Wednesday, March 01, 2006

In defense of the Frumteens Moderator

You must all be wondering... did the Wolf go insane? Has he been howling at the moon too long? Has he become a Chareidi, Young-Earth Creationist who believes that lice grow from the ground and that the sun orbits the earth?

No, not quite.

I've posted once before on something that the Frumteens Moderator said regarding the conflict of science and statements of Chazal. However, after reading another post of his, I've decided to revisit the issue.

In short, I'm beginning to think that the FrumTeens Moderator agrees with us that Chazal weren't perfect in their knowledge of science. He just doesn't know the meaning of the word "science." Once he actually understands what it is, he might even agree with us.

For example, consider the following:

When a poster asked him about the famous Chazal statement of lice being spontaneously generated, he stated:

When Chazal discuss life, or what constitutes animal mineral or vegetable, they are using the Torah’s definitions, not the scientists’.

Now, this statement is actually fairly rational when you look at it in the proper light. For example, take the old objection by Biblical Critics that the Torah mentions the bat among the list of birds that are non-kosher. The bat, as we all know, is not a bird, but a mammal. Of course, this objection can be overturned by pointing out that the word of, which the Torah uses when mentioning these animals, does not mean what we, today, call a bird, but actually includes any and all flying creatures (except for insects which were called sheretz ha-of). By doing this, we can show that the Torah does not mistakenly call a bat a "bird."

It would seem that the FTM is actually doing the same thing here. He goes on to state:

And the Torah’s definitions of all of the above depend not on physical characteristics but spiritual ones. An inanimate object has a Nefesh Hadomem – the “spirit” (which is a better translation than “soul”) of an inanimate object; plant life has a Nefesh HaTzomeches; animal life, a Nefesh HaBehamis, and a human being, a Neshomah.

It would seem from this that the FTM would agree that, from a biological standpoint, lice do indeed come from eggs and are not spontaneously generated. That Chazal said that they were spontaneously generated is simply because they are not talking about the biological nature of the animal. (Of course, I'm being overly kind here and making the assumption that Chazal *really* knew that lice come from eggs in the biological sense.)

He reiterated this again with another post (later down in the same thread) where he brings down the Maharal (Ber Hagolah 6). He quotes the Maharal (I'm taking his word for it - I haven't looked at the original) as stating:

Some people say that Chazal were not experts in the sciences. They say this because they see things stated by Chazal regarding causes of natural phenomenon that seeem unlikely to be true. But the truth is not as these people claim, because when Chazal spoke about natural causes they did not mean superficial, physically scientific causes - that is fitting for scientists or doctors, not for our sages. Our sages, on the other hand, when they spoke about the causes of nature, were referring not to causes that are natural but to what causes nature to act the way it does.

Of course, the whole irony of the situation here is that the FTM does not know what "science" is! He's clearly taken a position that if you conduct an experiment, and find that the results of the experiment contradict statements of Chazal, it just means that the Chazal were misunderstood and were speaking spiritualy. They weren't speaking in a scientific sense; they were speaking in a spiritual sense. However, of course, that negates the very claim that Chazal knew all of science (unless, one subscribes to the dubious position that they knew lice come from eggs, but purposely made a statement that differs from their knowledge in order to make a spiritual point)! Otherwise, he wouldn't be claiming that Chazal weren't speaking from a biological standpoint - he'd be calling the scientists who maintain the existence of lice eggs liars.

So, I hereby invite the FTM to join with us. There's room under our tent for him as well. Consider the following examples:

  • The universe is only a few thousand years old? Well, when Chazal said that, they meant it in a spiritual sense. On a physical level, however, it is billions of years old.
  • The earth orbits the sun? Well, Chazal meant it in terms of importance, since the earth is where we are and where the Torah is kept and learned. Therefore, on a spiritual level, it's the center of the universe. However, on a purely physical level, the earth orbits the sun.
  • Half earthen-half animal mice? Well, Chazal may have meant that on a spiritual level, this is to symbolize God's creation of man (or rebirth at T'chiyas HaMesim). However, on a purely physical level, such creatures don't exist.

And it goes on and on. So, how about it FTM? Care to join us rationalists? All you have to do is understand that what you are stating as "science" is exactly the opposite of it and admit that statements of Chazal are true on a *spiritual* level and not on a physical level. It's not that hard... you're already doing it on your site.

And then you can recommend Rabbi Slifkin's books. :)

The Wolf


Ger Tzadik said...

This is an argument I made (verbally) a few months ago about the whole Chazal/Science thing. I like yours though, very systematic.

BTW, you got your second bullet backwards. "The earth orbits the sun?" should be the other way around, no?

Dr. T. said...

The problem is that the FTM is irrational. THe Gemara explicitly rejects the idea that lice have eggs in the statement that "Hashem sustains the eggs of lice" and makes the strange claim that beitzei kinnim is a type of creature.

Plus, the FTM rejects any alternative approach as heretical, and claims that any source stating that Chazal erred in science is a forgery, so he's a wacko.

Ezzie said...

LOL. :)

Steve Brizel said...

Interesting blog. I stand by each and every part of my letter in Jewisjh Action re Frumteens and its moderator as a clear and present danger for Frum Jews, especially teenagers with questions re Hashkafah.

cipher said...

I’m reminded of a scene in Brideshead Revisited, when a Protestant converts to Catholicism in order to marry an aristocrats’ daughter. The priest responsible for his education is attempting to explain the subtler points of papal infallibility, and asks him, “What if the Pope says that it’s going to rain, but it doesn’t?” The fellow thinks for a moment, then replies, “I suppose that it would be raining spiritually, but we are too sinful to see it!”

Some months ago, Wolf, I emailed you about, among other things, that website you’ve mentioned in which some Lubavitchers argue for a geocentric universe. I discussed it recently with my nephew who has recently left his MO high school to enter a Chabad yeshiva (much to my disappointment). He told me that most Lubavitchers actually believe this, but that I shouldn’t spread it around because it makes them appear foolish in the eyes of the frei Jews whom they are trying to attract! The argument, as he presented it, went something like this: apparently, Maimonides wrote a treatise in which he argued for the Ptolemaic model of the cosmos, and against (what later became known as) the Copernican model. No one, according to my nephew, bothered to write a rebuttal, so there is no halakhic opinion to contradict his. Naturally, all current thinking must be based upon halakhic precedent; therefore we are required, from a halakhic perspective, to believe that the sun revolves around the earth! He also invoked the relativity argument (no absolute position), and went on to suggest that, since scientists are always discovering new data and altering their opinions, it may be that in a hundred years, a discovery will be made that will validate Maimonides. When I asked him whether he really believes it possible that at some point, astronomers will discover that the sun actually does revolve around the earth, he replied that it doesn’t really matter, because knowing which heavenly body revolves around which or whether or not evolution is true doesn’t have any relevance to our lives. I then suggested that, while Maimonides was undoubtedly a philosophical genius, it may not be incumbent upon us to assume that he was equally gifted in astrophysics, and that he was constrained by the level of knowledge of his day. He asserted that the Rambam was a greater genius than any scientist, past or present, including Copernicus, Newton and Einstein. That settled the matter!

The FrumTeens guy is symptomatic of a far more pervasive problem.

Still Wonderin' said...

Wolf -- I haven't seen you post in a while. I hope you're doing OK.