Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Torah, Science, Pseudo-Torah & Pseudo-Science II

Interestingly, I found an idea similar to what I proposed in this post voiced by R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik on this week's Torah reading, in an essay titled "The 'Common-Sense' Rebellion Against Torah Authority" in Reflections of the Rav. Here is the relevant excerpt (pp. 141, 147):

Korah was an intelligent man, pike'ah hayah (Rashi, ibid. v. 7). He would certainly concede that there were specialized fields in which only experts who have studied extensively over many years are entitled to be recognized as authorities. The intrusion of common-sense judgments in these areas by unlearned laymen would be both presumptuous and misleading. Korah would not have dared to interfere with Bezalel's architectual and engineering expertise in the construction of the Tabernacle, the Mishkan, because construction skills were clearly beyond his competence. Today, reasonable people concede the authority of mathematicians, physicists, and physicians in their areas of expertise, and would not think of challenging them merely on the basis of common sense. Why, then, are so many well-intentioned people ready to question the authority of the Torah scholar, the lamdan, in his area of specialized knowledge?...

When people talk of a meaningful Halakhah, of unfreezing the Halakhah or of an empirical Halakhah, they are basically proposing Korah's approach. Lacking a knowledge of halakhic methodology, which can only be achieved through extensive study, they instead apply common-sense reasoning which is replete with platitudes and cliches. As in Aristotelean physics, they judge phenomena solely from surface appearances and note only the subjective sensations of worshippers. This da'at approach is not tolerated in science, and it should not receive serious credence in Halakhah. Such judgments are pseudo-statements, lacking sophistication about depth relationships and meanings.
This came to mind recently upon reading an article about the merits of various scientific theories, written by a rabbi with no advanced scientific training, in which the author declared a particular scientific theory to be "illogical" and unscientific. That seems to open the door to those untrained in Torah to make similar declarations based on superficial and uninformed impressions.

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