3. I would say zero authoritative scientists say vaccinated has 450 time viral load of nonvaccinated.

      Now as to the subject of evolution, it is true that almost all scientists agree that there was evolution over billions of years, there are many authoritative scientists that maintain with good reason that this evolution is not random since the probability to get such complex creatures from random evolution is vanishingly small. These scientist's views are suppressed by the scientific establishment in such a way (along with intimidation and firing from jobs) that would make any Haredi extremist seem like the most liberal of liberals.

    4. I don't think anyone claims that "evolution is random". Mutations are random, and then selection operates on them based on reproductive advantage, which leads to changes in populations over (long periods of) time.

    5. Dr. Ephraim Greenfield it you laid bare that you neither understand evolution (no its not random) nor the state of the scientific consensus on the subject (scientist just wont disagree with evolution just because you misunderstand it to be random)

  2. In Darwin's day, towards the end of the 19th century, it still made sense to believe in science. Fast forward 150 years or so, untold billions of dollars later, and we know better. Or perhaps you really believe in critical race theory, and that human beings actually come in twelve different sexes.

    1. So it doesn't "make sense" to "believe in science" anymore? That explains your other posts! From now on, I'll stop wasting my time refuting the narishkeit in your comments.

    2. ", towards the end of the 19th century, it still made sense to believe in science"
      No antibiotics.
      No radio.
      Little understanding vitamins.
      No insulin.
      No screening of genetic diseases.
      No transistor.
      No solution to static cling.

      "end of the 19th century...Fast forward 150 years or so"
      150 years from 1899 is 2049.

      " Or perhaps you really believe in critical race theory, and that human beings actually come in twelve different sexes."
      Don't confuse sociology with science.

    3. "How many authoritative scientists..."
      Depends how you define "authoritative". Linus Pauling was authoritative in his own field but his claims about vitamin C were nonsense & even dismissed by the Linus Pauling Institute!
      So the answer is F- more than 100.

    4. "In Darwin's day, towards the end of the 19th century"

      Darwin published "On The Origin of Species" in 1859. He had been developing the theory for decades & had already sketched evolutionary diagrams in 1837. That's mid-19th century, not "end of the 19th century". Darwin died in 1882, long before the "end of the 19th century".

    5. "Or perhaps you really believe in critical race theory, and that human beings actually come in twelve different sexes"

      You're conflating hard sciences with *social science,* and these are completely different things. There is every reason to rely on hard data about physics and human biology and there is no reason to rely on social science "data" and "experiments" supposedly elucidating human psychology.

    6. Scientists have always fallen prey to nonsense, especially culturally-enforced (or government-enforced) nonsense. There was Nazi "science" and Stalinist "science" and there were medical men who believed in phrenology. That many scientists today believe in rank unscientific nonsense about race and sex doesn't make science per se wrong, any more than the fact that some Orthodox Jews think that a bottle of wine blessed by R' Chaim Kanievsky brings blessings invalidates Judaism.

      (The Nazis once published a statement, signed by a thousand scientists, declaring Einstein to be wrong. "Jewish science" and all that. Einstein simply said, "If they were right, it would only have taken one.")

    7. Joe Q

      Please note that A Schrieber will absolutely rely on the latest science if he ever gets ill and needs medical assistance.
      Hypocrites who say things like he does always go to doctors when they get sick.

    8. Nachum - it's not just sociology that's been discredited, as some commenters are lamely trying to say, though I note that it too still has plenty of true believers. I just picked that one at random. We might also say the same about paleontology, meteorology, psychology, and an entire host of other "fields." Science is just another estate that's fallen in these times, along with the media and the church.

      But nevertheless, I acknowledge your larger point. Its discrediting in one area does not automatically mean discrediting in all areas. Presumably even Dr. Slifkin would admit the same about Charedim, despite his intense loathing of them. All of which means we're at square one. Everything must be examined on its own. The mere cloaking of something under the holy guise of "science" does not confer any more trust upon it than does a product manufactured under color of "industry" and marketed through "business", or an idea sold as "religion." None of these estates have given us any reason to trust them.

      Thus: Let us no longer hear the risible nonsense of "Trust the Science." Let us be exposed no longer to the spectacle of amateur zoologists telling us which doctors are "qualified" and which aren't. Broaden your horizons, and decide for yourself. I have no problem with someone who does that and reaches an opposite conclusion than me, and I'm pretty fed up with this blog being unable to do the same.

