Saturday, 10 July 2010

A Stocking Full of Excrement

That's what Napoleon said about Talleyrand in one of his imperial rages

It's also what I think about the upcoming Torah of Science and Chareidi English writing in general

Artscroll and similar publishers specialize in taking fundamentalist ideology and dressing it up with Western words. The idea is to present rather silly ideas and beliefs in a dignified manner using good English. The population being targeted, I assume, is people who are educated and are turned off by the half literate, barely English speaking leaders of the Chareidi world. Most people with a college education will run away from people who say things like "stupid goyish scientific narishkeit." Educated people will be much more receptive to things like "the prevailing mistaken scientific ideology"

Its interesting that all it takes for some people to be convinced is good English and throwing in lots of nice big scientific sounding words.

Artscroll is clever. They know that you're not going to make Chareidi BT's out of educated people unless you express stupid things eloquently. You gotta say juxtapose instead of semichas haparshiyos, and you gotta say hermeneutical principles instead of Yud Gimel Middos. The only way to make crazy Chareidism into something palatable is by dressing up the excrement in a nice silk stocking.

It's simply amazing how influential someone with good English can be. It says absolutely nothing about your intelligence yet makes you appear to the masses as extraordinarily educated. Throw in a British accent and you're good to go.

I predict that the Torah of Science will be much different than the earlier "rebuttal" of R' Slifkin in Chaim B'Emunasam. Chaim B'Emunasam was aimed at Yeshivish people who might be tempted by R' Slifkin's "evil ways". The Torah of Science, I predict, will be written in flawless English and will make lots of (selective) references to science and throw in some Rishonim also while avoiding using provocative medieval sounding words like "heresy, and apikosus" and will instead say things like "undermines basic principles of Judaism."

Thats the scariest thing the Chareidim who speak like educated people yet believe in the weirdest things. It almost makes one want to encourage the lack of secular education in Yeshivot lest the Chareidim learn "fancy" words like exegesis! (Oy vey!)

Don't be fooled by Rabbi Meiselman's lectures which make him sound like a semi-literate kollel guy. This book, I believe, will be different and try to be as "scientific" as possible.

Should be fun to watch

9 comments:

The Hedyot said...

Great analysis!

Baruch Spinoza said...

Hello Shilty,

I really like this post, I agree with everything you say and you used some great examples.

In general, when people want to hide something they use fancy language or dodge direct questions. Just look at politicians, for instance, when was the last time you heard them answer a straight question directly? They do not want to directly state what they think, it will look bad, so they need to hide.

But if people had intelligent positions or positions that they are not afraid of they are not afraid to state them directly without hiding behind fancy words. There were (are) some great comedians, sometimes crossing into philosophy. What I loved about those comedians is that they did not disguise their ideas with fancy language. They said it straight. In plain English, with vulgar terms, with sexual references, and still, despite all of that, their ideas were intelligent.

If you ever noticed the theory of evolution does not need to be disguised. You can say it in plain English without any fanciful language and it will sound like an intelligable position.

By the way. One tactic that Orthodox Jews (and other religious people) do is play what I call the epistomological game. It is kinda related to what you said, I wrote about it here, http://skepticbutjewish.blogspot.com/2010/02/epistemological-non-sense-game.html

Actually, your great post, reminds me of a funny video I seen a long time ago on YouTube about one of the terrible arguments for the existence of God: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vmpo5zkjRPE

G*3 said...

It works the other way, too. My father recently bought a book on the history of Ashkenazik Jewry put out by Artscroll. It’s an interesting read, but the funny thing about it is that it’s laid out like a sefer. The format, the language, even the pages of haskomos – you could replace the text with a discussion of hilchos Shabbos, and it would work just as well.

Obviously, it’s aimed at a yeshivish audience which feels comfortable with the “sefer” layout and which has probably never seen the “popular history book” layout. The book is designed to sell to its intended audience.

I’m sure the same will be true of “Torah of Science.” (An odd title. Is the book going to shoe that there is Torah is science? That the Torah has discovered things that scientists have known to be true since science was given at Har Sinia…?) If it’s intended for a yeshivish audience, it will look like a sefer. If it’s intended for a secular (or Modern) audience, it will read like a book of popular apologetics.

> It's simply amazing how influential someone with good English can be. It says absolutely nothing about your intelligence

I’m not sure about that. Vocabulary is the number one indicator of intelligence, and the vocabulary section of IQ tests can be used on its own to get a quick estimate of someone’s IQ. The perception that people who use a complex vocabulary are educated is because most educated people use a complex vocabulary. Granted, that doesn’t mean that everyone who uses big words is smart and/or educated, but good vocabulary = educated is a valid heuristic.

> Its interesting that all it takes for some people to be convinced is good English and throwing in lots of nice big scientific sounding words.

I was reading a book about pseudo-science over Shabbos, and it was interesting how the quoted articles were full of scientific-sounding jargon that, when you actually tried to figure out what it meant, was either gibberish or was making unjustified claims.

