Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Torah Claims and Science Claims

What was it that caused me to lose my faith? It wouldn't necessarily be that I was exposed to new information which I didn't know about earlier.  I think it was more that I acquired a new way of looking at and processing the information which I already had. A new paradigm, if you will.
It didn't happen in one blow either.  It took small steps, with what I call eureka moments every now and then.

Looking back at my first eureka moment, I think it was a realization that the claims of science are fundamentally different from the way ideas are claimed to be true in a Charedi context.  Today I believe that this mistake is what causes many otherwise highly intelligent and knowledgeable people to continue to cling to irrational religious ideas.

By Charedim (and probably other religious groups too), an idea is accepted to be true either because someone of authority is the one who made the claim, or because it makes sense according to Charedi-logic (more on that later).    At the time that I started corresponding with my OTD blogger friends, I didn't think that scientists were any different.  I thought that they came to their conclusions by means of their own logic.  If that were the case, I felt that one could easily claim that their logic was flawed or that they were lacking information since they didn't have the traditions which we had.

If you've ever been in a Yeshiva or Shtiebel coffee room (or sometimes even Facebook comments), you can appreciate the level of the discussions which take place in those places. I was somehow under the impression that a group of scientists debating an issue were not too different from yeshiva bachurim having a serious argument over something which they knew nothing about anyways.

So I was in a situation in which I had an answer and explanation for every problem supposedly presented by science and modernity. Some of them I had heard from Rabbis and some of them I had thought of myself. 

Today I can’t believe I ever went for those explanations. Looking back, I'm downright embarrassed of myself that I bought into their answers and explanations. But at that point I had all sorts of "explanations" that I accepted so strongly that nothing that I had known from the outside really bothered me at all. 

I didn't grow up very sheltered by Charedi standards.  When we were growing up, my mother encouraged the family to read, and even took us to the public library.  By the time I was 11 not only did I already know about astronomy, evolution and dinosaurs, I also knew about Bible Criticism and that the encyclopedias had an alternate version of our history.  My father brought home the local tabloids every day, so I had a good idea of current events and what cultural and political issues were being discussed.

As a kid, I had also read some books which claimed to be quoting scientists or philosophers and arguing with them from a Torah perspective.  One of them was a book by Meyer Shiller, a Rabbi in YU's high school.  The way he presented the great renaissance philosophers made them seem downright silly. 

I thought that as long as we could come up with some sort of way to explain away a scientific finding, that finding doesn't mean anything anymore.  It's like a Gemara, in which as long as you have a different explanation,   

So although I knew that for example, historians or Bible critics had a different story than us, I thought it was obvious that our story was more reliable, because, after all, we had an unbroken chain of tradition of the story being told, so of course we got it right.  I knew that scientists believed in dinosaurs, but at the same time I was able to tell myself all sorts of things, such as they were creatures that were around before the mabul (the great flood), or that many things had been planted by God in order to test us.

The first time someone asked me to back up a claim with "empirical, controlled, peer-reviewed studies", I was floored.  I had never even considered such a concept as to back up a claim with a controlled study.  It took me a little time afterwards until the idea started to sink in.  After I found an article by Naftali Zeligman that really got me to start thinking about the idea, as well as the introduction to the book Why Evolution is True I started looking online for explanations of the idea of empiricism and scientific research methods.

That's when I started realizing that science is not something which can be ignored so easily.  Their claims are based on observation, controlled testing, and an openness to accept whatever results may come about.  Frum answers are nothing more than plapling.

These days, when I discuss science and Torah with frum people, they always assume that the only intellectual reason why I would accept science is because I haven't heard the Charedi apologetics and explanations for everything.  It's not true at all.  I know all of their usual answers quite well.  I just realize how they are not real answers.

I'll continue this thought in another post.


  1. You might enjoy this clip:

  2. For a response to Naftali Zeligman's Letter to my Rabbi, you may be interested in

  3. U may want to check my new blog spot out. I went OTD over 30 years ago and information was not at your fingertips - I had to dig for information in books.

  4. I think that you should try reading The Book of Mormon.

    Please read these links. It's nothing I wrote, but something I strongly believe in. If you would like a book please contact me and I can send you one.

    “I remember when I was a college student there were great discussions on the question of organic evolution. I took classes in geology and biology and heard the whole story of Darwinism as it was then taught. I wondered about it. I thought much about it. But I did not let it throw me, for I read what the scriptures said about our origins and our relationship to God. Since then I have become acquainted with what to me is a far more important and wonderful kind of evolution. It is the evolution of men and women as the sons and daughters of God, and of our marvelous potential for growth as children of our Creator.” —President Gordon B. Hinckley

    "This is demonstrated in so many obvious ways, even an ordinary mind should understand it. Surely no one with reverence for God could believe that His children evolved from slime or from reptiles. (Although one can easily imagine that those who accept the theory of evolution don’t show much enthusiasm for genealogical research!) The theory of evolution, and it is a theory, will have an entirely different dimension when the workings of God in creation are fully revealed."

    I know that these things are true. I know that we were sent here for a reason. To bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

  5. That "Letter" also really influenced me. Did you look at Meir's truetorah blog in his comment of seven months ago? I'm going to look. Are you on Facebook?