Over in the Coffeeroom, someone opened up the whole science/Torah can of worms again. In this case, the topic came down to what happens when the empirical evidence that you can see with your own eyes contradicts traditional Jewish sources.
Charlie Hall, who sometimes comments on this blog, mentioned that the available evidence shows that the world is more than 6000 years old. A poster named Joseph, took him to task on this stating:
charlie disagrees with the Rema, the Maharal, Aruch Hashulchan, Chasam Sofer, Rabbeinu Bachyai, the Alshich, the Radvaz, and the Chida amongst others.
I choose the Rema, the Maharal, Aruch Hashulchan, Chasam Sofer, Rabbeinu Bachyai, the Alshich, the Radvaz, and the Chida over charlie.
When another commentator vouched for Charlie's intelligence, Joseph responded as follows:
Smarter than the Rema, the Maharal, Aruch Hashulchan, Chasam Sofer, Rabbeinu Bachyai, the Alshich, the Radvaz, and the Chida combined?
Smarter than any one of them.
Charlie and I both responded to that with the same point almost simultaneously -- that the aforementioned sages did not have access to the evidence and information that we have now.
Sadly, I see this from yeshiva people all the time - anytime you bring up the idea that X did not know Y, they take it to mean that you think that X is stupid (or less intelligent than modern people who do know Y). But that's not the case -- it's simply that we, today, live in a society that has the infrastructure and knowledge base to know Y while X did not.
To give a simple example: Could Rashi have constructed an airplane? The answer, very simply, is no. And that's not because Rashi was stupid -- on the contrary, Rashi was extremely intelligent. But he lived in a society and a time where it would have been impossible for *anyone* to build an airplane. Rashi did not have access to the physics and engineering that we have today. If he lived today, could he have done so? Maybe -- but we'll never know for sure. But to say that he couldn't do it is not to say that he was stupid or any less intelligent than today's engineers. It just means that today's engineers have access to better resources.
Similarly, the chachamim that Joseph mentioned did not have access to the scientific evidence that we have today regarding the age of the universe. That doesn't make them "less intelligent" than Charlie - it just means that they went with whatever information and evidence that they had at the time - just as we do so with the evidence that we have today.
P.S. The shocker in the thread came a bit later on. Charlie asked Joseph:
Would you eat a piece of meat that the author of one of your sources had told you was kosher, when you yourself had seen it taken from the carcass of a pig?
To which Joseph responded: Yes. Just utterly shocked.