Thursday, November 17, 2011

How Can They Say Science Is Wrong?

As many of you are aware, there are various statements made by Chazal that are at odds with current scientific understanding.  These include statements regarding the physiology of some extant animals, the existence of animals that are now considered to be fanciful, the age and nature of the universe, the movements of the heavenly bodies and other subjects.  Natan Slifkin, in a recent post, described the approach that various critics of his take towards reconciling these differences.  One such approach, taken by Rabbi Moshe Shapiro, is characterized by Rabbi Slifkin as follows:

Anyone with the slightest grasp of Chazal will realize that they were not speaking about the physical biology of bats. In the world of pnimiyus, the bat actually does lay eggs.

Rabbi Yaakov Shapiro, of Far Rockaway (is he related to R. Moshe Shapiro?) takes a similar approach.  He writes:

In general, whenever Chazal make a scientific statement, they are not talking about the observable universe but rather the "real" universe. What we - and the scientists - see is only a graphic user interface, so to speak. The real world - the real sun, real moon, real earth - is not observable by current scientific means. Chazal were talking about the real world when they spoke. I'd recommend this Shiur for a full treatment.

Therefore, the Jewish sages were talking about the "real" universe, which indeed behaves exactly as the Chachmei Yisroel described. The non-Jewish scholars were arguing with limited information, i.e. with what their scientists could see on the "outside," GUI world. We agree that on the outside, it would appear the way they say. But the Chachmei Yisroel saw deeper, they saw into the real world and there, their description is correct.

Of course, they'd never believe the source of our information, which was the Torah's insight into the world, and it is likely assur to explain it to them anyway. So we couldn't really win this argument. But we were right. 

I find this particular approach to be totally incomprehensible.  Set aside, for the moment, that there is little, if any, indication that Chazal were not talking about the actual physical universe.  The real difficulty with adopting this approach is the fact that you cannot then use any of Chazal's statements as a basis for arguing with modern science.  You cannot say that science is wrong regarding bats laying eggs and, at the same time, use Chazal's statements regarding bats and eggs as proof that science is wrong.

Rabbi Yaakov's argument ends with the statement that we're right and the scientists are wrong.  But he's really fighting a phantom.  He says that when Chazal make statements about our world, they are talking about some "reality" that is not observable through our senses or experimentation.  The scientific community, on the other hand, makes no such claim.  They deal in the observable universe.  They make no such claim regarding any behind-the-scenes metaphysical universe that the Rabbis Shapiro claim that Chazal speak of.

In short, by adopting this approach, the Rabbis Shapiro have ceded the argument to the scientists vis-a-vis the  observable universe.  Science says bats don't lay eggs?  Not a problem -- since Chazal weren't talking about physical bats, we can say that science (which concerns itself with physical, observable bats) is correct (regardless of whether Chazal are right or wrong about metaphysical bats) in it's statement that bats do not lay eggs.  Spontaneous generation (such as with mud-mice or lice)?  Also not a problem -- science is right because it deals with physical, observable animals, not metaphysical ones.  The same can be applied to the age of the universe, and just about any other area of argument regarding science and Torah.  In short, by making the claim that Chazal were talking about some unobservable meta-physical reality, they have lost the ability to use Chazal's statements as a basis for saying that science is wrong about anything.

The Wolf

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Photos: Colorful Water Drops

Canon XSi, 100mm macro lens, f/2.8, 1/320 second, ISO 200

Lately, I've been experimenting with various water drop pictures.  Here's one that I did that involved using some color.

Comments, criticisms and critiques are welcomed, appreciated and encouraged.

The Wolf

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

"Even An Eight Year Old Draws My Eyes..."

As many of you are probably aware, there has been a battle going on surrounding the Orot school for girls in Beit Shemesh.  The short version of the story is as follows:

The town of Beit Shemesh had been planning a new girls' religious-Zionist school for several years.  Eventually, they were given a parcel of land and began building.  Before the building could be completed, a new chareidi neighborhood opened up in Beit Shemesh adjacent to the parcel of land where the school was being built.  By the time the school was ready to open this past September, the chareidi neighborhood was flourishing.

Various elements within the chareidi community did not want the school located adjacent to their community.  They decided that the girls' manner of dress, while in strict accordance with halacha, did not meet their standards.  After trying to bring political pressure to bear, they attempted to occupy the building before the school year started.  When that failed, they began daily protests outside the school, shouting insults such as "whore" at the girls, who are aged 6-12.

I hadn't heard anything about this after the Yomim Tovim and (perhaps naively) assumed that the battle had ended.  Apparently, I was wrong.  An article appeared yesterday in The Guardian, indicating that this is still going on.  The extreme elements within the chareidi community are still protesting and yelling at the girls, as well as otherwise making trouble in Beit Shemesh.

I detect a certain amount of hypocrisy in the position of the extremist chareidi mindset.  They demand that others be sensitive to their customs and mores.  For example, they ask that if women come through their neighborhoods, they do so dressed modestly.  Personally, I don't have too much of  a problem with such a request.  "When in Rome..." the saying goes, "... do as the Romans do."  A visitor should be sensitive to the cultural norms of the places where s/he visits.

But yet, the chareidim can't or won't respect the cultural norms of others.  They move into an established community and then begin protesting if the established residents don't meet their standards of behavior.  It doesn't matter to them that the school was planned for that spot long before they arrived.... they're there now and that's all that matters to them.  In short, their attitude it "when we're here first, live by our rules.  When you're here first, live by our rules."   Interestingly enough, in Judaism, we have a name for that sort of attitude.  The Mishna in Avos puts it very succinctly:  [One who says] what's yours is mine and what's mine is mine [indicates the] type of behavior of S'dom.

Interestingly enough, there may well be another S'dom connection here.  One of the reasons brought down for the punishment of S'dom was sexual abnormality.  It seems we have that here too.  When Rabbi Dov Lipman, a community activist, asked one of the protesters why he was protesting the manner in which a little girl dresses, he responded that "even an eight-year old draws my eyes."

There is a word for people who think about eight year-olds in a sexual manner.  Deviant and pervert are two of the milder ones that come to mind.  I think that it is obvious that there are deviant and perverted people among the protesters, and that perhaps the chareidi community should look within itself to weed these people out.

The Wolf