Thursday, April 21, 2022

An Awkward Moment

One of the many thousands of happy visitors to the Biblical Museum of Natural History this Pesach came over to me to thank me. A charedi woman, she expressed her appreciation that I created an educational experience which combines Torah with the natural world. "You're welcome!" I said. She continued, "And not like those other places which teach nonsense such as evolution!"
 
I smiled and nodded.

30 comments:

  1. I was visiting the Grand Canyon, in Arizona, and marveling at the carving that had created it over millions of years. I came to a satisfactory formulation:

    . . . God made it, and the Colorado River was His finger.

    That doesn't help the "age of the Earth" discussion, but it gives credit to "natural wonders" where it is due.

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    1. "The Finger Lakes are a group of eleven long, narrow, roughly north–south lakes in an area called the Finger Lakes region in New York, in the United States."

      "Native American legend claims that the lakes were formed by the hands of the Great Spirit when he laid their hands on the land to bless it. His fingers left imprints that filled with water, hence the name “Finger Lakes.” "

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  2. Was wondering your take on the book "The confused world of modern atheism" by R' Moshe Averick, in particular Page 42 where he brings 800 scientists that disagree with the theory of evolution. https://dissentfromdarwin.org/download/

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    1. Old stuff. See here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Steve . But since I don't know you, it might not be worth it for you personally to see it.

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    2. Rabbi M.averick?

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    3. Similarly, consider the film shown (some ten years ago) at the Stalactites Cave outside of Bet Shemesh. The narrator explained that the stalactites took "many" years to form. No mention of how many years was provided.
      No need to antogonize (or confuse) a large percentage of the visiting population.

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    4. I note that many (NOT all), possibly most, are in different fields entirely. E.g., mathematics, mechanical engineering, philosophy. I question their expertise in evolution.

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    5. To be exact, they are skeptical of the "ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life."
      This is not the same as Divinely guided evolution.

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    6. I'm with Shalom B here. Science is about nothing if not healthy debate, leaving all politics aside. Rigorous scrutiny of the data is always welcome.

      But more than needing qualified people to argue, we need good arguments. 800 scientists who know very little about evolution amount to less of a position than 1 rabbi who has no formal training in science at all but is well versed in these matters. I'm a dentist, and so I'm considered a scientist (based on the link you provided, I see the site prominently displaying a quote from a Mexican pathologist) but I can find you 800 dental colleagues who would know nothing about evolutionary biology.

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    7. Actually…teeth are one of the most important aspects for differentiating and classifying hominids in evolutionary theory….

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    8. According to Rabbi Slifkin in the previous post, it's totally reasonable for a PhD biologist to believe in spontaneous generation. So one adds nothing by assembling either a list of 800 biologists who deny evolution or 800000 who support it.

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    9. As Einstein famously said, had they been right, if would have required only one.

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    10. @Shalom B

      While I think your main (inferred) point is valid, I think that there is an interesting question about the limits of a natural selection in solving complex search problems that is inherently mathematical in nature. Sure biology has much to say in terms of defining the parameters for the specific situation of life on earth as we see it, but both the broader problem and the specific example are at their fundamental level mathematical / information theory problems hence I think mathematicians have a clear "skin in the game" on this issue.

      Moe generally the statement is worded so vaguely "We are sceptical" (many people could say this about many things including those that they are pretty sure are correct) "careful examination of the evidence... should be encouraged" (when is that not true about anything?). Hence the entire statement is near meaningless unless taken as a political statement (despite number 6 on their FAQ stating it is not a political statement).

      Finally, I unusually agree with something @HGLP wrote "...one adds nothing by assembling either a list of 800 biologists who deny evolution or 800000 who support it" - pretty much correct (not sure if @HGLP was trying to be facetious when writing that), the quality of the argument and the quality of working shown backing the argument is the key question, not the number of people someone managed to get on a list of signatories (which, given the number of PHDs out there and therefore the number of wacky opinions undoubtedly shared by many thousands of them, speaks far more to the commitment of the person[s] compiling the list[s] than either the veracity or the prevalence of the stated view[s].)