    9. "it's not just sociology that's been discredited... We might also say the same about...meteorology"

      Meteorology has not been discredited. Five day forecasts are 90% accurate. Back in the 90's I was told by a notable geology professor (meteorology is a branch of geology, but his specialty was something else) that three day forecasts are 90% accurate. That indicates that the field is progressing along quite nicely.

      is a social science. It's also a very broad field, so it's a rather audacious claim to say it's all rubbish. Phrenology has been has indeed been discredited. (For those readers who think otherwise, that bump on your head should be checked out- it's not a sign that you're a genius.)

      "and an entire host of other "fields.""
      Do tell. Which of the following branches of science have been widely discredited:
      1) Chemistry
      2) Physics (not including Theoretical Physics)
      3) Zoology
      4) Mathematics
      5) Botany
      6) Astrology

    10. Ephraim - I cannot respond to your question. I'm numb. I just saw the blog host now claiming in his next post that "Four Million people have died horribly from Covid."

      I'm speechless. "Nuts" doesn't begin to describe this type of lunacy.

    11. If you google covid deaths, worldwide, it says 4.47 million. What is the lunacy involved in that? You believe their deaths were pleasant?

    12. A. Schreiber in your world every "picks" their own facts.

      In the real worlds facts stay facts regardless if you believe then or not, beliefs have force only as long as you believe them .

      fact are acceratined by emperism and evidence, not preference, the laws of this universe does not operate according to your or anyone's preference, it is what it is, so trails, evidence, proof and so on are the hallmarks of getting closer to the facts and that's what science is all about. you can take it or leave it but the loss is yours

    13. I cannot respond to your question. I'm numb. I just saw the blog host now claiming in his next post that "Four Million people have died horribly from Covid."

      What's bothering you? Is the number not high enough for your mistaken understanding of the Rambam to admit covid is a pandemic? Or is the number high enough, but you think it's a fake? Don't go David Irving on us - (and I won't go Mike Godwin on you.)

    14. Sociology IS science.
      It seems you all have a problem accepting what you don't like (but all humans do).
      Ah, and sex and genre are two different things.
      Good afternoon!

    15. To Jew Well,
      You may believe social science is the same and has the same reliability as hard science does, but that does not make it so. The biggest replication crisis is in the social science arena, the least reliable testing and conclusions, and quite often the dogmatic "principles" or philosophies of this discipline run counter to accumulated hard scientific evidence. They both can't be right. Genetic studies explode the whole charade.

      So, nope.

  3. You should trust the scientific experts with regards to vaccines and other medical issues. Or engineering issues. You should not trust them with regards to ma'aseh Bereishis. For that, you should trust your rabbis, who are the experts in that matter.

    I would go further and say even if your Rabbi says evolution fits with ma'aseh Bereishis, you still don't need to believe it (unless of course you have done your research and were convinced by the evidence yourself). Because there's no practical nafka mina to you believing it or not. Whereas with vaccines, if you are wrong, you are harming yourself and others.

    1. "you should trust your rabbis, who are the experts in that matter"

      As per the Rambam and the Mishna, *no one* is an "expert" on Bereishit, any more (or maybe just slightly more) than they are "experts" on the Merkava.

    2. They don't say that at all. I love it that people think that just because they are talking about the Rambam, they can say whatever they want. Like this guy:

      "As much he might want to, Maimonides has no way of excluding from the world to come morally and intellectually perfected Jews who do not observe the commandments".

    3. Happy: That's fine.

      What's not fine is insisting that those who DO "believe" in evolution, even if they also "believe" in the Mesorah, are kofrim.

      ("Believe" is in quotes bc I don't like using the same phraseology for science and God. Not that either is not true, but the meaning is different. "I believe in HKBH" means that I trust in His Existence and His Wisdom. "I believe in science/evolution/whatnot" mean "I believe that this is how the world works." There is no personified "Evolution" or "Science" to parallel God. This is - I believe (SWIDT?) - a source of straw man arguments from the religious side ["Are you going to pray to Science?"]. I prefer saying something like "I believe in the veracity of science or evolution." But that is a WAAAY off side point.)

    4. Yosef, you are saying because it is a machlokes among the rabbis, so one can't be called a kofer for taking sides in such a machlokes. Ok. But it depends on how one says that. If one says, "I rely on this rabbinic opinion", fine. But if one says, or strongly implies, "I don't need no stinkin' rabbinical opinion, because science has proven the understanding of 2000 years of Rabbis incorrect", then no, not fine at all.

