Saturday, 7 August 2010

Can Orthodoxy REALLY Be Reconciled With Science?

I had a most interesting discussion the other day which I would like to share.

I got into a big argument with a relatively Yeshivish person about Young Earth Creationism. Now this person, we'll call him Reuven, is not an idiot and did not make the mistake of claiming that evolution is bunk or that geology is wrong etc. Instead he suggested that although science points unquestionably to an old earth it is still reasonable to assume that perhaps God tweaked things to make it look old.

Now I naturally rolled my eyes and perhaps overconfidently decided to show him the wrong of his ways but since I wanted to keep things "kosher" I tied my hand behind my back and took for granted, as he does, that the Torah is divine writ, without question, and is the eternal and infallible word of God. Since this is the Orthodox notion of TMS the point of the discussion was to see if the Modern Orthodox are succesfully able to hold both the doctrine of TMS and also uphold the reliability of science.

My first argument was that God would not "lie" (as I posted in my last post) about the world by creating it in a fashion which makes it seem that it is older than it really is.

Countered Reuven, God would not lie in the Torah that the world was created in 7 days.

I then said, that surely choosing the Torah over science is an arbitrary decision. After all God is deceiving us so to speak in one area either way, who is to say that the deception doesn't lie in the Torah instead of the science.

Countered Reuven, God never gave us nature as a source of insight or as a "guide to life". Conversely we were given the Torah for the explicit pupose of teaching us something. Therefore it indeed makes more sense to assume that the deception lies in nature not in the Torah.

I then said that we see that the Torah was written for a certain generation and perhaps made concessions to the superstitions and traditions of the Ancient Hebrews. Basically I invoked a sort of Nahum Sarna approach that the Torah was written in the form of Ancient Mythology as a "concession" to the spirit of the age,

Countered Reuven that even assuming that the Torah was written for a certain generation (he was quite reluctant to admit this) it is still unreasonable for God to leave such overt deception in a book which is meant to guide us. It is unreasonable for God to waste time expounding on a clearly fictional narrative in order to teach some sort of lesson to the Ancient Hebrews, when it clearly is a stumbling block for our generation. No matter how you say it, it is still a very misleading narrative and surely we should not attribute that to God?

I countered the Torah is not a history book etc.

He replied that that is true but is still should not mislead us.

I asked why God bothered to trick us with nature?

He said he had no idea but countered why would God trick us throught the Torah?

Since I decided not to say to Reuven "Well the Torah is not infallible etc." (Which is against Orthodox dogma) I basically lost the argument.

So I leave it to you folks. Did I miss something? Or is Modern Orthodoxy simply kidding itself when it claims to believe both in science and Torah? I've always assumed due to my brainwashing upbringing that although I personally don't believe in Orthodoxy, that Orthodoxy still does not HAVE to contradict science. But is this correct? Perhaps the Chareidim have it right and it is not reasonable to believe in the infallibility and complete divinity of the Torah and to also believe that science is correct. Perhaps the only real way to reconcile Judaism with science is to admit that the Torah is not infallible and is not ad verbatim the word of God. Maybe. I leave it to you.

25 comments:

G*3 said...

> Countered Reuven, God never gave us nature as a source of insight or as a "guide to life". Conversely we were given the Torah for the explicit pupose of teaching us something. Therefore it indeed makes more sense to assume that the deception lies in nature not in the Torah.

If we were given the Torah as a guide to life, perhaps the account(s) of creation are there to teach us lessons, not to describe how the universe came to be. It certainly makes more sense to say that God wrote a mythical creation story to teach us a greater lesson than it does to say that God tweaked the world to make its history look different than it actually was because…?

That said, the Chareidim do have a more consistent worldview. Completely divorced from reality and rationalism, but consistent.

Suzanne said...

What about the idea of Maimonides that some things cannot be taken literally, but rather metaphorically? Are metaphors lies?

Shilton HaSechel said...

>If we were given the Torah as a guide to life, perhaps the account(s) of creation are there to teach us lessons, not to describe how the universe came to be.

