Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The 70 Most Difficult Questions (and some stupid answers)

Listening to MP3 lectures has mostly supplanted my music and NPR listening while driving. So I'm constantly on the lookout for interesting podcasts from a whole gamut of topics, but with a focus on religion and science (quick plug for Radio Lab.) A particularly interesting lecture is usually fodder for a blog post (The Fast of the 9th of Tevet), but so is a particularly awful one (God is a Mafia Boss!). Now I don't go looking for the bad ones just so that I can trash it here, but occasionally I come across such supremely atrocious lectures that I simply need to vent! And so, I bring you The 70 Most Difficult Questions in Judaism, which should be more appropriately titled Stupid Answers to Questions That Aren't So Difficult. This lecture series is really ripe for fisking, but I'll be somewhat spare with the comments and briefly cover the few that I listened to. Truth be told, I couldn't actually listen to the majority of each lecture in the car, because I had a hard time simultaneously driving and screaming like an insane person at the voice coming from my car speakers. But my sanity was preserved by listening at home after loading them into Audacity and increasing the tempo to reduce the total playing time.

Puretorah.com seems to feel that one can prove the truth of Torah. In that it is a kindred spirit with kiruv organizations such as Aish HaTorah, both of whom rely on bogus proofs such as Torah codes. If they were intellectually honest, they would admit that codes are useless for their purposes because 1) Torah codes can be used to "prove" ideas anathema to Orthodoxy, such as Jesus being the fulfillment of the Jewish messiah (examples abound, such as here) and 2) similar codes are found in secular literature.

Here are a few of the outlandish statements made by Rabbi Eliyahu Kin (a Young Earth Creationist) in the lecture, Did dinosaurs ever exist and what happened to them? link

"You will have to face those that attempt to attack Judaism from different angles. One angle is... the age of the Earth, the millions of years according to scientists, and they say so based on all sorts of theories, nothing concrete, no real proof".

(Note especially his sneering tone almost every time he uses the words "theories", even though he obviously hasn't a clue as to what the word actually means.)

"Science only reinforces what the Torah says, as long as we're dealing with real facts, facts that can be proven, sound information, that which has been proven beyond any doubt. That which is still theory, or is just an opinion, of course is not worth anything".

"The most accurate method of measuring the age of the earth is Carbon-14 dating, and that also has a limitation of about 50,000 years".

"These animals that existed once upon a time did co-exist with human beings. And I'm really hoping that one of these days they will find a human skeleton together with a dinosaur skeleton. The problem is that the die-hard scientists are gonna say that somebody in the middle of the night snuck up and buried that human skeleton next to the dinosaur."

Kin then tells us about creatures such as the shamir, the tachash, the adnei hasadeh, and the mermaid ("it's mentioned in the gemara, it's not just a myth. People have seen it off the coast of Massachusetts in the 1800s. It's not just a fairy tale."). Anyone want to send him a copy of Slifkin's Sacred Monsters?

How did the dinosaurs become extinct? Disease or over-hunting may have been contributing factors, but in Kin's humble opinion it was due to three floods (according to the midrash): one in the time of Enosh (which covered 1/3 of the Earth), one during the generation of dispersion (which covered 2/3 of the Earth), and the "Noah Mabul".

Kin has an impressive knowledge of geology: "All the scientists clearly admit that the Grand Canyon did not come about by itself... Something very very big happened to bring this about." He tells us why there are fish skeletons found up on the hills of Malibu ("that's where they landed" after the flood. "Ample proof all over that there was a Mabul".) In Genesis, there was only one continent. All of this continental drift occurred because of the Mabul. This also contributed to the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Man, oh man, I had to stop halfway through the lecture. Sorry.

Now it's time learn What Are Ufos? link

Kin tells us that the lecture is really about the paranormal. Interestingly, he begins by discussing Clarke's Third Law ("Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic") although he doesn't attribute it as such. If you were to tell someone about the telephone in the 1800s, no one would believe you - it would be magic. "So because we got used to it, we take things for granted. In those days they also were aware about certain things that existed that for us may be very unusual today because we are not used to it."

"You may heard or seen someone bending a spoon. There are all sorts of individuals that have done many incredible things. Some are true, some are tricks. It is possible to do things like that using concentration of the mind using psychokinetic abilities. Science does not want to accept any of this. Science only accepts that which can be proven in a laboratory." Later, he states that he cannot tell us where Uri Geller gets his powers from. It could be fakery, witchcraft, or a gift from God.

