Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Can You Possibly Get Stupider Than This??? (Rambam and Science)

I was over at ChabadTalk, that old bastion of geocentrism, among other things. While there, someone (not me) made the comment that the Rambam was mistaken about science. Another poster asked for some elaboration, which I provided:

The planets aren't attached to spheres, for starters. Even the most ardent geocentrist would have to admit that the Rambam was wrong on that.

In addition, even if you're a geocentrist, the orbits of the planets are ellipses, not spheres, as the Rambam describes.

The Rambam states that the Earth is 40 times larger than the moon - in reality, the Earth is eighty times as massive as the moon. He also states that the Sun is about 170 times the size of the Earth -- that, too, is wrong, by quite a margin -- the Sun is about 333,000 times more massive than the Earth.

The Rambam states that there are no stars larger than the Sun. That's true to the observable eye, but is clearly false -- there are many stars that are much larger than the Sun.

He also states that there is no "star" smaller than Mercury. Well, that's true on the face of it -- a body that small cannot start nuclear fission. However, if you're going to posit that the Rambam used the term "kochav" to mean any celestial body (as you would have to, unless you are positing that Mercury and the other planets are stars too), then that statement is false, as there are plenty of celestial bodies smaller than Mercury.

All these statements of the Rambam can be found in Hil. Yesodei HaTorah chap. 3.

One poster decided to answer my challenge regarding the weight of the moon with what has to be the single most mind-numbingly stupid thing that I've heard in all the science/Torah debates (bolding mine):

The moon isn't made of gas, as far as modern scientists know (the bunch of crackpots that they are).

Of course, we have to realize that 1) nature changes (so maybe in times of Rambam the moon was takeh made of gas), 2) modern science does not rely on certainties but only on probabilities, so it is only 99.999% probable that moon isn't made of gas; on the other hand, everything that Rambam wrote was guided by h"p, so he can't be wrong, even if he himself said (for kiruv purposes surely) that sages of Torah may be wrong in the matters of science. Which makes it 100% true that moon is made of gas.

The moon is made of gas?? Forget the fact that we've sent out probes to the moon. Forget the fact that twelve people have actually walked on the surface of the moon. Forget the fact that moon rocks have been bought back to earth. What the poster doesn't seem to realize is that you can simply go out at night and look at the darn thing in the sky and see that it's made of rock. Gas doesn't cause the craters that you can see on the moon on any clear night.

Lest you think that the stupidity ends there, I followed up by asking the following question:

So, how do you then explain away all the data indicating that the moon isn't made of gas???

The response I got from another poster (warning: brain-numbing response ahead!):

well, that's your problem. The Torah is absolute(ly) true.

I'm just completely flabbergasted. Seriously, what we need in our yeshivos is a good re-education as to what exactly is Torah and what is science and where the two intersect. The Rambam's statements regarding astronomy (despite the fact that he placed them in Hilchos Yisodei HaTorah) are not actually fundamentals of Torah. There is no Torah source before him that states these facts - they simply represent the science of the day as he knew it. It's not like he looked up in a Gemara where it says that there is no celestial body smaller than Mercury - it was something that he either observed on his own or learned from other astronomers. The simple facts that he presents can easily be disproved, and yet, people are so blinded by the mistaken notion that everything the Rambam ever put in writing is Torah (and therefore irrefutable - even by the evidence of our own eyes) that these people are forced to come to the mindboggiling conclusion that the moon is either (a) made of gas or (b) somehow changed from gas to rock sometime since the Rambam.

I'd say that the parents of these people should ask for their money back from the yeshivos they went to, but, sadly, they probably got exactly what they wanted.

The Wolf

26 comments:

The Answer said...

Wolf:

Unquestionably these posters are misguided in their thinking. But why cast a pall on Yeshivos in general because of a few idiots?

If the Moon were made of Swiss Cheese, then the mass would be much lower, yet the astronauts could still walk on it!

Ezzie said...

LOL. Wow - I'm laughing to keep myself from sobbing.

But didn't R' Aharon Kotler make sure to watch the moon landing, saying it was a "rayah that the Rambam was wrong about it being a gas"?

Orthoprax said...

Wolf,

"He also states that there is no "star" smaller than Mercury. Well, that's true on the face of it -- a body that small cannot start nuclear fission."

Neutron star.

Gil Student said...

See here (part 2) from R. Ya'akov Kamenetsky saying that the Rambam was wrong.

LT said...

When did "The Torah is absolute(ly) true" turn into "everything our rabbis say is absolute(ly) true, even in matters not directly related to Torah"?

I'm sorry, I thought Catholicism was the religion that had the infallible leaders. Guess I was wrong.

BrooklynWolf said...

Answer: the dig wasn't really at the yeshivos, but at the parents.

Ezzie: I doubt you could convince the folks there with anything R. Aharon Kotler did. In fact, they'd probably look at that as evidence that it didn't happen (they don't hold R. Kotler in high esteem).

