Readers’ Feedback – “SHALOM” on Professor Shapiro & Rabbi Blue

“SHALOM” on Professor Shapiro & Rabbi Blue

[In the following document, Shalom (a pseudonym) addresses a previous post on this website (Professor Shapiro and Rabbi Blue). When quoting their statements, he refers to Rabbi Blue as RB and to Professor Shapiro as PS. My responses to his points are prefaced with My comments…]

 

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Hi Yoram,

Thank you so much for sharing the exchanges between Rabbi Blue, Professor Shapiro and yourself with me. It is with great warmth and a renewed hope that I have read these discussions, and the knowledge that there are still such vigorous debates in the world today renews my faith in humanity at large.

I wonder however, what percentage of such debates ever make it into the realms of facilitating changes in global perceptions, but I am strengthened in my belief as to the necessity for such discourse.

[My comment: Those who have even a cursory connection to קירוב know that, statistically, our efforts are futile. In one year, more American Jews assimilate and intermarry than all the Jews brought closer to observance by the תשובה-movement in the past thirty years. Why then do we persist? Answer: we leave the running of the world to הקב”ה. The fate of the world is in His hands, not mine. I will probably not bring about revolutionary changes in Jewish history. But that does not exempt me from treating every individual Jew as an entire world. I am obligated to do whatever I can for any Jew over whom I have influence.]

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As I am not proficient in either the religious sphere, or the realm of science, I will limit my observations to the philosophical, logical, and humanitarian arenas. (I am not an expert in these realms either – but I am more comfortable offering my opinions on this basis). I therefore humbly submit some of my observations and opinions for your perusal:

–      “…little time to indulge…” RB

Whilst I really do appreciate your frustration at the seemingly flippant approach by the establishment to the delicate issues that you describe (and I may not have the necessary sensitivity as to the correct context) I do think that perhaps Rabbi Blue actually made an error in judgment and ‘mis-chose’ his words in this regard. I fear he may not have accurately assessed the implications of the sentence you are criticizing. With this in mind, I feel that your response to this paragraph in particular, may have been unduly harsh, and as such, not helpful toward the overall tone of the debate.

[My comment: You may be right. There is a question of judgment here, and my judgment may be faulty. My perspective is this: when your house is burning down, you don’t take too much notice of niceties. You scream as loudly as you can in order to alert as many people as possible. My tone towards Rabbi Blue may strike you as harsh, but I do not believe that I made any remark that can be regarded as derogatory.

Shalom, there is more than mere frustration involved. In the schools that we are talking about, the children’s connection to Judaism is not just tenuous. Often, it amounts to no more than kneidlach and Hatikva. It won’t take much to sever the connection altogether. Teaching evolution to these children without any critical assessment of its substantial weaknesses in biology courses which are often taught by gentile teachers or secular Jews is capable of accomplishing that severance. Am I too strident in my discussions with Rabbi Blue? Perhaps. But I’d rather err on the side of caution.]

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–      “…most of them were prejudiced to the subject from the outset…disqualified themselves from having an honest and objective view point.” RB

I cannot agree with you more wholeheartedly in this regard. I think the term ‘objectivity’ is over referenced, and often taken out of context, especially when not scrutinized equally on both sides of a dispute. I think that this is the single factor that most, if not all participants in the evolution vs. creation debate (that I’ve ever heard) fail to acknowledge honestly; and in my opinion, both sides are equally to blame. There is a perception, however, that people from the “science” side of things are more objective than the “creationists”, and this is a myth that I will be happy to see dispelled, although, I’m not too hopeful. What I do find particularly interesting, is that people (Rabbi Blue included) tend to use subjectivity to undermine a particular person’s arguments. In my experience subjectivity, when examined honestly, merely provides context, thereby often serves to clarify an argument. To apologize for subjectivity is absurd. It is a condition of life, and cannot be avoided. In fact, I believe that when one acknowledges one’s own subjectivity it can be the starting point to resolving any argument.