Astrology: "certain people from certain months of the year, that have certain elements - fire, water, air, or earth - are attracted to each other like magnets".

Palmistry: "there are those who can read the lines in the hand. The palm contains lines that are not there by accident. How could this be? Obviously, the One who created man, created these lines too. To predict what's going to happen to a baby when he's 55 years old? That takes a greater knowledge [than weather forecasting]."

Chochma haPartzuf [phrenology]: some people can "look at a person's face and forehead and be able to detect certain illness and sins. Addition proof that there is knowledge that cannot be explained in physical terms."

Let's say that a paranormal expert makes a mistake. What can you conclude? [lots of chiming in from the audience, some of whom are probably buying all of this BS]. The skeptic will say it's totally not true. But actually, it's probably because the person is not such an expert.

Lecture highlight: After about 35 minutes, he starts to talk about UFOs. We know that there isn't life on other planets (discussed in another lecture), and claims of seeing UFOs fall into three categories: 1) lies 2) sightings of non-paranormal phenomena and 3)DEMONS! Yep, that's right, there are "real" UFOs and they are actually demons! Apparently some French researchers have analyzed "the real testimony of people who have actually observed something" and have come to the same conclusion. We know that they are real demons, because demons poke fun at humans and they can change form. They appear in deserts, rural places, and at night, appear to single individuals at a time, they fly in the air, and occasionally kidnap people. Just like UFOs. Other people didn't come to this conclusion because they are either close minded or don't understand that they exist. Demons have existed in all cultures and they are not a myth.

Uh oh, can there be a skeptic in the audience (41:30)? He says "seeing is believing" in response to Kin's claims. So Kin asks what if Skeptic were to see a human with chicken feet? Skeptic replies: probably someone with a birth defect. Kin answers: that's because you weren't exposed to the stories in the gemara, the zohar, etc.

At this point I'm thinking that Rabbi Kin is not just an OrthoFundie, but that he's completely bonkers. Can I really listen to any more of his ravings? Sure, a few more minutes.

The Bermuda Triangle may be due to a magnetic force that cannot tolerate metals at some places in the ocean. Or it may be the sitra achra, since demons have certain places where they congregate, like the North Pole. The Bermuda Triangle may be another place that demons hang out.

Demons procreate amongst themselves, they eat and die, they become visible to humans when they want to be seen. One should not give shalom to just anybody at night because you might be shaking hands with a demon. Typical advice about not completely closing off an opening in one's house, and making sure that your mezuzot are in good shape.

Kin says to let him know if you need to drive away demons from your home.

Sheesh.

Now let's do an easy for fun. How do we know that the Torah is Divine? link

Up to about 200 years ago, it was obvious that the Torah was from heaven. Everyone was more or less observant. When the Conservative and Reform movements came about, people began to have doubts and now it takes more than tradition to convince people. Those that attempt to challenge the Torah's veracity have an agenda, "just like scientists that set out to discover what they have already made up their mind what they want to believe."

Many people can trace their rabbis all the way back to Moses. Thus there were no interruptions and Torah was not changed. Those that claim that the Torah was a result of a committee need to go through all of it: the entire Torah, Talmud, and Kabbalah, and they will be convinced otherwise. If one is honest and sincere, then hopefully this will be convincing enough. A person has to be very arrogant to claim that they are more knowledgeable than their parents, grandparents, the Rambam.

Proofs (I'm not going to bother here with the counters to these so-called proofs):
  1. Kuzari. Nobody else can make the claim that God spoke to 3 million people, performed miracles for them, etc. People wouldn't lie to their kids that this happened. Nor would a stubborn people make up such difficult obligations.
  2. 3 pilgrimage holidays. One can leave the wife and kids to go to Jerusalem, even in border towns, and the Torah makes a promise that no one will invade at that time. This promise was always kept.
  3. Shmittah. No human can make the promise of a bumper crop in the 6th year.
  4. Torah criticizes its own leaders. Even Moses. So that proves it is not man-made.
  5. Torah codes.
  6. Nothing in archaeology disproves the Torah. Everything they've found so far just strengthens the Torah's record. (He also references Ipuwer, claiming that it is an account of the makot.)
  7. Prophecies. (Doesn't specifically state which ones in this lecture.)
  8. Moses was not a biologist. There are only 3 animals that chew cud and don't have split hooves. (Kin acknowledges chewing cud is not technical, lagomorphy of rabbits satisfies criteria. BTW, Kin states that one can reliably eat any non-pig animal that has split-hooves, which implies that there is no need for a mesorah.)
  9. Zohar says that the world is round like a ball.
  10. Zohar says that one's appearance is affected by the climate. Kin states that if you move to China, your great grandchild will have slanty eyes. This has been proven!!!
  11. Zohar says that there is one place on earth where most of the day is light.
  12. Prophecies and codes that Jews will return to Israel at the end of days.
Sorry that there was nothing new in the proofs, but at least I've saved you the time of listening to this lecture.

