Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Radical Skepticism vs Common Sense

Some people just don't get it. I have explained this so many times, and they still don't get it. Please, please, please try to understand, before one of us dies. (Bonus points: Who said that ?)

Nothing can ever be absolutely proven 100%. You can always be a radical skeptic. There might be a global conspiracy to lie to you. We might all be brains in a jar. The whole world might be an illusion. However, we have to live our lives according to what is extremely probable, not what might, in some bizarre way, be remotely possible. It might be possible that Science is all wrong, but that doesn't stop us from getting on a plane or taking medicine.

It might be possible that my spouse is really my sister. Does that mean I can't go home ? It might be possible, so surely I wouldn't want to be oyver on Giluy Arayos ! Clearly, this is ridicluous. Even when it comes to yehoreg ve'al yaavor, we hold by common sense and chazakah. Since there is no reason to assume otherwise, its not Giluy Arayos.

Similarly, if the global majority of experts hold of something, and there is no reason to assume any pre-conceived bias or incorrect assumptions, then its only secheldick to agree. Its not a case of having "too much faith in Science". Its not a case of having "Emunah Peshuta in Science". Its not "trusting the Scientists more than the Gedolim". Its basic, common sense. Its the only reasonable way to live life. If you jettison common sense, then nothing makes sense.

Thats what it boils down to. This basic and fundamental premise precedes everything else, it has to. If you can question reality, you get nowhere. Once you have this assumption, then you realize that parts of the Torah must be re-interpreted. Those people who come up with bizarre nonsensical Nes-Nisayon theories, or who say we can't believe the Scientists, are making a very fundamental mistake.

Of course some parts of Science are less proven. Some parts are based on assumptions that we discount. For example, some aspects of evolutionary theory are based on the assumption that there was no preconceived plan for life. If you hold G-d did plan life, you might argue on this.

However, those parts which are proven, which are not based on any faulty assumptions, but simply on honest experimentation and evaluation of the evidence, need to be accepted. Of course its always possible that in some bizarre event of extremely low probability, something might be disproven. Nu, if it happens, then it happens. But you can't live your life or construct your ideology based on what might possibly happen.

If you do, you might need to be committed to an asylum.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

New, improved Nes Nissayon V2.0 !

Wow, I can't believe it. A Hirhurim commentator has just come up with a brand new version of the Nes-Nissayon (NN) Theory ! Amazing. For the sake of simplicity, I shall call it NN-V2. This new theory is way more sophisticated than NN-V1, as the author explains, NN V1 is 'childish, self-indulgent, solipsistic delusion' whereas NN-V2 is not.

In the words of the author, Euonymus Alatus :

We all know that time is subjective and does not apply to the creator. If so, creation ex nihilo clearly included the subjective future. It is equally true that the moment of creation included the past, which, nunc pro tunc, actually existed. The moment of creation, i.e., the moment that past and future came into existence, can be any point in the continuum. For all we know, we, and all of our pasts, were created a moment ago. It is only after that creation that the past exists. The Torah tells us that the moment of creation was 5765 years ago. Please don't dumb this down into "He created an old world." It is utterly different. Yeshivaleit call this "mikahn ulehabo lemafrei'a." Furthermore, see Meshech Chochmo in Breishis who brings R' Eliezer Shittah in Yoma 54b,Sotah 45b,and Rosh Hashanna 26a regarding creation of geographic, spiritual, and temporal structures from the center, not beginning or end.

If I understand this correctly, NN-V2 is not saying that G-d created a universe which simply looks old, as that would be childish. No, NN-V2 is saying that 5765 years ago, G-d created an actual 15 billion year old universe ! Not childish at all !

Unfortunately this theory doesn't explain the Mabul, or evolution, or anything else though. Still, it does preserve the notion of 5765 years, which as every man, woman and child knows, is one of the fundamental ikkarim of Yiddishkeit.

For some strange reason, the phrase 'childish, self-indulgent, solipsistic delusion' springs to mind. But I have no idea why, or what solipsistic means.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Do I Worship the God of Science ?

Some people have criticized me saying that I worship the 'God of Science'. Well Science is certainly amazing, so lets think about this question for a few minutes.

Nothing in the field of human endeavor has had the same impact as Science, and it seems likely that nothing ever will. If you really stop to think about it, the level of success in the Scientific endeavor has been absolutely amazing. No other human endeavor has been so phenomenally successful in achieving its goals. We take so much of it for granted that we don't even realize just how incredible it all is.

Some people like to quote the saying "hafoch boh dkuloh boh" (everything is in the Torah) to show how Science is in the Torah. However, this phenomenal Scientific success did not come from the Gedolim learning Torah. It came from Scientists following their (non Torahdick) process.

Clearly, when "Hafoch boh" was said, Science in its current form did not exist. Nor did anything like it. Should we really take this phrase literally ? Of course not. In ancient times, Tenach was quite a good repository of 'wisdom', as the ancients defined it. Of course, some truths are eternal, and so the Torah's views on life, religion, morality etc are as good today as they ever were. However, when it comes to Science, there's nothing in there. Nothing. Hafoch Boh cannot possibly apply.

We should be incredibly grateful to the Scientists, and we should show the appropriate hakoras hatov. With all due respect, the Gedolim didn't find out the cures for cancer, the Scientists did. Slandering Scientists when they find something which appears to contradict some fundamentalists viewpoint is the height of ingratitude and bad middos. Would we prefer to live without modern technology ? Without modern medicine ? Without modern travel ? (Actually yes to the last one but that's different !)