***

–      “…should embrace it and not shy away from…” RB

Again, I agree with you completely. Torah would never in 13.7 Billion years (ha ha) determine its course based on the “overwhelming” evidence of the day. If it did that, then it would not be immutable; it’s as simple as that. I do feel for Rabbi Blue’s position however, and again, I suspect that he is not able to express his motivations for his position adequately. I propose (speculatively) that Rabbi Blue’s position is borne out, more from his mandate in terms of ‘Hashkafa’ than from anything else. What I mean to say is that perhaps, it is an untenable position to hold (from his point of view) that his students be isolated from main stream society, by complete rejection of Neo-Darwinian Evolution, as Torah would dictate. I think the root motivations of the ‘reconciliation proponents’ (people that hold that evolution and creationism can be reconciled), is that of ‘Shalom’, specifically in the larger context of ‘Kiruv’ in the contemporary Jewish world. Whether this is misguided or not is an entirely different debate.

***

–      “…merely an Orthodox Rabbi…” RB

I do understand your feelings here, but again find your response to be unduly harsh. I feel that Rabbi Blue was merely attempting to be humble, and if his words seem to undermine the ability of Orthodox Rabbis to grasp certain scientific principles without formal training, I feel it was without intent, and probably due to a projection of his own lack of confidence in this area. I do however feel, in this regard, that people (some Rabbis included) generally seem to ‘short change’ their own intellectual abilities with alarming regularity – hence the “Aw Shucks attitude” you spoke of. This is not helpful in such debates (or generally), and should only serve to highlight the ongoing need for higher learning in our communities.

***

–      “The more we learn…the greater our insights…” PS

This quote of professor Shapiro’s should actually read ‘The more we learn and the more powerful our technologies become, the greater our insight into the relationship of all living organisms, past and present should become.’ What I find particularly interesting is that often, different scientists, when presented with the same set of results under the same set of conditions will arrive at a different set of conclusions. I submit that this is due to pre-existing subjectivities, differing agendas and an innate human tendency to resist paradigm shift. My problem with your analysis in this case, is that – this does not always happen. I.e. the iterative, looping process of submitted peer review, against ever better technologies has always been based largely on the underlying integrity of its proponents, and in my humble opinion, this succeeds more often than it fails, and indeed more often than you seem to be implying. I am, however, well aware that the ‘Tree of life’ is in the process of being chopped down, but I think that to chop down the forest, would not be in anybody’s interest.

***

–      I believe that many religious people are disturbed by the phrase ‘random mutations’…” RB

Yoram, in this instance, I don’t believe that Rabbi Blue was being obsequious toward Professor Shapiro, as you seem to be sternly implying. I believe it might just have been a simple ‘lay-statement’, and therefore, an honest mistake on his part; and even though his words do take on an “Aw Shucks” tone, I think a softer approach might have been in order (although I do appreciate your frustration). I think what Rabbi Blue had actually meant to inquire after is whether the term “random mutations” equates to the position of “unguided-ness” that the Scientific community holds, with respect to Neo-Darwinian Evolution. If their (the scientific community’s) position is as you say it is (and I have no doubt that it is) then the knee jerk reaction that Rabbi Blue spoke of, would indeed be the appropriate response. I’m sure you would agree. By the way, your response to Professor Shapiro’s answer is, of course, spot on. I won’t even bother to comment on the “textual literalism” part of his response, although I do think that his motivation may have been innocent, and perhaps merely to convey that he has some rudimentary knowledge of biblical texts in order to facilitate ongoing dialogue between himself and Rabbi Blue.

[My comment: I sincerely do not believe that my response implied that Rabbi Blue was being obsequious. I just pointed out his error.]

