Friday, July 27, 2007

The Convenience and Inconvenience of Apologetics...

DovBear had a fascinating post yesterday about the denial of scientific fact in the "Torah True" world. For all of you who don't know, this is the ironic self-given name of the Chareidi/Yeshivish world. Ironic, that is, since they are not, as I've mentioned before, not really frum or "Torah True" at all...

Anyway, DovBear, in his usual tongue-in-cheek style, wanted to make sure Chareidimi stayed true to their "Mesorah" and provided them with a new set of "Ani Ma'amins."

Attention Jews who piously repeat 13 Ani Maamins each day. You are koferim. Heretics. Deficient in belief. Spiritual Pygmies.

Perhaps 13 fundamentals were enough for our ancestors, but we live in more challenging times. Therefore, following the excellent advice acquired here, I firmly suggest that you add the following proclamations to your daily devotions:

- I firmly believe the world in exactly 5767 years old. [*] [1]

- I firmly believe that the sun, moon and planets revolve around the earth. [1]

- I firmly believe that the Mediterranean Sea is the largest body of water (hence it's name "yam hagadol").

- I firmly believe that Eretz Yisroel is higher than all other lands, including Mount Everest [1]

- I firmly believe that there are six planets

- I firmly believe that there are 4 elements [1]

- I firmly believe that lice do not come from eggs [1]

- I firmly believe that the moon generates its own light, and does not merely reflect the sun.

- I firmly believe that there was a flood that covered the entire earth.

- I firmly believe that no animal species will ever go extinct.

Laughing? Stop. These are genuine Haredi beliefs.

[*] Any Rishon who suggested otherwise was a kofer.
[1] I know actual people who believe this.
Oh, and I know people who believe this dribble as well.

What I find interesting is this: Here is a great opportunity for Chareidim and modern day "gedolim" to use everyone's favorite way to explain away and dismiss "strange" and "otherwise incomprehensible and unexplainable" events and behaviors in Tanach: Apologetics! And it would even be apologetics the way apologetics should actually be used! Some RWNJ (Right Wing Nut Job) posted this stupidity, thinking they had completely debunked science. Incidentally, this is DB's source for his new "Ani Ma'amins."

Let's take a look:
1. I firmly believe the world in exactly 5767 years old.
Sure! Time is Relative! We have no idea about the flow of time when the Big Band took place. (Don't like my belief in the Big Bang? See my post Fear of Science)

2. I firmly believe that the sun, moon and planets revolve around the earth.
Any of you Chareidim ever think this might mean in a SPIRITUAL sense?!

3. I firmly believe that the Mediterranean Sea is the largest body of water (hence it's name "yam hagadol").
Ok, that's just dumb. First, the Torah speaks B'Lashon B'Nei Adam - as people would speak. As far as the residents of the Middle East at the time were concerned, this was the largest body of water they knew. Also, it says "Yam" - Sea. It doesn't say "Okyanus" - Ocean.

4. I firmly believe that Eretz Yisroel is higher than all other lands, including Mount Everest.
Once again, in a SPIRITUAL sense, YES! In a physical sense, NO. Interesting to note, however, that Israel does boast the Earth's lowest PHYSICAL point (the Dead Sea).

5. I firmly believe that there are six planets.
Funny. I'm pretty well-learned, and I have NEVER seen any other planets mentioned in TORAH. Sure, Chazal later generations discuss them, but not the TORAH. So, as far as Chazal and the Rishonim knew, based on the scientific knowledge of their times, they believed there were six planets. Had they lived today, they would have believed there were eight. As for the stupid remark that last year there were nine and next year there might be ten? That's really dumb. I don't think I really need to explain further. The point is Chazal and the Rishonim worked on knowledge they had available to them then, not on knowledge we have available to us now. Rambam even writes based on Aristotle's scientific theories, which have proven, in their majority, to be very wrong. Does this make the Rambam stupid? No. He was working with what he had. Does it make him wrong in certain things? Yes. And he would be the first to admit it.

6. I firmly believe that there are 4 elements.
See above explanation for point number 5.

7. I firmly believe that lice do not come from eggs

Same as 6 and 5.

8. I firmly believe that the moon generates its own light, and does not merely reflect the sun.
The Chareidi retort to this is: It says "Hamaor Hakatan" - the lesser light, or as they would explain it, sun. Therefore, the moon must give off it's own light and not that of the sun. ??????????? It says Maor - Light. It doesn't say anything about the origin of its light. And the moon gives off plenty of light, especially when it's a full moon. And don't forget, the moon has a DARK SIDE. If it has it's own light source, why is it the only part of it that gives off light is the side THAT FACES THE SUN?!