Why the completely misleading details though? Why not a much shorter narrative which does not overtly contradict science and still manages to teach the message?

>>It certainly makes more sense to say that God wrote a mythical creation story to teach us a greater lesson than it does to say that God tweaked the world to make its history look different than it actually was because…?

Well from the POV of a fundie you can ask the same question about the Torah. Why did God lie or mislead in the Torah?

Shilton HaSechel said...

Suzanne,
>> What about the idea of Maimonides that some things cannot be taken literally, but rather metaphorically? Are metaphors lies?

The creation story sure doesn't sound like a metaphor.(It doesn't use poetic language a feature often associated with Biblical metaphors)

(Some of the things Maimonides calls metaphors also don't sound like metaphors but eh...)

Don said...

The ruthlessly honest answer to your title question is that they cannot. The unenviable MO's are caught in a trap of their own making that was inspired by the desire to distance themselves from the flat-earth mentality of their chareidi brethern while still maintaining that Orthodoxy is rationally defensible. Instead they ended up with a kind of faith that's been defined as "Believin' that which you KNOW aint so.

JewishGadfly said...

>My first argument was that God would not "lie" (as I posted in my last post) about the world by creating it in a fashion which makes it seem that it is older than it really is.

>Countered Reuven, God would not lie in the Torah that the world was created in 7 days.

Once it must be one or the other, doesn't that fact in itself raise an eyebrow as to the legitimacy of the whole reconciliation endeavor?

Shilton HaSechel said...

>Once it must be one or the other, doesn't that fact in itself raise an eyebrow as to the legitimacy of the whole reconciliation endeavor?

Well I would say that the fact that it's one or the other shows that we've misunderstood something i.e. the Torah is in fact not all from God. ('cuz a God doing any lying is not so cool)

But if you're Orthodox you can't say that, in which case you're stuck and you have to choose one or the other and it probably makes more sense from that POV to have science lie.

Ichabod Chrain said...

"My first argument was that God would not "lie" (as I posted in my last post) about the world by creating it in a fashion which makes it seem that it is older than it really is.

Countered Reuven, God would not lie in the Torah that the world was created in 7 days".

I'm not so sure that Reuven is such a great spokesman for the Orthodox movement. His response doesn't answer your point. Your statement says nothing about God. It addresses Reuven's acknowledgement that matters can rationally be viewed as they are, and his attempt to explain it away with his own hypothesis. So you are telling Reuven that if you believe in a God with the attributes that Orthodox Judaism views Him as having, you can't maintain the position that God tweaked nature.

Reuven's response is simply that the God he believes in wouldn't out and out lie but He'd trick you into thinking that something was different from what it really was like. So the questions are:

What objective reason can Reuven offer for believing that anything in the Torah that isn't verified through other sources is true, much less when something in the Torah contradicts what we can establish scientifically;

If God is unknowable, then how does Reuven know what God would or wouldn't do?

If Reuven believes God would trick people, then how does Reuven know that his rabbis haven't been tricked?

And if we can't know what's a trick and what isn't, then what's the point of being Orthodox?

Shilton HaSechel said...

Ichabod,
>What objective reason can Reuven offer for believing that anything in the Torah that isn't verified through other sources is true, much less when something in the Torah contradicts what we can establish scientifically;

Reuven assumes that the Torah is always true is that not one of the ikkarim of Orthodoxy? You could basically say that about anything in the Torah - why should I believe that eating kosher is worth doing if its not verified by other sources? This conversation has the handicap of assuming the essential truth of the Torah - an essential part of any Orthodox dialogue.

>If God is unknowable, then how does Reuven know what God would or wouldn't do?

He doesn't but my statement makes the same mistake of deciding a priori that God would NOT tweak nature. Once we've decided God won't/doesn't lie we can then ask the same question on the Torah. There is no reason to assume God is less inclined to lie through nature than to think he is to lie through the Torah.

>If Reuven believes God would trick people, then how does Reuven know that his rabbis haven't been tricked?

