Discover more from Rationalist Judaism
I know that many people are sick of the Betech business, but due to various public declarations being made (see R. Gil Student's comment on the previous post), I have to finish up. Hopefully this will be the penultimate post on this topic. Besides, there are some important lessons here.
There is an important concept in modern science of falsifiability. For a theory to be scientific, it has to make predictions that could potentially be falsified. If it can make many such predictions, then as long as these are not falsified, it gives the theory more credibility.
One of my questions to Dr. Isaac Betech was that since he claims that his belief in recent creation is based on scientific as well as religious grounds, I asked him to provide falsifiable predictions that his model makes. He didn't respond, but he did offer to explain how his non-acceptance of evolution could be falsified:
I do not know any scientific proof that there was evolution of the species. My position would be falsified very easily if someone presents me just one irrefutable proof; in that case, I would say: I accept that I was mistaken.
Earlier, I noted that this statement is so meaningless as to be ludicrous. Saying that one's position could be falsified by an "irrefutable proof" does not mean anything at all, if one does not specify what such a proof would be!
But there are further ridiculous aspects to Betech's statement, which is brought into sharper focus with his continuation:
So I ask to NS, please define how your position could be falsified. For example: NS says: There are compelling reasons to accept the evolution of the species. His position would be falsified if he or his appointed representative fails to present to me even one irrefutable proof, in that case, NS would have to say: I accept that I was mistaken.
According to Betech, if I cannot present irrefutable proof of evolution, then it is mistaken for me to claim that are compelling reasons to accept it. Now, this is simply nonsense. Outside of mathematics, there is no such thing as irrefutable proofs. If someone is determined to counter a proposition (such as if he is fundamentally religiously opposed to it), he can always find something to say in response. If he is stubborn, he can continue an argument endlessly, and if has more sticking power than his opponent, he will get the last word and can claim to have refuted the proposition. Thus, there is nothing in the real world that has "irrefutable proofs." God might have made things look other than how they are, for inscrutable reasons! But the absence of "irrefutable proof" for a proposition does not mean that there is not evidence and compelling reasons for accepting it!
(Note that many of the Rishonim accepted Greco-Muslim philosophical arguments and principles as sufficiently proving truths, and even diverted from the Mesorah to explain various pesukim accordingly; and modern science is vastly more powerful than Greco-Muslim philosophy.)
It was in this vein that I readily agreed to make the following statement to Dr. Betech:
I, Natan Slifkin, admit that I do not know of any irrefutable scientific proof supporting the evolution of the species, neither the mechanisms of evolution, nor the common ancestry (the so called “fact” of evolution).
Dr. Betech gleefully took this to show that I myself had agreed to the weakness of the science that I reconcile with Judaism. But I wasn't conceding any weakness at all. I don't know of anything, anything that can be irrefutably proved. Previously, I gave the example of the moon landing. There are many people, including a sizeable number of Orthodox Jews, who insist that it was a hoax. One cannot irrefutably prove that the moon landing took place; in theory, all the evidence could be part of the conspiracy. But, from where I'm standing, I would certainly say that there is compelling evidence for it!
In my book, I presented a brief overview of the overwhelming convergence of evidence for evolution (in terms of common ancestry) that is described in the scientific literature. That is more than sufficient reason to accept it. But the sort of person who demands "irrefutable proofs" is the sort of person who will refuse to accept any of the evidence.
One final point. In general, Dr. Betech gave the strong impression that he believes that if I cannot present irrefutable proof of evolution, then this means that evolution is disproven, and his model of recent creation is correct. But, since the absence of "irrefutable proofs" does not rule out the existence of compelling evidence, kal v'chomer it doesn't mean that the alternate view is correct! Does Dr. Betech have any "irrefutable proofs" that the world was created 5771 years ago? I don't think so...