And finally, How does Judaism deal with the Theory of Evolution?
link

I'll just mention a few highlights from this lecture.
  • To us [the idea of creation] may be simple, either because we grew up it or because we are very logical and we don't have to think of something else that doesn't make much sense.
  • "Before you know it, you have a monkey becoming a human being".
  • "Hashem did not create Adam HaRishon with slanted eyes, that I can assure you." He agrees that micro-evolution occurs within a species and repeats the idea (see above) that if you move to China, your great grandchildren will look Chinese. But if a white man moves to Africa, their descendants will look darker but will not become Black. He'll explain in another lecture how the "Black race" originated.)
  • "Does everybody know what a fossil is?" [who is his audience, anyway?]
  • Geologists determined the age of strata based on circular reasoning. They determined the age of an organism by where it was found in the rock strata. And they determined the age of the strata by what kind of organism they found there.
That's the introduction. Now for a few problems with evolution (again, only the humorous highlights.)
  1. Fossils are all over the world but we have never found the missing link between ape and man.
  2. What came first, the mouth or the stomach or the rectum? They had to have been created together.
  3. No primitive cell can become through mutation so complex as a human being. It is statistically impossible. Evolutionists say that given enough time, anything is possible and it's only a problem for creationists because believe in a young earth. "They have the answer for almost everything".
  4. Ask an evolutionist where the first cell came from. No one has an answer for this. "If that you don't know that, then why don't you just say you don't know anything about everything else.
  5. Some evolutionists have admitted that it is impossible to explain the complexity of the human being without introducing a divine entity.
  6. All the fossils that have been found are fragments and you can't prove anything about it. Plus there are sometimes hoaxes.
  7. Sometimes they find human fossils with dinosaurs (contradicting his dinosaurs lecture above), sometimes below dinosaurs. But they are hiding this information from you because they don't want you to know the truth. So when they found human footprints next to a dinosaur in a river bed in Texas, you know what they said? That someone came in the middle of the night and chiseled the human footprint. Why? Because they have already made up their mind that it can't be.
  8. People believe in evolution only because they don't want to believe in the alternative. Kin then goes off on a tangent to discuss the psychology of atheists follows. People become atheists only because they want to follow their desires. Nobody leaves religion because they investigated it and found it not to be true. Anybody who investigates religion will become a baal teshuvah.
[Note: the lecture is corrupted because it unexpectedly ends there and then repeats the beginning 15 minutes of the lecture.]

One quick question before I go: What would you say about someone who takes a strict literalist approach to not only the Bible but to apparently every supernatural story told in the Talmud and Kabbalah, who believes that UFOs are really demons, who believes in everything from mermaids to spoon-bending to palmistry, and who has an utter disdain for science and scientists and believes they are covering up information that man and dinosaurs were contemporaneous?

34 comments:

Baal Habos said...

Thanks for the Radio Lab tip. You can also download books from http://www.gutenberg.org/wiki/Gutenberg:The_Audio_Books_Project

These are mostly older books.


Also my local public library offers current mp3 boooks, online checkout and download, no need to risk being seen checking out Kefira, you can do it at home. This week I'm listening to Hitchens in my commute.

Mark said...

WOW!

Don't get me wrong, none of this gibberish is new to me, but I'm surprised they let this monkey out to do Kiruv. I would have thought the powers that be would have just a little more Sechel.

BrooklynWolf said...

Heh. I love this stuff.

Back in November, I listened to a similar lecture by R. Yossi Mizrachi and he offered many of the same "proofs" (as well as a few other wacky ones). I posted about it here.

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

After 120 years, you will go to Heaven and you will be judged for every single word of heresy that you have written in your blog. You will be judged for every single person that you have influenced with your heretical ideas and you will also be judged for every single Rabbi you have disgraced with your words. I surely do not envy your punishment because you will be burning in Gehinnnom for a very long time. But you probably don't believe in this stuff anyway so you should just continue what your doing. One day, sooner or later, you will have to pay for this.....