He's not relying on the Rabbis - the pashut peshat of the Torah is that it is to be taken literally.

>And if we can't know what's a trick and what isn't, then what's the point of being Orthodox?

Well he of course takes it as a given that there is a POINT in being Orthodox. If I would have brought THAT into question it wouldn't have been a very kosher conversation ;)

no one said...

The rambam says right at the start of the More Nevuchim that the story of creation is not to be taken literally. And he calls it (in the Ibn Tibon translation a mashal-
-I.e. in plain English the rambam says openly that the story of creation is a metaphor for something much deeper that most people would not understand.
(he also says the story of Bilaam was a dream)

Anonymous said...

My feeling is that the path of keeping and learning Torah (oral and written) is a true path to serve God. But the anti science aspect of modern day Orthodox Judaism is a departure from the path of the torah. But I don’t think it is the only departure. I think there is a whole series of problems in orthodoxy Judaism. Another example is the infiltration of the teachings of shabati zvi by way of chasidut into general Orthodox Judaism. The reason I say this is that many teachings of the shatz were adopted by chasidut. (E.g. the book of the zoref from Vilna which the besht praised and said that one can reach the divine spirit by means of reading even just a few lines of that book was written by a prophet of the shatz movement. The teaching of the zadik needing to descend into the kelipot is directly taken from the shatz.)

and for some reason the litvak world has found that without chasidut the Talmud is pretty dry so for inspiration the litvak world goes to chasidic books like the sefat emet. The problem there is that the teachings of the shat I consider to be somewhat problematic. I don’t think he was the messiah and i think that teachings that were invented as excuses for him are not all that kosher. In fact lubavich seems to me to be a reincarnation of shabati zvi.

Shilton HaSechel said...

>But the anti science aspect of modern day Orthodox Judaism is a departure from the path of the torah.

Modern Orthodoxy is not anti-science, the point is that following their own logic they should be.

MKR said...

Since this is the Orthodox notion of TMS the point of the discussion was to see if the Modern Orthodox are succesfully able to hold both the doctrine of TMS and also uphold the reliability of science.

Genesis aside, surely the content of the doctrine of TMS itself, such as the idea that the exodus included 400,000 Israelite men, already requires one to deny the reliability of science.

Shilton HaSechel said...

>such as the idea that the exodus included 400,000 Israelite men,

600,000.

What you say is true but most people don't even realize how ridiculous that number is historically. Genesis vs. science is a much more obvious contradiction and is a pressing issue in ANY modern religious theology.

Also people like to incessantly cite "absence of evidence etc." and say there was a 2 million man trek across Sinai and we just gotta keep digging to find the evidence.

The elef = chief excuse cannot be used by Orthodoxy like I posted in the past.

Ichabod Chrain said...

"why should I believe that eating kosher is worth doing if its not verified by other sources?"

That's a different point. Whether keeping kosher is worth doing is a judgment call. Whether the world was created in six days is a factual question.

"He doesn't but my statement makes the same mistake of deciding a priori that God would NOT tweak nature"

No your statement does not make the same mistake. Reuven is saying something like the God of Orthodox Judaism might lie through nature, but wouldn't lie through the Torah. Your statement is that this is an arbitrary version of God because Reuven has no valid basis to say that.

"There is no reason to assume God is less inclined to lie through nature than to think he is to lie through the Torah."

Right. That's what I was getting at.

"He's not relying on the Rabbis - the pashut peshat of the Torah is that it is to be taken literally."

My point was that the rabbis told him the Torah was infallible.

"Well he of course takes it as a given that there is a POINT in being Orthodox."

Right, but the question is whether there's a legitimate point to being Orthodox if he recognizes the possiblity of trickery, but can't figure out what the trickery is.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Ichabod,

I forgot to mention that Reuven conceded it could go either way. (oops!) The argument was whether Chareidim are completely idiotic or if they have just as legitimate an approach as the Modern Orthodox.