Orthoprax: True, although they don't start out as neutron stars -- when they begin nuclear fission, they are much larger.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

Was that a serious comment about Rav Ahron zt"l? He died 6 years before the moon landing!

Gil Student said...

He meant R. Ya'akov Kamenetsky.

PsychoToddler said...

Well, if R' Kamenetsky is right, then the Rambam is wrong, proving that our Rabbis are not always right (about science).

Wait, if the Rabbis are not always right, that means that R' Kamenetsky might be wrong, meaning that the Rambam IS right!

Therefore the Moon IS made of gas. QED

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

What i find particularly funny/ironic/sad is all this effort to claim that the Rambam was infallible, when Chabadians (in my limited experience) don't seem to know squat about Rambam's philosophy, and if they did they, they would have to figure out some way to reconcile it with the fact that it completely disagrees with Chabad philosophy.

Mark said...

It's important to distinguish between Chazal, Rishonim and our Rabbis.

Those who hold the position that the Rabbis are always right are talking about Chazal, not the Rishonim (like the Rambam) our Rabbi's in general.

And this is not the same issue as Daas Torah. Perhaps Gil can write a claritying piece on this.

Ezzie said...

Whoops - that should be R' Yaakov Kamenetsky. I was thinking "K", and picked Kotler. Gil is correct. (Shocker.)

R' Yaakov Horowitz wrote a piece about differentiating between different aspects of Da'as Torah. I linked to it again a few days ago on my blog.

Anonymous said...

The Rambam did not say the moon is made out of gas. He said it's a spiritual object, which in his Aristotolean philosophy had a meaning very different from the modern notion of the phase of matter called "gas." He was still wrong, but let's at least get what he said right!

BrooklynWolf said...

Anon, you are correct. Please keep in mind, however, that it was not me who said it was made of gas. I believe my disputant said it to try to make the moon's mass equal to 1/40th the Earth's to match the Rambam's statement.

The Wolf

SephardiLady said...

Ditto to Steg. And anyone who has learned with the Western Sephardim has been exposed to some serious rationalism, nearly the exact opposite approach from Chabad.

Charlie Hall said...

Some folks are hopeless. I suspect your opponent has spent too much time listening to the Christian fundamentalists or the Catholic infallibilits. Even Moshe Rabbeinu erred.

ZachInIsrael said...

Fact for next week:

2+2=7, and maybe Pi = 3

ZachInIsrael said...

Please don't ask if people can get dumber, they will take it as a challenge.

Anonymous said...

Of course, we have to realize that 1) nature changes (so maybe in times of Rambam the moon was takeh made of cheese), 2) modern science does not rely on certainties but only on probabilities, so it is only 99.999% probable that moon isn't made of cheese; on the other hand, everything that Rambam wrote was guided by h"p, so he can't be wrong, even if he himself said (for kiruv purposes surely) that sages of Torah may be wrong in the matters of science. Which makes it 100% true that moon is made of cheese.

NB certain types of cheese (typically non-French) are lighter than moon-rock... so I heard from a major gadol who has da'at torah

Mike S. said...

1) Nuclear fission does not occur in neutro stars; large stars collapse to that stage after exhausting fuel (i.e. the nuclei lighter than iron) for nuclear fission.

2) I doubt any purpose can be served by engaging in a discussion about science with someone who cannot be convinced by people who have walked on it that the Moon is made of rock.

3) Any number of prominent Rishonim, including the Rambam himself, have pointed out that if our understanding of Torah is in conflict with direct observation, we have to improve our understanding of Torah--at the very least in matters which are not Ikkarei hadat or halacha.

Rebeljew said...

No star smaller than Mercury? OK, let's use the apologetic that he means kochav davka (though why Mercury and some other smaller body, I don't know). Ever hear of a black hole? Oh, you mean they didn't know about the secrets of the universe? How is that possible? They knew everything.

Rebeljew said...

Mike S.

You need to learn facts al pi nusach Chabad.

1) The Rambam needs to be reinterpreted where he varies with Chabad. He meant at some Rambam level, not at the physical level.

2) The Rambam has ruach hkodesh, which does not mean only that he has divine insight, but that he is an omniscient demigod.

3) The Moreh Nevuchim was full of lies that he told for kiruv purposes. It cannot be relied on for theology This is also justification for Chabad shluchim lying about Jewish beliefs or their own movement for kiruv purposes.

4) There are only two chapters of the Rambam that he really meant, the last two of Mishna Torah. All the rest is flexible (but not fallible).

Holy Hyrax said...

Wow, I never thought I can actually pull out ALL my hair out. Thanks wolf

BrooklynWolf said...

You're welcome. :)

Can you send me a pic? I've never seen a bald hyrax before. :)

The (not yet bald) Wolf

Chana said...

No, the moon is made of gas! Everything you saw- Neil Armstrong landing on it- why, that was a Hollywood projection so that we would take pride in man's might and THINK we landed on the moon! But we didn't really! They're all lying to us!

God...

Anonymous said...

The Rambam didn't say the moon is made out of gas or is a spiritual thing.