Rabbi Shafran Responds

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8 Responses

  1. Harry Maryles says:

    I read the article by Rabbi Shafran and pretty much agreed with what he had to say on the matter. But I disagreed with the conclusion in one sense. Intelligent Design which is a euphemism for God should not be part of a science course in a secular school. Science is the study of facts not beliefs. In that sense, I agree that Atheism does not belong in a classroom either. And many a scientist injects his atheism into his teaching. This DOES need to be countered but not in a science classroom. Evolution should be looked at as a possible process of the development of the species. The cause of that process whether it is complete randomness or guided by God is beyond the scope of science. For those interested, my blog, Emes Ve-Emunah, contains a more in depth exposition of my views.

  2. shmuel says:

    In public schools there is no need to teach ID in science class. What there is a need to teach is that evolutionary theory has numerous problems with it which make many question its cogency.

  3. Seth Gordon says:

    I thank Rabbi Shafran for his clarification and accept his apology. I cannot oblige him by providing “a worm being induced to grow wings”, but he might be interested in this essay laying out the evidence that termites evolved from cockroaches.

    One of the tactics of the Intelligent Design movement is an attempt to broaden the definition of “science”; Prof. Behe, on cross-examination in the Dover trial, admitted that his definition of “science” that encompassed ID would also include astrology. I beg Rabbi Shafran not to go along with this redefinition.

    The methodology of science is based on the simple assumption that the natural world operates according to a fixed pattern, so that the things we have learned about the past can be applied to predict what will happen in the future, and the things we learn about one place can be used to predict what we will find in other places. We can use this methodology to help us answer all sorts of questions, like “Where should I drill to find oil?” or “Will this drug alleviate the symptoms of AIDS?”

    Obviously, the methodology of science cannot answer every question, and for some situations, the underlying assumption breaks down. (The giving of the Torah, for example, was a singular event in human history, and therefore we cannot use the scientific method to learn anything about or from it.) But that is a reason to teach other methodologies, not a reason to redefine “science”.

  4. Avi Shafran says:

    Although I resolved to not burden this board with my becoming an ongoing part of the discussion, I would like to make one last comment. I am disturbed by what seems a lack of objectivity in Seth Gordon’s description of Professor Behe’s definition of a scientific theory; in his reference to assertions of the Intelligent Design movement as “tactics”; and in his misleading citation of a study of insects.

    Professor Behe simply testified that even theories that will not in the end stand the test of experiment remain valid theories until they are disproven. He certainly did not endorse astrology as science. He pointedly added that: “Under my definition, scientific theory is a proposed explanation which points to physical data and logical inferences.” Obviously, astrology (at least as we know it today) does not meet those criteria. (Whether ID does or not is arguable; but that is no reason to disparage Behe’s point of view.)

    As to the “essay laying out the evidence that termites evolved from cockroaches,” the evidence in the paper is no more compelling than “evidence” that birds evolved from fish, or men from apes. If one subscribes as a matter of conviction to evolution, then of course such similarities are claimed as “proofs.” But if one does not, they are anything but. They fit, in other words, both Darwinist and creationist worldviews. That the biosphere is made up of myriad creatures, many of whom have characteristics in common with others is hardly hot news.

    Once again, when a researcher bombards a population of termites and finds cockroaches (or even proto-cockroaches) among them, while even that would fall short as a “proof” of evolution, I will nevertheless be impressed.

    As to the “tactics” employed by opponents of Darwinism, the pejorative can just as easily be applied to the assertions of Darwinists. Waving like a flag every bit of evidence that species have similarities (or that they retain or lose characteristics over the course of generations) does not add anything meaningful to the discussion of whether mutation and random forces may have been the mechanisms for the variety of species.