    5. Um, Happy, be careful, you're indicting the Ramban, among others.

    6. No, I am not. We had this discussion already.

  4. Kollel Nick, I deleted your comment, because you got the right answer, and I didn't want you to spoil it for others!

  5. For anyone interested in a good layman-friendly overview of the science of evolution, I can recommend "Why Evolution is True" by Jerry Coyne. If anything, it's a bit out of date, as genetics has advanced a lot in the decade since the book was published.

    Other very good biology-oriented books for laymen are "Microcosm" by Carl Zimmer, "A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived" by Adam Rutherford, and "I Contain Multitudes" by Ed Yong. Zimmer has also written a few other books on evolution-related themes, which I haven't read, but he is usually excellent at accurately explaining complex topics.

  6. Answer to the test
    Oxford dis a study on break through infections where fully vaccinated by positive people carried similar viral loads to unvaccinated individuals.
    The study however says that the vaccine provides moderate protection against becoming positive and strong protection against becoming seriously ill.
    This is an example of study misrepresented

  7. 0. If you read the study it says Delta has a 251 times higher viral load than the old strain.

  8. FYI love what your doing here :D

  9. Zero. None of the listed authors have published any other papers, so I wouldn't consider them "authoritative".

  10. Well, PAM is not authoritative, as he is not an expert, and based on his extremely flawed analysis of the cited paper, he is a zero in my book.
    The Vietnam paper did not compare Delta viral load between vaccinated and unvaccinated. It compared delta viral load in vaccinated pts to historical (almost certainly non-delta) viral loads in unvaccinated pts. While that result is important, it's comparing non-delta to delta.
    Your question asks about generic "Covid," not specifcally the delta Covid addressed by the paper. The paper provides no data on delta viral loads in unvaccinated patients. It also provides no data on non-delta viral loads in vaccinated patients. So that's a zero too.

    I suppose there could be other "authoritative scientists" that I don't know about. But like any authoritative Scotsman would say, if they agree with the question you posed, they are not authoritative Scotsmen. So that's a zero too.
    Why is this multiple choice?

  11. probably over 100 but still doesn't make them right. probably over a thousand 'scientists' believe in intelligent design theory...

  12. Zero. The study says no such thing. What it actually says is that Delta is worse (or that viral load count is higher, which I am interpreting as worse, although that may not be) than previous strains of corona (251 times worse) in regards to vaccinated people. That is, as I understand it, although I may be wrong, vaccinated people are infected with the delta strain variants have 251 times higher the amount of viral loads than other older strains. It mentions nothing about unvaccinated people at all. The actual quote is: "Viral loads of breakthrough Delta variant infection cases were 251 times higher than those of cases infected with old strains detected between March-April 2020"

  13. "viral loads of breakthrough Delta variant infection cases were 251 times higher than those of cases infected with old strains". Wasn't comparing vaccinated to unvaccinated. It was comparing Delta to original strain. The answer should be 0.

  14. I’m a little confused. You believe the site that you posted ?

  15. “The Exposé is now censored on Google, Facebook & Twitter.” IMHO Repugnant. I don’t trust journalists to provide the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth about ANY topic. Ditto about mainstream USA media. ACJA

    1. Follow the link in The Expose and you will find that it is completely misquoting - probably intentionally - that study.

  16. Zero.
    Because of my knowledge in this area from many studies, I know whomever the referenced website is citing purportedly in support of this position is either being misinterpreted/misunderstood/misrepresented, or simply isn't an authoritative source.
    There is no reliable well-controlled data that indicates vaxed have 251 times the viral load of the unvaxed.
    In the alpha wave, the vaxed had lower viral load. In the delta wave they are found, in multiple studies, to have similar viral loads with no statistically significant differences when testing large sample sizes. Although interestingly, when they culture the actual virus from the participants, the vaxed are at lower levels of infectious virus culture at equivalent level of viral load, for whatever that's worth.

    1. You seem to be claiming that it is impossible any scientist said a thing like that, because it is so patently wrong.
      Do you understand how illogical that is?
      Generally known as the 'no true Scotsman' logic.

    2. It's not a "no true scotsman fallacy" when I have seen a mass of data directly contradicting and disproving the claim. It is pointing out a ludicrous claim for what it is. That's part of the benefit of actually reading and understanding the latest studies in this field and having subject matter knowledge to be able to do so. Crackpots are easily dismissed as unsupported by evidence.

  17. I don't know if The Lancet updated the summary after the study began to be abused, but it says right there that this has nothing to do with vaccinations.

  18. I write this as a fan of Rabbi Slifkin.

    This blog is straying so far from its MO that it's quite disappointing.

    How is a hub for fighting anti-vaccine misinformation anything to do with Rationalist Judaism?

