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Futile Torah-Science "Discussions"
(This is a sequel to yesterday's post, The Great Dinosaur Mistake)
I recently joined, and then left, an online discussion group about Torah-science issues. I had hoped that it would provide interesting and thought-provoking discussion, and indeed there were some participants who initiated such discussions. But there were two dominant voices in the group that caused me to leave.
One was a person who had The Ultimate Solution to the age of the universe. It was an endless sequence of comments about Deep Time, and SPIRAL, and other acronyms and jargon, and I didn't have a clue what he was talking about. I began to suspect that he didn't know what he was talking about, either. So I posted a comment to his discussion with my own jargon - a hodge-podge of meaningless but sophisticated-sounding terms. Lo and behold, he fell for it entirely, and excitedly responded with a flood of further discussion. There's no point engaging with such people, and it's rather frustrating when they attempt to take over every discussion.
The second was a person who presented himself as an authoritative voice on Torah-science issues. However, his approach was entirely non-rationalist. With regard to science, he did not respect the modern scientific enterprise; he casually dismissed facts that are universally accepted among biologists, geologists, paleontologists, and so on, if they raised problems with what he considered to be the unequivocal meaning of various parts of the Torah. With regard to Chazal, he wrote that "their thought processes are those of human beings far greater than ourselves – of rishonim k'malachim – and we are therefore very reticent to second-guess them" (which effectively meant that we can never say that they erred). He did not accept the legitimacy of Rishonim and Acharonim who said otherwise, and once approvingly cited a view that such authorities should be put in cherem. He would not accept that Chazal could be wrong about fundamental scientific facts, and he was willing to contrive any kind of interpretation, no matter how far-fetched, in order that Chazal should be correct. And if someone expressed a view that offended his religious sensibilities, he was eager to condemn their views as being beyond the pale.
Now, there is certainly ample basis in tradition for such views. However, they are not the Maimonidean or rationalist approach, and it renders any discussion of conflicts between Torah and science rather pointless. If you don't believe that modern science has raised any new challenges for Torah, and you're not willing to re-evaluate any traditional beliefs, and you're not willing to implement intellectual honesty in trying to understand what Chazal were actually saying, then there is simply no point in having any discussion.