    Avi Shafran

  5. Charles B. Hall says:

    I would like to thank Rabbi Shafran for his thoughtful reply to my comment. I second his point about the impact of the ‘great – perhaps inevitable – specialization of science-niches’; the overwhelming amount of material that a scientist-in-training must learn about his/her own field, the limited amount of time available for training, and the demand to become a productive investigator early in ones career are some of the factors that contribute to this problem. In a similar vein, Rabbi Menken commented elsewhere that few biologists have good training in quantitative methods; that is indeed true but has been changing for the better in the past few years as the need for them has been increasing dramatically with the success of molecular biology, genetics, and proteomics.

    Add to this the very small number of scientists with extensive Torah knowledge and wisdom, (and similarly, the few torah giants with extensive training in science) and there are truly very few of us who really can speak authoritatively here. I am not one of those persons; while my scientific training is a bit broader than most because of the interdiciplinary nature of my own field, I came to Judaism late in life and don’t have extensive Torah knowledge. Rabbi Dr. Moshe Tendler, at the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists meeting last August, spoke about the need for more scientists who are also “ben Torahs”. If our community can indeed develop more scientists with extensive Torah knowledge and wisdom (naturally including appreciation and respect for our mesorah), as well as more rabbis with extensive scientific knowledge, I think that we will as a community come to realize that there is no conflict between science and Torah, and that this will lead to greater acceptance of traditional Judaism by the still too large majority of our fellow Jews who remain estranged.

    That said, I do not believe that this requires compromise in either direction. Rabbi Shafran makes the point that “discussion of whether Torah is divine…might not belong in a yeshiva classroom” and I think the opponents of teaching ID in science classes (including myself) would like to make the same distinction for their classrooms. A not widely understood point is that there is a very fundamental difference between science and Torah in that the former is subject ultimately to empirical verification and the latter is not. This places natural limits to the things for which science can make statements, limits which I suspect may be better understood by good scientists than by overly enthusiastic laypeople who are too quick to apply supposedly scientific results inappropriately (for example, to questions such as the existence of God, which is not something within the scientific domain). On the other hand, one should not take a post-modernist relativist view that treats any opinion as inherently of equal validity. Such an argument has great potential to sway much of the American public because of its apparent fairness, but is particularly incompatible with Judaism, which teaches that there *are* true absolutes.

    Thank you for the opportunity to engage in this forum.

  6. Jonathan says:

    Rabbi Shafran,

    I assume you have read the Dover ID ruling, but I will link to it just in case. I think the interesting part starts around p. 18. Many of your arguments were attempted by ID proponents, and did not stand up in court.

    As a researcher myself, I dread the day when some charlatans invent a theologically-driven pseudo-theory for my own field. I absolutely agree with Charlie Hall – science is a profession that relies on factual evidence. There is right, there is wrong, and there is vague claims that *sound* scientific but can *never* be disproven (e.g., ID). The last has no place in the science classroom — except as an example of what is *not* science.

    Thank you for writing about this important issue.

  7. JZ says:

    Jonathan- You write that you “dread the day when some charlatans invent a theologically-driven pseudo-theory for my own field.” Well, that day already arrived. Standard classroom instruction now includes the pseudo-theory of Darwinian evolution.

  8. Jonathan says:

    JZ: consider the following excerpt from the Dover ID ruling, p. 64; Can you really claim, with any objectivity, that evolutionary biology is “pseudo-science” in the same sense that ID is?

    4. Whether ID is Science
    After a searching review of the record and applicable caselaw, we find that
    while ID arguments may be true, a proposition on which the Court takes no
    position, ID is not science. We find that ID fails on three different levels, any one
    of which is sufficient to preclude a determination that ID is science. They are: (1)
    ID violates the centuries-old ground rules of science by invoking and permitting
    supernatural causation; (2) the argument of irreducible complexity, central to ID,
    employs the same flawed and illogical contrived dualism that doomed creation
    science in the 1980’s; and (3) ID’s negative attacks on evolution have been refuted
    by the scientific community. As we will discuss in more detail below, it is
    additionally important to note that ID has failed to gain acceptance in the scientific
    community, it has not generated peer-reviewed publications, nor has it been the
    subject of testing and research.

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