Wednesday, November 5, 2008

God is a Mafia Boss!

At least according to Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb.

In this lecture on Evolution and The Age of the Universe, Gottlieb explains the discrepancy between the scientific age of the universe - 14 billion years old - and the Jewish date of 5766 (the lecture is 3 years old so add that to both dates):

"Now the short answer to the contradiction is that the universe is 5766 years old and God created it looking older than it is. So that scientists when they follow up the evidence of greater age, are following it up correctly. And they are correctly inferring the age of the universe upon that evidence based on certain assumptions that they are making... but their conclusions are wrong. Similar to a case where the Mafia plants evidence that someone committed a crime and police use the evidence according to all the correct forensic techniques to identify so-and-so as the criminal - they aren't making any mistakes in their inferences from the evidence - except they don't know the evidence is planted."

[Aside: there are other similarities between God and the Mafia - both have a Ten Commandments code of behavior!]

Is God therefore a jokester trying to trick us? Gottlieb asks rhetorically.
  1. No, the question is irrelevant since we cannot understand why God would do things in such a way.
  2. Since God told us the truth he's not fooling us. Some facts he wants us to know by observing the world, other facts he wants us to know by telling us.
  3. If we need to, we can easily supply a motivation for God by pointing out that the world largely presents a misleading appearance. God makes the world anew continually, as we say twice each day in davening. Clearly God makes the world in such a way that we cannot see the truth by observable evidence.
But couldn't you also use the "planted evidence" argument to say that the universe is 5 minutes old?

No, that's an inappropriate technique because it undermines all critical thinking. So you can't apply it arbitrarily. However, the "planted evidence" argument applies to the singular case of the Jewish date because it is a superior explanation, even superior to the scientific explanation! How? Try to follow this logic, folks:

The Jewish people have an independent source of evidence. Gottlieb doesn't discuss it in this lecture, but he references his other lectures on the historical verification of Torah (I'm sure that you've heard it all before). These proofs say that the world is 5766 years old. Claiming that a 14 billion year old age is a result of planted evidence fits the Torah explanation AND the scientific explanation (since science can't distinguish real from planted). But a purely scientific explanation cannot explain the 5766 date. That is, Torah can explain science's evidence, but science cannot explain Torah's evidence. Thus "5766 actual/14 billion planted" is a superior explanation! Q.E.D.

I had to listen to this section of the lecture a few times because I found it hard to believe that Gottlieb would resort to such convoluted logic. Of course, his biggest fallacy is in suggesting that the 5766 age is something that science needs to take seriously and somehow explain.

What I find most appalling is that Gottlieb never gives an inkling that there are other "Torah true" approaches. To my mind he is scraping the bottom of the kiruv barrel as he snares unsophisticated folks who will eventually give up their brains and adopt similar fundamentalist ideas.

By the way, the rest of the lecture is devoted to tired old arguments against evolution; someone really needs to bring this man up to date and send him a Kenneth R. Miller book.

Oh yes, you wouldn't know it from the logic that he uses in the lecture, but Rabbi Gottlieb has a Ph.D. in mathematical logic from Brandeis University.

14 comments:

jewish philosopher said...

I've got a different explanation.

And by the way, I know Ken Miller personally (through email). He's a great guy, but he hasn't got all the answers.

David said...

"I had to listen to this section of the lecture a few times because I found it hard to believe that Gottlieb would resort to such convoluted logic."

I'd think one's head would explode.

If I'm understanding Gottlieb correctly, the essence of what he's saying is that, where his pshat on Torah conflicts with reality, then reality is a deliberate lie, and his pshat on Torah is true.

That is mind-bogglingly stupid. How are we even supposed to know that the Torah is real, if reality isn't? Maybe God planted the Torah to confuse us about all the other stuff? Or maybe we're all really Octopi who live on Jupiter and are watching all of this in a super-realistic 3d entertainment center... Bet you can't prove we're not!

LonelyMan said...

I didn't listen to the lecture, but I have actually heard R. Gottlieb make these comments in person (and you could see a collective mouth-gaping and eye-opening in the room, since it was a BT event.)

The idea does actually have some support in Jewish sources, where it states that in the Garden of eden, Adam had fully-grown trees. I don't buy that argument much from a rationalist perspective, and it's probably midrashic, so let's look at it differently.