E-Man said...

The title "The Torah of Science" makes no sense. He is going to be attacking evolution and the idea that the world is older than 6000 years. So, in essence, he is trying to show how science is unreliable. The title is ridiculous and is only meant to grab people into thinking this has ANYTHING to do with actual science.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Hedyot, Baruch,

Thanks

G*3,
>but good vocabulary = educated is a valid heuristic.

True. Let's put it this way it does not make you more of an expert on a certain subject than someone w/o a big vocabulary. It merely says that you at least read English books/went to University. It does not, however, confer on you any expertise in evolutionary biology.

E-man,

The title is just a cute inversion of R. Slifkin's book (it would be cuter if the guy was a little less deluded) It's just his way of saying "Hey Slifkin you've got it all upside down"

Have no fear there will be some token "science" but it will be very selective and will probably miss the point.

MKR said...

Quoting G*3:

It’s an interesting read, but the funny thing about it is that it’s laid out like a sefer. The format, the language, even the pages of haskomos – you could replace the text with a discussion of hilchos Shabbos, and it would work just as well.

Okay, I'm an ignoramus, I have never set foot in a yeshiva, I only know that "sefer" is the Hebrew word for "book," so I'm sure that I am missing something here. What does it mean for a book to be "laid out like a sefer"?

Vocabulary is the number one indicator of intelligence, and the vocabulary section of IQ tests can be used on its own to get a quick estimate of someone’s IQ. The perception that people who use a complex vocabulary are educated is because most educated people use a complex vocabulary. Granted, that doesn’t mean that everyone who uses big words is smart and/or educated, but good vocabulary = educated is a valid heuristic.

I can't accept this, unless you specify that by "vocabulary" you mean the ability to use words correctly. I doubt that there is any strong correlation of size of vocabulary with intelligence. I have encountered plenty of stupid, pretentious people who use a lot of recherché words but have a very weak understanding of what they mean (and usually of how they are spelled and pronounced, too). Just go to the school of education on any university campus and you will find such people in abundance.

Baruch Spinoza said...

My favorite question to ask Orthodox Jew (and some Christians) that reveals how mythological they is, "do you believe in the talking snake?". Of course, I am refering to the serpent in the garden of Eden, but I do not say "serpent" or "satan", I say it for what it actually is, "talking snake". Or a "talking snake with arms and legs". I use this question often. Not my own idea, I heard other people use it, I think Dawkins was the first, and since then I decided to incorporate it into my unapologetics. But it is a good question. It asks a direct question but makes the religion sound absurd at the same time.

For that matter a good question to ask a radical Muslim who claims his religion is tolerate, is "what is the penalty for apostasy?". This idea I know came from Dawkins. He uses it on radical Muslims. I saw a English program which was about religion and they had different kind of religious people there. One of which was a radical Muslim who talked about how peaceful and tolerate Islam is. Dawkins did not argue with him, just asked him, "what is the penalty of apostasy". The Muslim guy did not even want to answer the question, haha. With enough pressuring of Dawkins the Muslims responded "death, but ... ". So I guess one of the best tactics against religion is asking direct embarassing questions.

E-Man said...

MKR-

He was relating vocabulary to the likes which is found on an IQ test. Meaning, being able to understand what the big words mean. If you have ever taken an IQ test you would understand what he is talking about.

However, Shilton's point is as you say. Shilton means using big words without actually knowing what they mean. However, G*3 was just pointing out ACTUALLY knowing vocabulary would, in fact, show real intelligence.

Shilton- I know it is an inversion, but it is idiotic to make an inversion that makes no sense. Let's say you wrote a book called "Judaism Makes No Sense." Would it make any sense at all for me to write a book in rebuttal called "Sense Makes No Judaism?" Obviously, the answer is no. I should make the title "Judaism Makes Sense." This Rabbi should have named the book "Torah Does Not Need to Fit With Science" because that is what he is trying to prove. "The Torah of Science," for anyone who understands what all of those words means, makes ZERO sense, in the same way the title I gave to my imaginary book makes no sense.

G*3 said...

MKR,
‘Sefer’ literally translates as ‘book,’ but in yeshivish parlance a sefer is a book one ‘learns’ from, i.e., a religious text.

Re. vocabulary, of course one must be able to use the words correctly. Parroting noises one heard from educated people does not make one educated. One’s vocabulary is here defined as the words one can use properly. Vocabulary size has a strong correlation with general intelligence, and on many IQ tests the vocabulary subtest is used to determine the level at which to start testing and/or can be used on its own as a screening measure to get a general idea of a client’s IQ.

Shilton, you’re right, having an education and/or being smart doesn’t automatically make you an expert on any given subject. But your exact words were, “It says absolutely nothing about your intelligence yet makes you appear to the masses as extraordinarily educated.” My point is that a large vocabulary IS a good indicator of both intelligence and education. (Sorry if I’m being overly pedantic.)

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