Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart
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Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Science and Skeptics

Here, for the uninitiated, is how real science works:
I flip a switch in front of you and the light turns on. What can you firmly conclude from this? Only that there was what seemed to be a causal relationship between the switch and light. If I repeatedly flip the switch and the light goes off, you can then conclude that flipping the switch has a definite causal relationship with the light going on and off. And that's it.
Why? Because you cannot be sure that the flipping of the switch is what actually turned the light on. Perhaps there's an external factor that notes the switch being flipped and turns on the light. Perhaps I, the flipper, am aware that the light will turn itself on and off and I'm fooling you by timing my switch flipping to a predetermined event that I'm just taking credit for.
In actual fact, it isn't the switch that turns the light on. It's the flow of electrons that is opened up by the flipping of the switch that turns the light on. The switch, which you might have concluded is the direct cause, is actually one step removed from the light turning on.
That's real science.
Here's how skeptics work. We have two Torahs, Jewish and Samaritan, with significant differences between the two texts. The latter is older, the former is known to have been edited over time with final corrections being completed about 1000 years ago, therefore the latter is more authentic. Any changes, being earlier, represent greater authenticity and therefore the differences stand as clear evidence that our Torah was heavily changed over time and thus the seemingly inviolable principle of the unchanging Torah since Sinai is refuted. Not that the skeptics ever believed in Sinai anyway.
How easy is it to tear this thinking apart? Quite easy, using real science. Simply put, the existence of differences between an earlier work of literature and a similar but later one which, at an earlier point in history served as the template for the earlier piece, provides only one legitimate conclusions: there are differences between the two texts.
Who says that because the Samaritan torah is earlier that it is more accurate? One could easily suggest that it's very first edition was corrupted, that most of the differences between our current copy of the Torah and theirs were because of changes that they made, instead of problems creeping into our text. Certainly from a religious perspective this makes tremendous sense. Remember that for those of us who accept that the Written Text was written with the entire Oral Law already in existence and that supposed inconsistencies in the text are intentional clues to allow a reader to derive the Oral Law, it is quite reasonable to note that the Samaritans got their Torah wrong. What for us is a hint to something in the Oral Law would be, to those without that Oral Law, a simple spelling mistake, an incomplete narrative or an inconsistency in the text between one section and another. No wonder their text is different. They were trying to create a more cohesive document from their perspective.
The only way to know which document is more accurate is to find a Torah scroll from the First Temple period from before the destruction of the Northern Kingdom. That Torah would predate both ours and the Samaritan and both could be compared with it to see whose version is more faithful to the original. In the absence of that evidence, one cannot draw conclusions as to whose version is right. It is scientifically unacceptable.
No, we cannot claim that the Torah scrolls we read from today are letter for letter the same as the one given to Moshe Rabeinu, a"h, at Har Sinai. However I have noted before that the point of the Torah is to provide us with an insight into halacha. The Torah we have before us today, with its minor variations from the original , does that in the exact same way as Moshe Rabeinu's did. In other words, it might be just semantics but we do have the same Torah that he received at Har Sinai.

10 comments:

Shalmo said...

Garnel do you believe the world is 6000 years old?

Also do you believe evolution comes from Satan?

not joking, I just seriously would like to know

And what are your views on science and Genesis since it completely contradicts the pattern of creation that happens (plants being created before there was "light" aka photosynthesis to sustain them . or how Genesis 1 violates how Light cannot exist without a sun, and secondly, how can morning be distinguished from evening unless there is a sun and moon? etc etc etc etc etc)

Do you take Genesis literally?

Garnel Ironheart said...

> Garnel do you believe the world is 6000 years old?

From a human perspective, the world is a billion years old or so, and the universe is a lot older. I've made my thoughts on that clear in the past. From God's perspective, which is the only one that matters, it's 5769 years old the way He counts things.

> Also do you believe evolution
comes from Satan?

That's a stupid question. Nothing comes from Satan. Everything comes from God. Satan's just one of his functionaries.

> And what are your views on science and Genesis

Again, this is all on the record. The Torah is not a science or history text, it is a moral text and as such it will present moral lessons. I don't see a conflict between science and Genesis and your example is especially apt since light (1st day) was created before plants (3rd day)

Garnel Ironheart said...

And before you dismiss my reconciliation of our perspective of time and God's I would remind you that even when speaking exclusively of measurable physical existence, it has already been proven that time is relative. If I put you on a space ship and sent you flying off to Alpha Centauri at 99% of the speed of light, only a little over 4 years would pass for you until you reached that system. For us on Earth, millions of years would have passed. How much greater is the difference between our perception of time and Gods!

David said...

Garnel,

You're not being fair to skeptics. There is no evidence of any Torah at all at a time period anywhere near the theoretical events recounted in the Torah. Moreover, there is fairly substantial historical, literary, biological and archaeological evidence that much of the text in the Torah is contrived and historically inaccurate. Indeed, you yourself acknowledge that much of early Genesis is metaphorical (although I'm not sure how you figure that metaphorical characters in early Genesis managed to become the direct ancestors of people whom you believe to be actual historical personages).