BrooklynWolf said...

Heh. Anonymous left the same comment, word for word, on my blog at the post that I linked to above. I wonder if he even read my post...

The Wolf

Anonymous said...

I read every single word

Anonymous said...

and all the comments too...

"I'm surprised they let this monkey out to do Kiruv."

Baal Habos said...

>After 120 years, you will go to Heaven and you will be judged for every single word of heresy that you have written in your blog.

Judged favorably no doubt.

Anonymous said...

"Judged favorably no doubt."

Yeah, but that's only if you think going to Gehinnom is "favorable"

Baal Habos said...

But you said "After 120 years, you will go to Heaven and will be..."

Anonymous said...

"In the beginning G-d created the HEAVEN and the earth."

http://www.mechon-mamre.org/p/pt/pt0101.htm

By heaven, I obviously am referring to shamayim and not Gan Eden.

Frum Heretic said...

That's strange, Wolf, that anon would leave similar messages on your blog. Even when you touch upon controversial ideas, I've never thought of you as fitting into the akiporsus camp.

Frum Heretic said...

BTW anon, thank you for your good wishes of 120 years! Same by you...

BrooklynWolf said...

Considering the fact that the message on my blog is timestamped two minutes after the message on your blog, and considering the fact that my post there is fairly long, I don't think he actually read my post before putting his comment up.

You're right, however, about me. While I believe in Torah U'Mitzvos, I absolutely abhor bad logic and faulty arguments. I don't have a problem with the Torah, but I do have a problem with bad proofs to the same.

The Wolf

kisarita said...

didn'tthe rambam consider all this paranormal stuff to be a bunch of bullshit? If that's correct than not only does kiruv klown not know science, he doesn't know torah either.

Frum Heretic said...

kisarita - there has long been a tension between the rational approach and the mystical one. Some like to point to a major schism that started with Rambam on the former side and Yehudah haLevi on the latter, and contend that basically Rambam lost! Rabbi Kin obviously holds to that more mystical approach - which also believes in all kinds of paranormal phenomena - popular among certain Chareidi segments.

My beef is not with mystics per se nor do I care what a person personally believes. I do care, however, when someone uses feeble arguments and uncritical thinking to try and convince others of their beliefs.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand. Why is your blog called Frum Heretic? Its more like Reform Heretic.

Anonymous said...

I hope you repent before you reach 120...

Mark said...

Anon,

What happens if I die before I get to 120, do I still get to repent while I'm 6 feet under. Just wondering.

Anonymous said...

Well Mark,

I could just imagine that if you are calling Rabbi Kin a "monkey" then you would probably need a lot more than 120 years to repent whether you were alive or dead.

You have no idea how much the Jewish community benefits from Rabbi Kin. For you to disrespect him like that is down right shocking and appalling.

Mark said...

That is the problem with the "community" that it promotes such ignoramuses. It's not just a matter of lack of knowledge, it's a whole culture of upholding anti intellectualism, or worse, simply disliking the truth.
And yes someone who can say things like that, can rightly be called an ape, no matter whose respect he garners. And the only reason I don't call those that respect him apes is because they don't know better. But he and people like him, should never be spokesmen of scientific knowledge.

And I guess we'll wee each other in 120.

Frum Heretic said...

My 2 cents. While I have no problem saying that someone's statements are idiotic, I normally wouldn't call them a idiot (or a monkey!) On the other hand, just because someone benefits the Jewish community (let's leave it open-ended as to what that benefit is) does not mean that such a person is beyond criticism. Is anon likewise offended when - for example - Moshe Rubashkin is criticized? (I used Rubashkin as an example because I suspect that anon - based on his childish "yer going to gehinnom" type of response, rather than making a substantive intellectual argument - would have no problem bashing a secular Jew that benefits the community.)

I have no idea as to how Rabbi Kin benefits the community. He could be a great baal chesed and - if so - is deserving of accolades for such work. But that doesn't exempt him from criticism for some of the moronic statements that he has made publicly, and for actively promoting an anti-intellectual approach to Judaism.

Anonymous said...

Frum Heretic-

If you think my "you're going to Gehinnom response" is childish then you're obviously in denial.

Mark-

There is NO EXCUSE for calling a fellow Jew a monkey. Stop using "anti intellectualism" as your BS excuse, im not buying it.

Mark said...