The argument does make a whole lot of logical prepositions, so by the point he makes it, you can assume a person is fairly indoctrinated into the chareidi version of OJ and it's worldview. I definitely remember he also said the same thing when someone asked him what OJ's views on dinosaur's are, so he is at least consistent and doggedly persistent. The Chareidi worldview is simply that the 6 days should be taken literally, and therefore he has no wiggle room to use if he wants to adopt that viewpoint, and he does want to, in face of all the scientific evidence that he is forced to take this view. This is "what God told," said in as authoritative and unwavering literalist language as possible. Since it is presupposed that this is true (necessary follow-up based on the Kuzari proof,) the most literal view must be assumed and all contradicting information must either be rationlized or disgarded.

Yes, the argument is rather poor FH, and additionally, you are ascribing certain behaviors (though not motives) to God which are not described in the traditionalist sources. In that way, it is untraditionalist in as much that it is traditionalist. It's really the same approach people use to say "miracles" whenever there is no evidence, particularly archaeological, for an event that should be described in the Torah (my post on the Exodus deconstructs this argument.)You should never underestimate how strong socialized dogmatic beliefs are, and although he was not always Orthodox, he has modified the rest of his beliefs and analysis which were not there earlier to fit with the party line.

Anonymous said...

To be fair, in the lecture, the Rav states clearly that the case *does* require that [significant] evidence be brought to support the theory that the evidence was planted.

I assume he would say that such evidence is brought in the Historical Verification lectures.

It should also be noted that the reason for the 'planted' false evidence is to preserve free will by partially hiding the existence of G-d / preserving the option not to believe.

However, it does concern me that tradition does not actually state that the dinasaur bones are 'planted'. There's a series on Jurasic Fight Club showing that we have evidence that dinasaurs were viscious predators, tearing / shredding their prey, bleeding them, horrible deaths.

If these dinasaurs did indeed exist millions of years ago, this would have been before the Garden of Eden. Before the sin of the aitz ha daas. Hence contradicting the notion that the world was at peace until man showed up. There was pain and death long before man ate the apple.


On an ontological point, if G-d plants evidence, then He could have also 'planted' the evidence that the Torah is true via Historical Verification.

If I can't trust archeological evidence, then I can't trust Historical Evidence either *when faced with upholding genocide as required by the Torah (re Numbers 31 where innocent babies were killed for vengeance to get back at their mothers.).

Frum Heretic said...

jp: you are taking a non-literal approach to the creation story. Something that apparently isn't in Gottlieb's vocabulary.

david: Gottlieb would reword your assertion and say that Torah doesn't conflict with reality but defines it, thus the scientific interpretation is flawed. Yes, it is "mind-bogglingly stupid".

LonelyMan: what bothers me is not Gottlieb's personal, literalist POV. It is that he trying to convince others that his is the only legitimate approach to Torah.

Anonymous: On an ontological point, if G-d plants evidence, then He could have also 'planted' the evidence that the Torah is true via Historical Verification. Good point. "Planted evidence" can be used for any line of reasoning and eventually devolves into radical skepticism. Nothing can be known, not even this.

Anonymous said...

Rav Gottlieb clearly said that you have to have a good reason (or better) to accept the defence claim that the evidence was planted.

His 'evidence' that the dinasaur bones were planted is, I think, that if you treat natural science equally with Historical Verification, then it's equal. However, with Historical Verification, you have an accounting for the existence of the 'planted' dinasaur bones [G-d planted the bones so that we will keep our free will] but with the natural [scientific] bones, we can not account for the probability that the Torah is true based on the evidence of the Historical Verification argument.

However, I note that the Torah requires immoral action, namely, killing of thousands captive children at Numbers 31.

So, even if one accepts Historical V as proof that G-d really did give the Torah, it really was G-d's voice at Sinai, nevertheless, I have no grounds to conclude that G-d wants me to do as He says, *GIVEN THAT THIS VOICE CONTRADICTS morality*.

Meaning, the 'evidence' of Historical Verification, even if placed by G-d into History, must be rejected on moral grounds, as G-d also placed morality upon us as an obligation.

Meaning, our obligation to not murder children [which would come from G-d] supercedes our obligation follow an arbitrary Voice, even if Created by G-d.

Proof: G-d also created diseases, yet we are morally obligated to thwart those things as well, because we are morally obligated to oppose G-d where G-d's actions (such as diseases) lead to the death of children.

Yirmiahu said...

"Of course, his biggest fallacy is in suggesting that the 5766 age is something that science needs to take seriously and somehow explain."

I haven't heard the lecture but...I would assume that arguing that his approach takes into account the Torah explination as well as the science is pedicated on the acceptance of the Torah or basis for believing it. That is not to say it must be dealt with by science per se, which is concerned with the material, but on the other hand unless we reject a priori the supernatural, our reasoning need not, and should not, be similarly restricted.