The incredible chochmah of Science is not really due to the Scientists though. They are simply reporting what they see, and trying to figure it out, slowly and painfully, one step at a time. But we realize that the true chochmah comes from somewhere else. This was stated 2500 years ago, in another well known phrase, which I do take literally. That phrase is "Moh Rabu Maasechoh Hashem, Kulom Bechochmoh Asisa."

Rav Herzog had this to say about Science:

It is unfortunate that while science is progressively conquering worlds and discovering all sorts of secrets, although it too errs at times, we like ostriches bury our heads in sand. It is imperative that we encourage the ablest students of the yeshivot also to be educated as men of science in each discipline, so that we should not need to turn to others in matters of physiology, chemistry, electricity, etc. concerning things that relate to our sacred Torah. ...

So do I worship the God of Science ?

Absolutely. Three times a day, four times on the weekend.

Don't you ?

Thursday, April 14, 2005

'Proven Science'

Many people have commented that science changes all the time. Some people have said that even Category 1 (C1) 'Proven' Science (as I have defined it) can change.

For now, there are only 3 major points of science that I am interested in. I find it very hard to believe that any of these will change. The science behind these facts is substantial.

F1. Age of the world is significantly older than 6000 years
F2. Many intelligent humans living all over the world 10,000 years ago.
F3. No global flood, or anything close to it.

These three facts by themselves, are enough to force large parts of the first 11 chapters of Breishis to be one of the following Theories:

T1. Nes / Nisayon
T2. Myth / Moshol
T3. Not literal / Imprecise / Darshen

Personally, I haven't seen anyone do a good job at T3 while still conforming to F1,2 & 3. I would be very intersted in someone doing that. 'Yom' meaning 'Period' is only one small piece.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Emunas Scientistim

We spoke about Emunas Chachomim (good but not in the extremists), Emunas Kanoim (always bad), and Emunah Peshuta (sometimes ok). Now its time to talk about Emunas Scientistim.

In a previous post, I divided the world of science into 3 broad categories:

1. Proven Science.
These are theories that the majority of the Scientific Community accept are ‘proven’, (to the extent that anything can be ‘proven’).

2. Debatable Science
These theories (or some significant aspects thereof) are the subject of much debate within the scientific community, as to wether they are proven, (or even correct).

3. Theoretical Science
These theories are held by the majority of the scientific community to be theoretical, unproven and conjecture at this point.

I stated that I will argue Science vs Torah from catgeory 1. I will occasionally debate category 2 but not usually. I don’t go near Catgeory 3 to the best of my knowledge.

This stimulated much debate. I discerned three major questions.

Q1. You just have Emunah Peshuta in Science !

A1.1 Yes for Good Reason.
Its true, I have EP in the scientific community and process. This is for a number of reasons. The scientists come from a wide range of backgrounds, cultures and religions. The scientists employ an open process. The scientists encourage new experimentation and discussion of opposing views. There are many textbooks and popular books on science, explaining in great detail all the theories. Few scientists insist that you must have emunah peshutah in their theories, but then refuses to explain their reasoning ! Do I have a science phd ? No. Have I read all of science ? Of course not. However I have read enough of it to see its convincing. Therefore I have emunah peshutah, as long as the majority of the scientific community are in agreement.

A1.2. No, its not Emunah Peshuta
EP implies a faith in something for no good reason, other than that one needs to have faith. However my faith in Science is for all the good reasons stated above. Am I ultimately trusting the scientists ? Yes, in exactly the same way that I am ultimately trusting that everyone I have ever had any contact with since the day I was born has not been lying to me as part of some great, global conspiracy. That’s not emunah peshutah. That’s common sense.

Q2. If you believe the scientists, then you should believe the Documentary Hypothesis too !

A2.1 The Premise of DH is Wrong
The DH assumes that the Bible was man written, and the question is how many men wrote it. G-d writing the Bible is not entertained as a credible alternative. Even though general science also has this assumption, its not directly relevant there, since even G-d believers understand that there is a scientific mechanism to how the world was created and subsequently operates.

A2.2 DH is not ‘Proven’
Alternatively, DH may be in category 2, or even 3, not category 1. I am finding it difficult to figure out. Some people claim that not a single serious (non fundamentalist) Bible scholar in the world disagrees with the multiple authorship theory. Others say the theory is outdated 19th century scholarship which has been debunked.

A2.3 DH is not Science
I could also say that DH ‘Science’ is not in the same category at all as the other sciences (physics, biology etc). Its more of a soft science, which relies on conjecture and theories, rather than provable or observable expirements. My emunah in science is only in the hard sciences.

Q3. What if Science disproved an ikkar like Sinai, then what would you do ?

A3.1 It could never happen
I have emunah that science could never disprove a real ikkar (e.g. Sinai) since Science is true and Sinai is true, so one could not ever disprove another. Therefore the question is theoretical, could never happen and is not worth thinking about. You might as well ask, what if all the Gedolim said Sinai didn’t happen !

A3.2 The Truth is the Truth
I could also answer that if a category 1 science theory did actually disprove Sinai (and I mean mamash disprove, no doubt at all whatsoever), then it would show Sinai never happened, and that would be a fact. Truth is truth, and is surely the highest value. It would be a great shame, but there’s no point in denying reality.

A3.3 I would have emunah
Alternatively, I could say that if it came to something really fundamental, like Sinai, then I would not listen to the scientists. However, I don’t like this approach as much, because then the whole debate with the extremists just becomes quantative. i.e. We all have our limits as to when we will ignore reality, they just reach theirs sooner. However I think its qualatitive, they are nuts and I am not.