Kabel Es Ha'Emes Mimi Sheomro, even if he is "anon." (Although I suspect "anon" maybe Kin).
You're right, I was incorrect in referring to him as a monkey. So I'll rephrase it in a more precise and accurate manner, "I'm surprised that the powers that be let out someone that has a apelike picture of Judaism to do Kiruv."

Anonymous said...

Thank you for rephrasing your words Mark. You have a right to your opinion but not to disrespect others who you do not agree with.

I am not Kin, but I do know him and I did not like the fact that you were calling him a monkey as you probably would not like if I called a friend or family member of yours a monkey as well.

Mark said...

Fine.
Next time tough, I advise you to just say that and not get into "you're going to hell" nonesense. We're all big boys.

Anonymous said...

True, but sometimes even big boys need a wake up call. The reason I said that was because I didn't know what kind of people I was speaking to and I wanted to stress the severity of the issue.

Joshua said...

Anon, can you respond to any of the points that Frum Heretic made or are you limited to complaining about the monkey comment?

Anonymous said...

I can respond to it but there is no point. He obviously feels strongly about his opinion, which doesn't really matter to me because he has a right to think whatever he wants to think. What matters to me is that I felt there was disrespect towards Rabbi Kin which I felt was intolerable.

Frum Heretic said...

BTW, you mentioned "You have no idea how much the Jewish community benefits from Rabbi Kin." Can you fill us in on some of the contributions that he has made? I can't find anything via the internet besides links to these crappy kiruv lectures.

Anonymous said...

Rabbi Kin is the Rav and spiritual leader of Torah Ohr Synagogue in Los Angeles (which was founded around 20 years ago). Over the years, Rabbi Kin has created a very strong outreach movement which has brought back hundreds, if not thousands, of Jews in LA (and a outside of LA) to their heritage. Rabbi Kin focuses his outreach efforts on the large Israeli community in Los Angeles and has also created numerous programs and events which are specifically for the Hebrew speaking Jews.

He flies into Israel every couple of weeks to give lectures there as well. Besides for that, Rabbi Kin gives Torah classes each day and they are geared for each individual, some personal, one-on-one sessions and others in medium sized groups. He has the longest running weekly Torah class in Los Angeles.

In addition, he flies in many famous Rabbis, lecturers and speakers from all over the world on a constant basis to speak in Torah Ohr. Rabbi Kin also creates events to raise money for the poor in Israel and has been very effective in doing so.

Rabbi Kin and Torah Ohr have created and distributed hundreds of thousands of CD's and DVD's to educate our Jewish brothers and sisters all over the world and everything they do is always FREE of charge.

In addition to that, Rabbi Kin is an extremely humble and modest person and in my opinion, a very righteous person as well. I'm sure that if any of you met him in person you would feel the same way about him. Please put aside what you think about his lectures and focus on who you are talking about.

I'm asking you all to please refrain from making derogatory remarks about him especially if you have no idea who he is. Is that too much to ask?

Frum Heretic said...

Thanks for the clarification. Raising money for the poor is indeed a very honorable deed.

The post focused on Rabbi Kin's lectures which I found to be rather outrageous in its claims, all the more so because he implies that his approach is THE authentic one. If these are the types of lectures that he is distributing "all over the world" (and I suspect that they are), then I simply cannot agree that this is a worthwhile contribution to the Jewish community.

I do apologize if anyone confused my attack on the content of the lectures with a personal attack on Rabbi Kin (which is why I took exception to a "monkey" comment, something that the poster also ended up acknowledging.)

The same goes for any of my other posts, e.g. the God is a Mafia Boss post, as Rabbi Gottlieb likewise takes a very anti-intellectual stance towards issues such as evolution.

Anonymous said...

How sad that the majority of bloggers on this post have fallen into the trap of heresy. I hope you all dont wake up one day when your children marry non jews, & say vey is meir what have I done? I implore you, return to the ways of your fathers, & study the rich, vast Torah.

Anonymous said...

I agree this Rabbi falls into the trap of trying to answer the un-answerable. However you have to understand in our culture we often give lessons in language that is purely allegorical without admitting it, for once you stop thinking about the allegory you lose the lesson of thought. In fewer words, he's talking about morality, sticking to morality, in order to teach morality and the facts around the lessons are secondary. I do agree 100% however that the idea the universe was created from nothing is the least possible explanation anyone could come up with, and once we accept it as fact anything else is absorbed without a filter. I've never been a creationist but his talks made me think twice. Something out of nothing? Yeah, that makes more sense than a creator! :) Think about as I did for the first time in 44 years of living as a big-banger.