So perhaps the question of this post is a little misleading. Perhaps we should rather ask "is Orthodoxy faced with a dilemna of God doing some lying somewhere"

Thomas Anderson said...

i think the point from a mystical point of view may be that lying to oneself is necessary for existence to become actual. Without lying, the mind can't split into object and subject and without that there is no life to live.

Thomas Anderson said...

or I should say a forgetting of oneself (ones true nature) which is kind of a lie.

Shilton HaSechel said...

> i think the point from a mystical point of view may be that lying to oneself is necessary for existence to become actual. Without lying, the mind can't split into object and subject and without that there is no life to live.

I don't know about mysticism but that is straight out of Fichte no? Not quite sure how any of that justifies God lying about creation etc. but w/e

MKR said...

600,000.

D'OH!! An embarrassing misrecollection on my part.

What you say is true but most people don't even realize how ridiculous that number is historically. Genesis vs. science is a much more obvious contradiction and is a pressing issue in ANY modern religious theology.

Also people like to incessantly cite "absence of evidence etc." and say there was a 2 million man trek across Sinai and we just gotta keep digging to find the evidence.


If the question is what considerations show the best promise of persuading adherents of Orthodoxy (like your friend Reuven) that their religious beliefs are in conflict with science, then I agree that the creation narrative is the more pertinent text. But if the question is simply whether Orthodox doctrines are in conflict with science, then one need go no further than TMS itself, which conflicts with what is known of the population of ancient Egypt, the logistics of a migration of millions of people across a desert, archaeological findings and non-findings, anachronisms within the putatively historical narrative of the Torah, and so on. Defenders of TMS will no doubt make Rumsfeldian arguments as you suggest, and they will think that they are being critical rather than superstitious. But if you actually look into the particulars, their defenses are as full of fallacious reasoning and faulty assumptions as the arguments of 9/11 truthers, moon-landing hoaxers, anti-vaxers, and other crackpots.

I don't think that you and I disagree here; I just want to make clear what my point is. The conflict of the Genesis narrative with science is more obvious, but that of TMS with science is a greater threat to Orthodox doctrine. I have the impression that there are plenty of (Modern) Orthodox Jews, rabbis among them, who regard the idea of a six-day creation a few thousand years ago as pure mythology; but they would still consider it heresy to regard TMS in the same fashion.

MKR said...

I need to qualify what I wrote in my previous comment: I spoke of "defenders of TMS" when what I should have written was "those who try to show that there is no conflict between TMS and science." My remarks do not apply to those who defend TMS by denying the reliability of science in such matters. This was the line taken by E-Man in a comment on another post of yours:

The giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai according to Jewish tradition was a miracle, almost every single thing that occurred in the desert was a miracle. Therefore, there will not be any natural archeological finds left behind. They were traveling in a G-D made bubble, all of their needs were taken care of by G-D. How could anyone expect to find archeological proof for that?

This is, I think, a more difficult position to argue against—indeed perhaps impossible to refute, just as Last-Thursdayism is impossible to refute.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Well I suppose in theory TMS'ers could say the inflated numbers are somehow an allegory - though they are usually reluctant to take that approach because it "allegorizes" something a little too close to THE seminal moment in Jewish History.

(All TMS means is that the Torah is all from God. But in theory you can "allegorize" as much as you want - except perhaps the actual Sinai revelation - and still maintain TMS)

MKR said...

All TMS means is that the Torah is all from God

I was taking it to stand for "Torah mi Sinai" or "Torah to Moses at Sinai," meaning that the Torah was revealed to Israel through Moses at Sinai.

Shilton HaSechel said...

>I was taking it to stand for "Torah mi Sinai" or "Torah to Moses at Sinai," meaning that the Torah was revealed to Israel through Moses at Sinai.

Sorry, yes that's what I meant, but you seemed to consider the numbers an inseparable part of that doctrine and I don't know if that is necessarily true.

MKR said...

Yes, I was making that conflation. I assumed that no one would hold TMS without also holding that the historical narrative in the Torah is factually accurate. But I wasn't considering the business about the word "elef" that you discuss in another post.

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