Friday, July 16, 2010

The Torah of Science

Rabbi Slifkin posted about a forthcoming book by Rabbi Moshe Meiselman to be named The Torah of Science. First of all, does anyone think a new Young Earth Creationist book will have anything original or intelligent to add? It would save everyone time and trouble if Rabbi Meiselman would just point to any other YEC screed, and Rabbi Slifkin would just point to any one of the many books thoroughly debunking and refuting YEC. In any case, here's my quick take on it.

If the book is actually to be named "The Torah of Science," Rabbi Meiselman has rendered his case irrelevant before it has begun. Torah--to an Orthodox Jew--is revealed knowledge that cannot be changed or questioned. Science, by its nature, needs to be questionable and challengeable. It must be placed under scrutiny, tested and retested, and modified when necessary. In other words, there is no and can be no "Torah of Science." Science must be fallible and fluid, not regimented and ruled in the way that there is "Torah of business practices" or "Torah of medical ethics." The phrase "Torah of science," used in this way, is an oxymoron and speaks to the intellectual dishonesty bound to be rife in Meiselman's pages: he will be trying to squeeze science into the set of conclusions he thinks it must obey. This concept is anathema to anyone who cares about science.*

Of course, I am assuming the above is the sense in which he means "The Torah of Science." I suppose it could also mean, "lessons for Torah to be gained from science." Something tells me this is not the way in which he means it, though. (As pointed out by others, it could also be a nonsense phrase trying to be the opposite of Rabbi Slifkin's book and to sound like it cares more about Torah. That's likely, but that would probably still contain the implicit message I'm describing above.)

*There are, of course, accepted rules or frameworks governing procedures of good science. However, those frameworks are themselves open to argumentation, questioning and development based on reason and evidence--which is how they came about to begin with. Moreover, they are about procedures, not about conclusions.


Shilton HaSechel said...

All I know is he will use the old "the laws of nature including carbon dating changed during the deluge" and that science "assumes" that the laws of nature are immutable

So I doubt it will contain anything new

JewishGadfly said...

Oy. You know, I never understand that suggestion. What about a deluge would possibly change the physical properties of carbon and radioactive decay? It's intellectual laziness at its worst: it basically posits magical miracle water changing the known laws of physics, in which case, why bother pointing to the flood, which is irrelevant? Just say, God magically changed the laws of nature at some point to make things look like this. It seems logically equivalent to me; it just sounds stupider that way because there is no pretension of mechanism.

I also have to wonder if another scientific effect of the flood was to remove any evidence of a global flood. :-)

Shilton HaSechel said...

They base it on the rather ambiguous verse in the flood narrative 8:22

כב עֹד, כָּל-יְמֵי הָאָרֶץ: זֶרַע וְקָצִיר וְקֹר וָחֹם וְקַיִץ וָחֹרֶף, וְיוֹם וָלַיְלָה--לֹא יִשְׁבֹּתוּ.

Which apparently implies that during the flood all the seasons were completely screwed up and God promises "never again"

I don't think the idea is the water changed everything but rather God just decided to tweek the laws of nature in general. One of the nasty side effects was a flood ;)

Why God decided to change carbon decay is still not quite clear to me.

Shilton HaSechel said...

>I also have to wonder if another scientific effect of the flood was to remove any evidence of a global flood. :-)

Well that goes without saying

JewishGadfly said...

Ah, thanks. Yeah, it's still pretty bizarre that this involves changing rates of decay, which no one would know about for a couple thousand years.

Actually, not that I intended to get too into this, but Dawkins has an irresistible point on just how much this would involve:

"The special pleading in such claims is glaring. Why on Earth should the laws of physics change, just like that, so massively and so conveniently? And it glares even more when you have to make mutually adjusted special pleading claims for each one of the clocks separately. At present, the applicable isotopes all agree with each other in placing the origin of the Earth at between four and five billion years ago...The history-deniers would have to fiddle the half-lives of all the isotopes in their separate proportions, so that they all end up agreeing that the Earth began 6,000 years ago. Now that's what I call special pleading! And I haven't even mentioned the various other dating methods which also produce the same result, for example 'fission track dating.'

Bear in mind the huge differences in timescales of the different clocks, and think of the amount of contrived and complicated fiddling with the laws of physics that would be needed in order to make all the clocks agree with each other, across the orders of magnitude, that the Earth is 6,000 years old and not 4.6 billion! Given that the sole motive for such fiddling is to uphold the origin myth of a particular set of Bronze Age desert tribesmen, it is surprising, to say the least, that anyone is fooled by it." (From The Greatest Show on Earth.)