    1. Hence the "and various other notes" in the blog heading.

      I'm pretty bored by the subject too at this stage, however I do think it is tangentially related to the purpose of the blog in general in as much as it highlights (and in the comments exposes) the very different approaches people take to epistemology. These are clearly not as bifurcated as RNS' tends to describe them ("rationalist" vs. "mystical") - neither in Judaism nor in other matters - however the distance between them, and the conclusions that therefore get drawn is really highlighted in this case as well as about any other.

  19. No one trusts these lying scientists any longer.

    Be it climate-gate or immunology-gate. The science has been tainted by money and agenda. Jewish organizations such as Dor Yesharim as well, are no longer serving constituents in good faith. Since its inception, they have added testing for many illness that are merely chronic but not life threatening.

    We live in a generation that tries to play God.

    1. "No one trusts these lying scientists any longer."

      Tell me, what do you mean by "no one"?

    2. "No one trusts these lying scientists any longer...Dor Yesharim as well, are no longer serving constituents in good faith. Since its inception, they have added testing for many illness that are merely chronic but not life threatening."

      "merely chronic"?!
      Do you know how nasty these "merely chronic" conditions are? Where's your compassion?

    3. So if you take vaccines and do Dor Yesharim, no one will ever get sick.
      We don't even need God anymore at that point!

      This is exactly whats wrong with all these liberals screaming "get the vaccine!"

      They are really saying, no need for God, man can control everything!

    4. By this logic, Rivka, all medical interventions are a rejection of God.

      This is the philosophy of the Christian Scientist movement and the Jehovah's Witnesses. It is foreign to Judaism.

    5. If you are old or immunocompromised, indeed it is perhaps normal hishtadlus. Not the case however with the majority of the population whom covid poses no risk.

    6. Wow, you just completely changed your theology in two hours!

      Okay, so the new claim is that there is no hashkafic reason to take a vaccine against a virus that has a very small chance of killing you and a significant chance of making you enhance a global pandemic that has killed millions and is overloading the hospitals.

      That's a strange form of Judaism that you practice.

    7. Since when do we take medication and do medical procedures, on the unlikely chance that someone else may get infected from you and then be so infected that they die!

      Rationalism down the drain I guess!

    8. what is so wrong trying to avoid chronic illness when we can. We are not playing God, God gave us these tools, we would be fools (or worse) not to use it

    9. It's like eating so your friend won't be hungry!

    10. "..on the unlikely chance.."
      Define unlikely. You are one person. You can infect many others. And so can they. It's not as unlikely as you think.

    11. Rivka I'm not sure if you are aware that 99% of people dying from covid these days are unvaccinated

  20. If you read the actual study it just says that viral loads of carriers of Delta variant are 251 times more than other variants. There is no comparison between vaccinated and unvaccinated carriers.

  21. (אני אכתוב בעברית כי אני לא כותב טוב באנגלית אע"פ שאני מבין)
    אני לא מכיר אף אחד שטוען שהעומס הנגיפי של המחוסנים גבוה פי 251 (למה דווקא 251? זה בגלל ההודית?) מזה של הלא מחוסנים. לעומת זאת אני מכיר הרבה מדענים שאומרים שהמחוסנים והלא מחוסנים בארץ (אבל לא רק שם) עם ההודית ואחרי כמה חודשים נדבקים באותה מידה ואין שום יתרון לחיסון אלא בזה שהוא מונע מחלה קשה במידה מסוימת (50%). ולמדתי עוד דבר בשנה וחצי האחרונות שקונצנסוס מדעי אמיתי יכול לקחת זמן להתגבש, במיוחד בנושא של נגיף חדש שמעורבים בו אינטרסים פוליטיים וכלכליים.

  22. אוקיי עכשיו מצאתי מאיפא מגיע המספר 251. זה ממחקר חדש יחסית על עובדי בתי חולים בוייטנאם. הם מצאו שאצל המחוסנים שנדבקו (בדלתא) היה עומס נגיפי של 251 לעומת המחוסנים שנדבקו בוריאנטים הקודמים.מה זה אומר לנו? שעם הדלתא, אם נדבקת למרות החיסון, אין לך שום הגנה במניעת הדבקה בגלל החיסון.רק ממחלה קשה.

  23. I thought zero. Then I saw it was Dr. Peter Mcullough who did this study and I was wondering if doctors who have been shown to be spreading false information about covid and the covid vaccine actually counts.

  24. So is Rabbi Slifkin going to explain the multiple choice exercise he asked us to do at the end of this post?


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