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No longer take comments. Post's 'labels' are unreliable for linking or searching. Use the INDEX OF POSTS instead. A fairly accurate, but incomplete INDEX of Posts & good overview and understanding of this blog READ SOME REASONS TO REJECT ORTHODOX JUDAISM my April 2014 post or click link above. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family (1950's) and went to Orthodox Yeshiva from kindergarten thru High School plus some Beis Medrash.Became an agnostic in my 20's and an atheist later on. My blog will discuss the arguments for god and Orthodox Judaism and will provide counter arguments. I no longer take comments. My blog uses academic sources, the Torah, Talmud and commentators to justify my assertions. The posts get updated. IF YOU GET A MESSAGE THAT THE POST IS MISSING - LOOK FOR IT IN THE INDEX or search or the date is found in the address.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Challenge Of Creation - Rabbi Slifkin - Part One


There are thousands pages of commentary on the Torah, is it any wonder that by accident some ideas related to ‘science’ may be found within those commentators by coincidence.

The Torah was most likely authored by people;  just like Torah commentary was. Many of these individuals observed the world around them and knew of the ‘science’ of the day. So some accurate observations would seep into the Torah and commentary. 

Once people begin to interpret the Torah and tell us what it ‘really’ means they can come up with all sorts of notions. Some of those notions may even later be discovered to be true by science. Here are some possible inventions ‘deduced’ from  Genesis 1:27 And G-d created man in his image, the image of G-d he created him; male and female he created them.

Man was first created in two halves, one female and one male  that were then separated.

G-d has male and female attributes. 

Man is in the image of G-d, but not women. In the image of G-d he created him, but it does not write that about females. 

Change of gender operations are against G-d’s wish. Male and Female he created them and one should not go against G-d’s creation.. 

Male and female are supposed to have distinct roles.

Male and female although distinct, share certain characteristics.

Males came first then females.

Males are more important and superior. Male was first created this must mean he is more important.

Heterosexual sex is good and should be enjoyed because G-d made males and females.

Sex is to be tolerated because we are supposed to emulate  G-d who does not have sex.

Homosexuality is bad because male and female sex was the intention.

G-d is corporeal since man is in his image. An incorporeal thing can not have an image. 

G-d is not corporeal since man is only in his image. Image is meant to exclude corporeal. 

Some of the above ‘interpretations’  have actually been suggested in Torah commentary !

In short, the Torah becomes a meaningless book for people to interpret as they see fit. 

I had never read Rabbi Slifkin’s (RS) book The Challenge of Creation. Nor was I aware of his  ‘solutions’ to the challenges posed by science to the first three chapters of Genesis, which will be referred  to as Genesis. In some conversations, his name came up and I was encouraged to read his book, so I have now read his 2008 second edition. I understand there may be new editions but I do not think the essentials have changed. 

My review is not a complete check or a complete analysis of  the book. My silence regarding any portion of the book is not an admission of my agreement (or disagreement) with that portion. 

For the most part RS solutions are not novel to me, since I recollect essentially similar ones at least  4 decades ago from some orthodox Jews, including ‘reputable’ Rabbis !  The core method of his solutions date back at least to Philo.  Lest I be accused of diminishing RS contributions,  he admits on page 20 that not a single significant Idea in the book is of his own creation. 

When I specify page numbers like Page ### , read it as beginning on Page ###. Usually I  will summarize RS’s position, hopefully accurately,  and then provide counter points. 

These RS posts will most often not be about the correct  interpretation of Genesis or this or that commentator, nor the theological acceptability of RS’s sources or interpretation of those sources. Nor will I tend to cite Torah verses or theological sources that may disagree with anything in RS’s book. That his book was banned by some Orthodox Rabbis indicates that likely there is some dispute with RS’s theology , interpretations etc:. Nevertheless, sometimes I will dispute ‘theology’, and  especially if you read some of the links to my posts. 

The first page of the book (actually is page 10) begins “This book was written for those who are committed to the tenets of Judaism,...”;  this gave me pause and a chuckle. 

Since I probably do not qualify  as ‘committed to the tenets of Judaism’ perhaps I should not be reading the book. 

Here in the USA there was/is a saying  ‘He ought to be committed’ which means  to an insane asylum.  I can not help but begin to think religions are a sort virus damaging intellectual honesty, free inquiry,  and critical thinking skills. 

What does committed mean ? Intellectually honest, rational people and truth seekers  should not be committed to any particular religion or for that matter any belief. Rather, they should examine the data and as new data comes in they should be willing to update their beliefs if needed.

