Monday, 1 November 2010

It's Not About Science

Stating the obvious but...

Young Earth Creationism is not scientific. Not just because it's wrong but also because it's not primarily trying to appeal to science when it claims that the Earth and the universe are not as old as they seem.  Rabbi Slifkin in his recent "disagreements" with Dr. Betech has taken a rather reasonable approach as far as refusing to engage in a scientific debate since the problem is not really about science.

Young Earth Creationists make pseudo-scientific arguments. But this is just a red herring. Ultimately it all boils down to the fact that they respect the authority of scripture and in Judaism the authority of "Daat Torah" and Chazal more than the results of scientific inquiry. In an earlier post about the Documentary Hypothesis I noted a similar phenomenon i.e. that opponents of the Documentary Hypothesis have no problem dipping their feet into both camps - criticizing the literary methods of the DH'ers on one hand (with Cassuto's help) and appealing to the special ineffable, Godly nature of the Pentateuch on the other hand. YEC's often (but not always) engage in similar behavior asserting the authority of scripture and revelation over science but not shying away from "beating the scientists at their own game" by engaging in pseudo-scientific arguments. Ultimately, though, I think we can assert with some confidence that YEC's are not basing their views on "science" as much as they are being motivated by the infallibility of Chazal/Torah.

At the end of the day it's pretty hard for an Orthodox Jew to argue with YEC's  since one has to tie one's hand behind one's back and admit that the Torah is the word of God. The best you can do is show HOW there are methods of interpreting the Torah less literally or appeal to the authority of Rishonim and Achronim who held similar views. But as I've said before either way you look at it, God was a little misleading somewhere - either when he wrote the Torah so obscurely or when he created the world to look like it was older than it was. And how exactly can you or me or anyone determine which of the two sources of truth should be the one to be "taken non-literally"? At best all one can show is that there is a long tradition of people who didn't take the Torah literally or that believing in science over a literal reading of the Torah is not kefira. But I don't think there really is any good way of saying to the YEC's "you are wrong and I am right and this is why!"

Ela Mai? The only real way to be machria the problem once and for all is to demonstrate, by appealing to the simple lack of evidence, that the Torah is not the explicit word of God and is not a source of truth comparable to science. The Torah is, as far as we know, just a book like all other books written by humans -  trying to figure out the answers to life, the universe, and everything.


Shilton HaSechel said...

>You create an incorrect standard by giving the impression that the only legitimate way to understand Bereshis as a believing Jew is to accept it literally.

Hello??? Did you read my post or are you just gonna keep repeating the same refrain whether or not it's relevant? I clearly said that you could choose either way - take the Torah literally and see a "deception" in the world OR don't take the Torah literally and see the world as genuine. And as far as I can see there is no reason to choose the latter over the former. Nowhere in this post did I say that "the only legitimate way to understand Bereshis as a believing Jew is to accept it literally." All I'm saying is I'm not sure if there is a way of conclusively tipping the scales in favor of a non-literal approach.

Shilton HaSechel said...

Machria means to determine. My point was there is no good reason to interpret the Torah non-literally any more than interpreting literally. I'm davka saying THAT THERE ARE TWO CHOICES and TWO WAYS OF THINKING however there is no way of being MACHRIA which way is correct.

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