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    11. Then R Averick & Scott both did nothing.

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    12. If I recall R' Moshe Averick's main argument is about the low chance of abiogenesis. However, Orthodox Rabbi Jeremy England (also a scientist) explains thermodynamics may drive the emergence of life. He is not the only scientist who has argued this. ACJA

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    13. This is comical. One of the commenters thinks actual working scientists can't weight in on evolution unless they actually work in that tiny narrow field - (whatever that field is, I don't know). But rabbis of any stripe, even those without a pulpit or students, can offer their opinions on anything in the Torah whatsoever.

      In 2020, during the "pandemic", there were busybodies in various cities pushing doctors to sign petitions, urging people to just do what the government told them, and to "trust the science." As I vividly recall, on the list were doctors of podiatry, plastic surgeons, orthopedics....funny how "credentials" are played around like this!

      GP

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  3. LOl. This is a comedy skit! G-d bless you, Rabbi.

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  4. Chareidi lady is right, and take is as a compliment. If there's one thing about you that I find impressive, it's your ability to run an entertaining, educational museum totally disattached from your personal opinions. Although come to think of it, probably most of us do that in our jobs to some extent. Professionalism and all that.

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  5. Kudos for keeping your cool. I always get baited into arguments.

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    1. Your own fault. Who asked you to be a big mouth? Better avoid strife with a fife! :)

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  6. Do you display an ostrich which is mentioned in the Torah as an unkosher bird?

    Leviticus 11:16
    וְאֵת֙ בַּ֣ת הַֽיַּעֲנָ֔ה וְאֶת־הַתַּחְמָ֖ס וְאֶת־הַשָּׁ֑חַף וְאֶת־הַנֵּ֖ץ לְמִינֵֽהוּ

    If you do, has anyone asked why Hashem created such a large winged flightless bird? Could it be evolution?

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    1. Why has Hashem created anything?

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    2. Anonymous 10:12
      That’s a great question. Why the need for an omnipotent, omniscient entity to create? Why the need to create the universe, the Torah or anything? Why not simply allow the absence of existence or something? When you figure that out, you can proceed to discover the need to create winged flightless birds.

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  7. "Evolution" is a word used without the person having any idea what it means. The Big Bang is "evolution." It's the same way Chassidim say "Maskilim" or Israelis say "Reform."

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  8. Dear RNS, Isn't this sort of thing exactly in line with your approach? In your books you write that you don't want to upset or challenge people who are happy with their evolution-denying, young-and-probably-flat-earth ultra-orthodox approach? No matter how dunder-headed it is?
    I never understood why you think it's OK to leave people being stupid, but since you do, I am assuming that your smile and nod were totally genuine. No?

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  9. R Slifkin, how do you maintain the balance of writing things online, publicly, in your own name, that many charedim consider kefira, and yet maintaining a museum that (thankfully) hasn't yet been banned by the charedi leadership? It must be a difficult balance.

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  10. its a much easier pill to swallow that causation of evolution and countless of random self induced mutations over a period of more than thousands of years that i can count on my hands, is what is the power behind creation of the universe that we see today, rather than blindly having faith in a unseen all power divine creator creating this universe.

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  11. Are the original "Slifkin books" sold in the Museum Gift Shop? (I assume there is a gift shop...)

    (On that topic, do we have a timetable for the next volume of the Animal Encyclopedia?)

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  12. I never understood why you think it's OK to leave people being stupid, but since you do, I am assuming that your smile and nod were totally genuine. No?

    We can see too far. Who's being stupid and projecting, and who is doing more than regurgitating the textbook talking points I learned in kindergarten?

    There's a quote from the movie Buckaroo Banzai Across the Eighth Dimension that I think is quite apt and humorous in reply.

    Laugh while you can monkey boy.

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