What are the tenets of Judaism ? That would require a book or two and at the end of the day Jews, even Orthodox Jews would disagree with each other. For example there may be a wide, (but not a 100% consensus) that XYZ is a tenet of Judaism, but as soon as you try to get an explanation  of what XYZ really means all hope evaporates.  Religions in general, including Judaism are amorphous and not well defined. That is strike against the religion. How can somebody evaluate the truth of an ill defined religion ?  

My labels Part One, Part Two, Part Three Correspond to RS’s book’s three parts.

As I skimmed the book it appeared RS is probably too scientifically literate and  intellectually honest to: 1) dismiss the science; 2) distort our holy sage commentators , Talmud and the Genesis by twisting Genesis into science; 3) accept other popular apologetic explanations that he discusses (and dismisses for some valid reasons). With great suspense and anticipation I plowed on to read the details of RS’ solutions. 

All my previous blog posts were written prior to my reading RS’s book,  nevertheless many of them address his book and I post links to my recalled relevant posts.

Part One  - Science 

Page 46 - RS thinks the universe was designed with man as it’s purpose. 

RS has provided no compelling reason for this assertion. Moreover, one of  RS’s champions the Rambam disagrees with such a notion -  see Proof of God From Fine Tuning.

Page 53 RS - Complexity, Order, Symmetry , Beauty point to a designer. I think RS means G-d as the designer. 

See Proof of God from DesignProof of God From Fine Tuning

RS dismisses the Multiverse idea because there is no evidence of other Universes.  However, the Multiverse idea was motivated by other evidence based science and as a solution to some problems in modern science. The Multiverse idea was not developed because scientists wanted to deny supernatural being(s).  Since RS is so keen on evidence based reasoning does he have even one iota of evidence for supernatural being(s) ? 

Page 72-73 RS   suggests perhaps G-d can change the course of nature without breaking the laws of nature - based on Chaos Theory and or Quantum Theory.

Actually these are no help. Chaos theory is simply the notion that small changes in inputs can have major changes in outputs.  G-d making the changes in the inputs would be a violation of the laws of nature, even if we did not notice the change being made.  In some interpretation of Quantum theory  the outcomes of experiments are probabilistic. The odds are calculated according to certain equations. Again, God monkeying around with the probabilities of the outcomes is still a violation of the laws of nature, even if we may not notice it occurring. There is no evidence whatsoever of any of the laws of nature ever being violated - at least in the vicinity of planet Earth.

Page 77 First Cause Argument - A chain of causes back to the beginning. Presumably the first cause being G-d. 

Modern science tends not to write of causes. Rather, the universe evolves from one state to the next.  {ETA 11/21/2016 - Some interpretations of Quantum Theory explain outcomes of experiments are probabilistic. This could complicate the notion of the evolution of the states.} Anyway, modern science can trace the Universe’s history back to a Big Bang. What was there before the Big Bang is unknown. However, some cosmologist believe a quantum fluctuation eventually gave rise to the Big Bang. I am not sure how RS deduces a G-d from this. 

The fact that man has been able to mathematically model the Universe is not indicative of any Prime Mover/Causer/Designer/Creator of the Universe.  

See Proof of God From Big Bang, Kalam Cosmological Proof of God Premises and Conclusions Repudiated

Page 86 - RS - The Big Bang confirms the Universe had a beginning, just like Judaism claims.   

The Torah may not be advocating creation ex-nihilo or the Universe having a beginning.   See Kalam Cosmological Proof of God Repudiated by Theology

Also, either the Universe/it's building blocks always existed or they did not always exist. Even if the Torah ‘wrote’ the correct scientific history, (a scientific history we are still not sure of) it is unimpressive since there is a  50-50 chance of getting the correct choice.

Page 94 RS - "Free inquiry can lead to problems, but so can the suppression of free inquiry. The best solution to this difficult problem would appear to be measured rational inquiry.”

The problem with free inquiry according many religious people is it can lead to people abandoning Judaism.  RS’s  comment is tantamount to advocating intellectual dishonesty. Truth seeking  needs to be unfettered regardless to where it may lead; otherwise the individual will be uninformed and could reach incorrect conclusions.  

Page 98 - RS For many hundreds of years Torah scholars have engaged in reconciling Torah and the wisdom of the day.

The  Torah has been reconciled with the wisdom/science of the day by someone someplace going back at least to Philo. What is really going on is interpreting and reinterpreting the Torah text and or holy commentators until they are reconciled. This makes the Torah non-falsifiable. In other words ‘committed’ believers always have a solution to any verse(s) causing a ‘problem’.  Just ‘translate’, ‘reinterpret’, ‘interpret’, quote mine the false verse away. Thus, the Torah has no meaning, but rather it has a meaning imposed on it.

As I end this Part One review another related post is Proof Of God From Free Will, Justice, Consciousness, BLANK

 Continued The Challenge Of Creation - Rabbi Slifkin - Part Two 

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