Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Oh, Those Wacky Folks at the Yated!

Oy, they're at it again. Take a gander at the new editorial - Why Study Half-True Science When You Can Learn True Torah?

The basic premise of the editorial is that science is wrong and constantly changing it's position, so why bother studying it? Better to study something that is eternally true, like Torah.

Well, I'm not going to state that learning Torah is bad - heck, I do it daily and encourage my children to learn as much as possible. However, launching a general anti-science screed is outright irresponsible.

The author (who does not have a byline) starts out by stating that most of science changes and therefore cannot be trusted. One way this can be shown is by the recent decision by the IAU that Pluto is no longer a planet. As the author puts it:

Perhaps the biggest news is that Pluto is no longer considered a planet. Whoever learned that there are nine planets in the Solar System should unlearn it. Now there are eight. The International Astronomical Union (IAU) made it official about a month ago. Suddenly, no one has to explain or excuse why Chazal never spoke about it, or show some obscure passage that might possibly be interpreted to show that Chazal really did know about Pluto. Poof! A democratic vote of the current membership of the IAU and there is nothing to explain or excuse.

Of course, the author fails to realize one very important fact - nothing in reality has changed. Pluto is still out there, still orbiting the sun every 248 years and still has its three moons. The only thing that changed was how we define a planet. Nothing in the phyisical reality (the metzius, if you will), however, has changed. And, while we're at it, I find it amusing how Chazal are "off the hook" because they didn't mention Pluto, but he conveniently forgets that they didn't mention Uranus or Neptune either.

He also brings two examples where things that were thought not to exist do, in fact, exist. (Sidenote: I'm taking the authors word, for the sake of argument, that these facts are correct.) He states that prior to January 1, 1995, waves over 50 feet tall were not thought to exist. In addition, he also states that it was recently discovered that there were many more poisionous fish than previously thought to exist. Well, of course, that answers everything! Since contemporary scientists were wrong about fish and waves, they must be wrong about everything else!

Of course, he fails to see the opposite side as well. Geocentrism, spontaneous generation and half-flesh/half-dirt creatures are also facts that are recorded by Chazal and are wrong. The windows that the sun goes through twice daily are also wrong facts. Would he say that because Chazal were wrong about that they were therefore wrong about everything else and that we should therefore throw out everything they say about Hilchos Gittin, for example? No, of course not - and I don't advocate that position either.

The author of the piece asks a fundamental question:

However if we are just private people for whom Torah is our trade, and our desire is to learn truth and only truth, why should we spend our time studying "facts" half of which will, in ten years, be shown to have been wrong? Must we resolve scientific challenges to Torah when science may discard the underlying material some time in the future?

The answer, of course, is, it depends. There are some scientific "facts" that are going to change. The number of poisionous fish in the world may change as we explore new parts of the ocean. The nature and maximum height of waves may change as we understand more about waves. Certain aspects of our history may become better understood through archaeological diggings. But certain aspects of science are NOT going to change. The age of the universe (in the sense that it is more than 6000 years old by scientific observation [discounting Gosse]) is NOT going to change. Evolution and common descent are NOT going to change. We're not going to someday discover a window that the sun goes through twice a day. We're not going to discover that the stars are attached to some "outer shell" that rotates around the earth. And on and on. So, yes, in certain aspects, you can say that the Torah shouldn't be re-interpreted to fit certain facts. On the other hand, there are some facts that are just plain undeniable and the statements of Chazal to the contrary must be either (a) re-interpreted to some non-literal meaning or (b) shown to be in error. To say otherwise is simply false.

Lastly, as an example of something that is eternally true, the author tells us:

This we know (for example): It is a permanent truth that there are four categories of damagers — arba ovos nezikin (Bava Kama 2a). This is true now, it has been true at least since Torah was created, and it will remain true. Let us stick to the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Of course, like the definition of a planet, there is nothing in reality that changes here. If someone falls into a pit that I open in the middle of the street, I may have to pay him for damages; but there is no change in reality - he's just as injured. What the author should do is compare apples to apples and defend a *scientific* statement of the Talmud. By comparing this to a "scientific fact," the author is simply showing how empty and hollow his arguments are.

The Wolf


Anonymous said...

To get to your destination, you have to make errors along the way. Every profession and trade has been improved upon and has backtracked. But, certainly that doesn't make medicine, engineering, accounting, finance, construction, and more, a worthless endevor.

Why bring Torah up through bringing other studies down?

Ezzie said...

I really think it's a matter of 20 years or less until the Charedi educational system collapses upon itself, at least in schools that have similar attitudes. Lying to students or simply shielding them from the world around them will not work (if it still is) in an age where information is at everyone's fingertips (even granting that they're doing their best to prevent that).

Man, I really should write the post I've been wanting to for a while on this.

Oh, for your dear wife... Eeees: "Soon" is not quite yet, sorry. :) I'm busy at least for a few days, then start my job - but soon after I'll be on a schedule and back to posting. :)

Anonymous said...


I also disagree with the Yated article. Certainly the Torah is eternal, and called "chayei olam". I have no problem with an article showing how the Torah is transcendental wisdom. However, there is no need to knock science in the process, for we indeed see that Chazal praised non-Jewish wisdom.


The online Yated is targeted to a particular sub-group of the Charedie population which is very insular. There is no need to agree with this article to be Charedie.

Anonymous said...

It doesn't seem to matter if the issue is science or another issue. It seems that it is in style to bring ourselves up by brining others down. All too often the put downs are patently false to anyone who knows better and they only serve to bring down the community, the exact opposite effect of what was trying to be achieved.

Anonymous said...

What can you say? It's very dissapointing. See also ADDeRabbi's latest post.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

What rubbish.

There are a million shittos about *everything*.

Is the fact that there are differing mutually exclusive opinions and interpretations in talmud torah and halakha indicative that it is just a cacaphony?

Well then neither is that the case for science. Unless the Yated can explain how to build a bridge or perform heart surgery or send people to the moon through alternate means, they should quit embarassing themselves.

Kylopod said...

Interesting that I recently posted about Yated on my blog. There's an unintended irony to the article. If scientific claims being proven wrong is a reason to reject all of science, then what are we to conclude from the fact that Yated is often wrong?

Ah, I know the difference. Science, unlike Yated, is willing to admit when it's wrong.

Ezzie said...


The online Yated is targeted to a particular sub-group of the Charedie population which is very insular. There is no need to agree with this article to be Charedie.

I agree. Nevertheless, this is the way the Charedi educational system is being directed.

Anonymous said...

I find it appalling that these people who have never learned any significant form of science feel they have the authority to declare it worthless. You know good and well should a non-Jew challenge the Torah, their first argument would be "You know nothing about it, so you have no basis for your argument."

Zev Stern said...

Did that clown ever stop to wonder why people in his community can have bli ayin hara eight, ten, fifteen kids, none of whom will die of diphtheria, smallpox, whooping cough, . . . .