***

–      “…there is a difference between Marco (sic) Evolution and Micro Evolution.” RB

–      “…to what extent is Evolution really debated in the scientific community?” RB

Your response with regards to Rabbi Blue’s next two questions is nothing short of brilliant, specifically the points about significant debate within the scientific community, and I feel it is because you broke down Professor Shapiro’s arguments with such precision that he responded in such a blunt and inappropriate way. (I’m not excusing his reply). Also, you have omitted a fourth relevant statement from the professor: As in many fields, we often are much slower to question and modify basic principles than we are to gather information which may be inconsistent with conventional wisdom” PS. I find it particularly ironic that it is precisely these four statements (your three, and my one) that should have brought some kind of ‘Shalom’ or at the very least some points of commonality between yourself and Professor Shapiro, and yet it is these points in your response which I fear he was most upset about. Although on a second reading of my quote, I think either Professor Shapiro meant “…consistent with…” or perhaps I’ve missed his point entirely. At any rate, I agree that he should have tackled your response with a better resolve, and maybe he still will. In fact, I would love to see a carefully constructed response to your claims by someone of his caliber.

***

I would also like to comment about the last part of your response to Rabbi Blue, but am unable to do so as I’m not familiar with some of the terms you used. I find it most unfortunate though, that you were not able to change Rabbi Blue’s position in this debate (although I am not really surprised). As mentioned before, I am not proficient in anything Torah related, so if you would briefly explain the following terms, I would be most grateful?

כפירה

מגלה פנים בתורה שלא כהלכה

דורש דרשות של דופי

מלגלג על דברי חכמים

[My comment: The following is not a comprehensive discussion. It is a broad-brush-strokes approach to these terms. I have borrowed from Rabbi Dr. Moshe Meiselman’s forthcoming The Torah of Science.

כפירה (heresy) is a denial of one of the thirteen fundamental principles of Maimonides (רמב”ם). A כופר is treated as an outsider to the Jewish people and, consequently, denied the privileges of being part of כלל ישראל. Other mistakes in fundamental beliefs may deny one his portion in עולם הבא and are strictly forbidden. Nonetheless, the privileges accorded to a member of the Jewish people are not easily revoked – even for people whose beliefs deny them a portion in עולם הבא.

The משנה states that someone who מגלה פנים בתורה שלא כהלכה (literally, one who reveals inappropriate aspects of Torah) forfeits his portion in עולם הבא. The Talmud comments that this is a violation of the verse which states כי דבר ה’ בזה – he has scorned the word of ה’. In defining this, the Talmud states that it refers to someone who makes light of the incidents recounted in חומש. The Talmud cites the example of King Menasheh, who mocked the Torah and interpreted it with הגדות של דופי (literally, perverse interpretations). The phrase הגדות של דופי has become synonymous in Torah literature with מגלה פנים בתורה שלא כהלכה. The incidents described in the Torah (e.g. the creation of Adam, the interactions of Eve with the serpent) actually occurred – they are not mere allegories. In addition, they contain within them profound lessons. Someone who treats them as trivial is included within this condemnation. Trivialization of the Torah is not כפירה. It is forbidden and denies a person a portion in the world to come.

 

Rav Ovadiah Bartenurah (the famous commentator on the משנה known colloquially as ברטנורא) extends this to someone who interprets statements of the Torah improperly. Some have made the mistake of interpreting the phrase שלא כהלכה to mean against halochoh. They proceed to say that allegorization is permissible in nonhalachic areas. This is a completely mistaken translation. The phrase שלא כהלכה means improperly. The use of this phrase includes all misinterpretation of Torah. The Talmud uses the phrase שלא כהלכה in reference to the incidents described by the Torah. The Torah is truth and any misrepresentation of truth in all areas is forbidden. The Torah reports the truth of the universe and is not only a series of laws.]

 

***

Doctor Rabbi Gottlieb’s Response: I am extremely humbled and gratified to read that Rabbi Gottlieb raised some of the same issues that I had previously commented on. (I only read his response after I had finished my own). I feel like a Yeshiva Bochur that has correctly asked a question before reading the Rashi. In any event, I must endeavor ‘Bli Neder’ to become better acquainted with his works, as he is no doubt incredibly insightful, and I am well aware that he is an expert in this field.

[My comment: Indeed! I have been privileged to know and learn from Rabbi Gottlieb for many years. I suggest that you start with his website, www.dovidgottlieb.com.]