"Planted evidence" can be used for any line of reasoning and eventually devolves into radical skepticism."

I would argue that planted evidence is a poor analogy. Apparent age is a logical for the pshat, it is simply a matter of degree.

"The idea does actually have some support in Jewish sources, where it states that in the Garden of eden, Adam had fully-grown trees. I don't buy that argument much from a rationalist perspective, and it's probably midrashic, so let's look at it differently."

It is not just a midrashic idea, does anyone envision the story with adam a zygote or the Eitz haDas a sapling? Apparent age is part and parcel of creating a fully opporational universe Yesh M'Ayin. To decide that such apparent age is sufficient to reject the pshat is circular. Whether you have reason to accept the Torah account or not is a seperate issue, apparent prior age doesn't falsify the pshat.

"what bothers me is not Gottlieb's personal, literalist POV. It is that he trying to convince others that his is the only legitimate approach to Torah."

Judaism places a very high standard for rejecting the pshat, demonstrative proof. Regardless of how plauisble you think the apparent age approach is, it is possible and th demonstrativ proof threshhold has not been met.

Yirmiahu said...

Sorry, I didn't mean to say that demonstrative proof is unequivocally the standard since the Rambam doesn't seem to always require it, but I would argue that in this instance he would as well.

I would also reject the notion of "false evidence", God clearly wanted the world run by teivah. Such evidence is simply the "back story" of the physical world and has relevance to our current understanding of science.

I don't know if the Baal HaBlog is an atheist or not, but from a theist perspective I would argue it is much more "deceptive" to create the world to look like it happened by chance, then to tell us an allegory about how it was done without indication it is an allegory. At least one can infer some apparent age from the Chumash.

And sorry about the dropped 'e's from the last post. My new laptop doesn't catch every key sometimes.

Frum Heretic said...

The Baal HaBlog is a theist. But I am praxic and not doxic. But even a purely OrthoDOX point of view has ways to reconcile Torah and science without positing "planted evidence" (Gottlieb's words). I don't necessarily agree with these attempts (whether it is previous worlds, or length of a day, or whatever), but I vehemently disagree with Gottlieb's "science is interpreting the evidence wrong and that's all there is to it" attitude. He relies on flimsy logic and ultimately derives from it a fundamentally anti-intellectual conclusion.

Yirmiahu said...

"but I vehemently disagree with Gottlieb's "science is interpreting the evidence wrong and that's all there is to it" attitude"

That's understandable but such an attitude is a seperate issue than apparent age. To appeal to apparent age is to concede that science is correct given materialistic assumptions.

In other words, if you want to argue on the physcial evidence then you don't need apparent age. On the otherhand, if you concede that the physical world display's prior age then there is no problem with the scientific approach per se.

Anonymous said...

This is amazingly boring. None of you should be commenting on current science unless you are up on current science. Neither the 15 billion years folks nor the 5764's-er are wrong. Both have been mathematically proven to be correct. One time view is from our side looking at all of this in our calculations. The other side are the new math calculations that prove from Gd's side of the math view the 5764, etc is correct.
Yet you all prattle and prattle...do some research people ....stay current or stay out of this talk

Frum Heretic said...

Current science? New math? You're telling me that there are reputable non-fundamentalist scientists that claim 5764 as the age of the universe? The only people saying this are those that feel that they have to reconcile their literal reading of the Bible with science. No one would come to a 5764 number without such a preconception; on the contrary everyone that does so works BACKWARDS (and bends backwards) to come up with this number (folks like Schroeder & Aviezer; I'm sure that there are also some young-earth creationist Christians that do the same).

Please come up with the names of some reputable physicists, astronomers, geologists, etc that claim 5764 and who DON'T have a vested interest in trying to reconcile their findings with the Bible. Otherwise your pseudo-intelligent response will be even more glaring...

Anonymous said...

Mr Frum Heretic, give me a break! As though the supposed "reputable" physicists, astronomers, geologists, etc that don't belive have no vested interests. If they knew they evidence of the Torah;s divinity the same way that Shroeder, Avizere, etc. did, I'm sure they would also be doing their best to reconcile their limited understanding of science with the Torah.

Anonymous said...

what do you think of some of these Torah proofs?

http://www.evidencefortorah.comxa.com/torahandscience.php

some of them (vitamin k on eighth day for instance) seem to support Torah from G-d.

tuvia