9. I firmly believe that there was a flood that covered the entire earth.
Who said the Flood covered the entire planet? I personally think it only covered the parts that were populated ( don't know if that's scientifically correct, but I'm open to other explanations...)! 

10. I firmly believe that no animal species will ever go extinct.
Apparently, this is a quote from the Minchas Hachinuch, which was written by a person, not God. This person, as mentioned earlier, probably didn't have the knowledge we do now. If he did, he might not have said what he said!

See, apologetics used here would have been great! But Chareidim/Yeshivish people can't get passed the idea that the Gedolim of previous generations, let alone the modern day "gedolim," were in fact fallible. Period. Using this basis, they could have taken the opportunity and fit science nicely into a Torah mindset, regardless of the era or the science.

Instead, they use apologetics to completely maim and destroy stories in Tanach (yes, Moshe did indeed screw up...), when they could use apologetics in a proper manner and teach how science does indeed fit into a Torah mindset, even if you have to be a bit creative about it, which you really don't.

If you want to read more about the IMPROPER use of Apologetics, see here, here, here, here, here, and here (you might want to read them in the order I provided...).

6 comments:

Esther said...

I believe that there are many parts of belief that can be personal. It doesn't threaten my keeping kosher or praying to G-d if I believe that there are parts of our tradition that are allegorical instead of literal. Now, other people can believe that it's literal if that is their belief. But some people have made every belief a fundamental principle of faith. You're a heretic if you don't believe (whatever).

I think you made an excellent point in your comment on Dov Bear's post. One can get so caught up in believing the literal facts, that the moral lesson we are supposed to get out of it is completely missed! It's like with the tsnius issue - if the whole point is not to stare at women, why are religious men spending time staring at women to see how much they are violating the laws of tsnius! Does it really threaten someone's entire faith if the world turned out to be older or if there used to be dinosaurs? Does the fact that there's more planets (and a lot of other amazing things in space that people in previous generations didn't know about) make them have LESS amazement at G-d's creation?

Kylopod said...

First of all, I have a strong sense that the supposed anti-science Charedi tirade to which you link is in fact a satire making fun of Charedim. I have heard writers for Yated Ne'eman say things that are scarcely less ridiculous, though.

I don't think it's unreasonable to translate eretz as "the land" rather than "the entire earth." This simple distinction puts a lot of the early events in Bereishis into a clearer perspective. It's talking about the rise of human civilization, not the rise of the human species.

For example, Hebrew may not be the first language, but some form of the Old Hebrew alphabet was probably the first alphabet.

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

Agreed.

As for the "land" thing and the flood, someone tried to comment but was then insulting, so I left out his comment, but he said this:
"'Who said the Flood covered the entire planet? I personally think it only covered the parts that were populated! Why is that so hard to believe?'

Because it makes no sense. First, China and America were populated from tens of thousands of years ago, so a populated-only flood is global anyway. Second, the water is described as covering mountains. Water has a level, and even a water level "only" higher than the mountains in the Middle east would be a global flood. Finally, the story is obviously talking about a global flood, and no one had ever interpreted it as anything other than a global flood until the 1800s, when it became clear that there had never been a global flood."

I'm not exactly sure how it might work, but a tidal wave might cover, at least temporarily, on continent or part of one, and not another. It would also effectively wash away anything in its way. Well, then one might argue that the flood lasted forty days and nights and the water covered the land almost an entire year. This is indeed possible, or it may be a figurative way of saying how complete the destruction was. And a well built boat might withstand it all.

I'm not saying there was no flood. I'm saying what it says about it does not need to be literal...

Miriam said...

okay, I'm gonna seem really crazy now. but, why is it impossible for a flood to cover the whole world?

Am Kshe Oref - A Stiff-Necked People said...

I never said impossible. I said unnecessary. If God didn't need to destroy it all, and he probably didn't, why would he have? I'm just saying it's possible the flood did not affect the entire world...

rebelwithacause said...

okay, I'm gonna seem really crazy now. but, why is it impossible for a flood to cover the whole world?

July 28, 2007 5:48 PM

Cause there is not enough water volume on this planet to cause a major flood in all the continents on this world. If there was indeed such a great flood, this could be identified through the geological layers in the soil. However it's for sure that certain areas in the Middle East have been covered with floods and this coincides with certain spots where people claim that Noah's ark exists i.e. mountain Ararat for example.