***

Conclusion:

Yoram, it seems apparent to me that the level of depth and intensity visible in the interchanges between Rabbi Blue & Professor Shapiro is often less than sufficient in your view, and that they may have glossed over certain items more glibly than you would have liked. I feel that while your criticisms are accurate, at times you may have shown a less than generous dose of sensitivity. At the end of the day, I believe, it should always come down to a balanced approach, and as such, all types of people are needed to nurture an image of life that most closely resembles the Absolute Truth. My opinion, for what it’s worth, is this: The Absolute Truth is not attainable experientially in this physical world. For me it represents the definitive contradiction, because we exist merely as approximations of reality – ‘Mashalim’. Our quest to strive for Truth is inextricably linked with Torah, and it is in this way that evolution and creation can and should be reconciled.

[My comment: As far as the sensitivity (or lack thereof) of my response, you may be right. Perhaps someone else would have done better. I am merely trying to fulfill the words of חז”ל: במקום שאין איש, השתדל להיות איש. Roughly, this means that where no-one else is doing a job that needs to be done, you must try to fill the void. I cannot sit back and watch while high-school students are lead down a dangerous path and excuse my inaction by noting that others would do a better job because they are more sensitive, knowledgeable or skilful writers than I am. I have yet to see someone else in Johannesburg’s Jewish community (or in the South African Jewish community, for that matter) take on that role.

The Torah view of truth is not, I’m afraid, consistent with your statement that all types of people are needed to nurture an image of life that most closely resembles the Absolute Truth. Absolute truth is not a matter of democracy. It did not matter that אברהם אבינו was engulfed in an ocean of idolaters. His life – and his life alone – was a reflection of truth, and not those of millions of other misguided individuals.

I do not understand what you mean by The Absolute Truth is not attainable experientially in this physical world. The view of the Torah community is that the absolute truth has been revealed to us, and is accessible through the Torah.

You write that Our quest to strive for Truth is inextricably linked with Torah, and it is in this way that evolution and creation can and should be reconciled. It is incorrect to start off with the assumption, as you seem to do, that every intellectual concept is compatible with the Torah. This is an approach which rejects the evidence in favour of a preconceived notion that any particular concept can necessarily be reconciled with the Torah. This assumption is false. Try it with the following suggestion: God can be incarnated in the form of a man (and be born of a virgin). If you can accept the falsehood of this proposition, why insist that the Torah and evolution can and should be reconciled?]

***

I do hope that you have found my words to be creative, constructive, and in the spirit that I have intended (always ‘Leshaym Shamayim’). If I have offended you in any way whatsoever, I am deeply sorry, and humbly beg your forgiveness.

[My response: As always, your comments are constructive and warmly welcomed. I am not in the least offended by any of your remarks. Quite the contrary – I am grateful for your interaction, and the effort you have expended in response to the Shapiro/Blue correspondence. Thank you.]

Warm Regards,

Your Friend

“Shalom”

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2 Responses to “Readers’ Feedback – “SHALOM” on Professor Shapiro & Rabbi Blue”

  1. TablesTurned Says:

    That was a very nice exchange! Short comment:

    > “You write that ‘Our quest to strive for Truth is inextricably linked with Torah, and it is in this way that evolution and creation can and should be reconciled.’ It is incorrect to start off with the assumption, as you seem to do, that every intellectual concept is compatible with the Torah.”

    I didn’t read Shalom like that. I understood him like this: “Our quest to strive for Truth is inextricably linked with Torah, and it is in this way that evolution, (i.e. obviously only those parts that are true,) and creation can and should be reconciled.

    > “I do not understand what you mean by ‘The Absolute Truth is not attainable experientially in this physical world.’ The view of the Torah community is that the absolute truth has been revealed to us, and is accessible through the Torah.”

    I guess that “absolute truth has been revealed and is accessible” is not the same thing as saying “absolute is attainable experientially.”

  2. TablesTurned Says:

    (Kindly change my last phrase to:
    “absolute truth is attainable experientially.”)

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