The skeptics' view can not fairly be reduced to the claim that other extant (and older) versions of the Bibilical text prove changes since Sinai-- indeed, if that were the skeptics' view (as you suggest), then the skeptics would be tacitly acknowledging that there was a Sinai revelation.

You're trying to make this an argument about what kind of fleas your camel has; as of yet, we haven't established that you have an actual camel.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...

You're right, David. That's because I believe the camel is there. That's the point of faith. I don't need to see the camel, heck if I saw it I'd lose my faith because I'd no longer need it. That's why we teach that the righteous lives by his faith, because it's the basis of everything that comes after.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>Here's how skeptics work. We have two Torahs, Jewish and Samaritan, with significant differences between the two texts. The latter is older, the former is known to have been edited over time with final corrections being completed about 1000 years ago, therefore the latter is more authentic. Any changes, being earlier, represent greater authenticity and therefore the differences stand as clear evidence that our Torah was heavily changed over time and thus the seemingly inviolable principle of the unchanging Torah since Sinai is refuted. Not that the skeptics ever believed in Sinai anyway.

I know you're just giving an example, but, say what? There are no Samaritan Torah specimens that are older than a thousand years; the evidences are either versions or actual fragments which agree with the Samaritan, but only in the way they agree also with the Masoretic text. There are ancient witnesses for a variety of texts.

If you're referring to the 17th-18th century preference for the Samaritan text on the part of certain Bible scholars, they were not skeptics and certainly believed in Sinai. Their motivation, if we can suggest it, had to do with internal Christian considerations (as well as an honest appraisal of the facts which were known to them at the time).

In any case, I'm surprised that your best defense of the Masoretic text is that it can't be proven to be worse than the Samaritan.

David said...

"You're right, David. That's because I believe the camel is there."

But this is the problem; you've chosen to enter into a conversation with people who question that belief on the very subject of the belief. Now, these people may (or, in some cases, may not) be open-minded enough to reconsider their views if you are sufficiently persuasive. However, it is pointless to try to have a debate with someone if you insist on treating the point at issue as a given.

If you and I disagree about whether or not it's raining outside, it would be silly of me to try to limit our discussion to which type of umbrella we ought to take.

"That's the point of faith. I don't need to see the camel, heck if I saw it I'd lose my faith because I'd no longer need it."

I think that's a cop-out. You don't choose to have faith in things that you know to be false, so, at a minimum, your faith can't completely fly in the face of your reason. If it's no more than faith, then why not have faith in Islam? Their after-life sounds more intriguing than ours. How about Christianity? Some sects of Christianity say that everybody else will burn in hell; since Judaism doesn't say that, wouldn't it make more sense to hedge your bets and just have faith in Christianity? And yet you stick with Judaism. Is that because you find something more reasonable about Judaism? Or is it because you just haven't bothered to seriously question what you've been taught?

I think your faith runs afoul of your own reason-- for that reason, you continue to tweak your faith as different parts of the Torah become less believable to you. Your own views are not consistent with the views of fundamentalist Orthodox Judaism, nor did the whole "dati leumi" thing even exist in Judaism until fairly recently. So, how is it that you're not just playing mind games with yourself?

Off the Derech said...

>I don't need to see the camel, heck if I saw it I'd lose my faith because I'd no longer need it.

As a devout Pastafarian, I NEED faith to believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Without my faith, I'd have no reason to believe in it whatsoever. After all, there's no empirical way to prove my beliefs.

What a moron.

Shalmo said...

Actually Garnel what I typed was from the two contradictory accounts of creation in Genesis

Now its interesting you say according to God.......but Jews have always believed the world was 6000 years old and Orthodox propaganda against evolution, and similar pseudo-science trying to prove the world is 6000 years old proves that indeed traditional jewish belief hold the 6000 year old world as historical

This is a pattern of behaviour. First Orthodox deny science and print pseudo-science to say its wrong. Then they accept it in parts. Then they find weird contortions to reconcile the science with Genesis, as can be seen in your nonsensical reply of to God its 6000 years. But now you have to answer Why would God confuse us by giving us these dates? And why did he not specify that these dates are how he sees the universe but the mankind should see the universe as billion years old.

Do you see what you are doing here? In your apologetics you have just dug yourself into a deeper hole. If you would have stuck with the original Jewish position of the world itself literally being 6000 years old, then you would have avoided this charade

An honest person would have just said, yes the Torah says the world is 6000 years old.

And if it was all reconcilable why do Orthodox still print literature against evolution.

Today there are also "some" OJ groups that teach the world is flat coz the bible (though I am not sure about this point) says so

Galileo was after all persecuted because in Joshua and in Job he proved the bible in error about the geocentric universe and showed that in fact its the earth that revolves around the Sun, not the other way round.

Heck Samuel 15 says the world rests on pillars

But I take it you see that as metaphorical as well.

Whatever science shows as false becomes metaphorical, until which time everything is historical

I prefer to call a spade a spade

Shalmo said...

Garnel I just finished typing my final argument against TMS in the "Making A Non-Issue into A... Non-Issue" thread.

Do with it what you will.