Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More on Eating Cakes and Crows, [II]
To quote myself;

You can't always have your "Torah & Science" cake and "what halacha permits" ice cream and eat them too. I can't demand of religious mechanisms that they function in ways that they are not supposed to - whether regarding science or ethics - without being, to some degree 'non'-Halachic or non-scientific. Or non-reactionary halachic.

Science and ethics are not traditions in the way lhvd'l Torah is Tradition. Much of the Charedi defense of Torah as a reasonable, viable and esteemable derech in the modern world revolves around pedestaling it above that which is mere 'speculation', tentative and subject to review. Louis Jacobs presents how such a claim might be made against his philosophy regarding scientific scholarship on Tanakh, and gives a response (my emph);

There are no scientific facts, only scientific hypotheses based on the facts observed. Such hypotheses are, in the nature of the case, only tentative. They are advanced as an attempt to explain the facts observed[in the ways available at the time] and are to be tested through further investigation. The history of science informs us that all scientific progress is made by abandoning hypothesis which no longer explain the facts in favor of those which do, and these are in turn abandoned in favor of more refined hypotheses which explain more than the earlier ones do. It follows that all scientific explanation is tentative...It can be seen, therefore, how precarious it is to reject the certain truth of tradition on favor of what is termed scientific scholarship. Even the most plausible suggestions as to the authorship and date of the biblical books are no more than brilliant guesses, which is sheer folly to prefer to the sure truth of tradition. It is only misguided Jewish theologians, dazzled by the achievements of the physical sciences, in whose methods they have no training and whose nature they do not understand, who swallow biblical criticism whole in the false belief that they are being 'scientific' and up to date.

The fallacy here is so blatant that no response seems to be called for. From Hume and Kant onwards (and reaching back to Greek thought in its late period), subtle theories have been advanced regarding the tentativeness of all human knowledge but these offer cold comfort to the traditionalist. On their own showing these theories themselves are only tentative [for none of them claim revelation-based infallibility for their insights - which are therefore as tentative as any human knowledge]. If, as may well be the case, the most we can hope for from hypotheses based on examination of the observable facts is a very high degree of plausibility, never complete certainty, this would apply a fortiori to theories found in the traditional literature. If, for example, the verdict of modern scholarship is that the book of Ecclesiastes could not possibly have been written in its present form by King Solomon, a verdict based on philological, stylistic, and historical evidence [three facets of the "new Pashtanim" school in Israel; for a later post], it will not do to assert as true the traditional view, that it was written by King Solomon, on the grounds that all the evidence amounts to no more than a hypothesis, which, by definition, is only tentative. For if there is no certainty in any human knowledge, there is surely no certainty in prescientific traditions that are themselves part of human knowledge. The only reply to this is that [all our divergent and contentious...] traditional knowledge is not human at all but divine and therefore guaranteed to be free from error [or contention?...]. Apart from the absurdity and untraditionalism of the view that not only the Pentateuch but everything in the traditional sources is divine and consequently infallible, the human recognition that this is so is surely a part of human knowledge and hence subject to the same objections put forward against the verdict of scholarship.

Very nice. But among several problems with his presentation of the opposition and defense of his approach is the certainty he lends to the opposition - that "The only reply..." is as he says it is. The tradition itself harbors voices of regret that though God may Give us something, such as the Torah, it may indeed fall into maculation by our hands - and us to uncertainty - due to our sins. He dismisses R. Halivni [3."Dismissing Alternatives"] and others whom, though we may be disagreed with them in their particular approaches, do bring such voices from our Mesorah to fore in their own defenses of the applicability of modern scholarship to Torah. The tradition is more diverse than both he and his proposed Traditionalist disputants suppose (this cuts more than 'both ways', the subject of my next post, I"H). In part, I see it in R. Gil's ending comment in the section noted above;

However, outside of certain fundamental beliefs, one must be willing to consider the possibility, no matter how remote, of being mistaken and to listen open-minded, within reason, to alternatives. If we made a mistake, we must be willing to admit it.

There is an enormous difference between admitting our mistakes concerning the Mesorah and admitting such on behalf of Chazzal regarding our Mesorah. Jacobs suggests that there were fundamental mistakes and errors in belief made by Chazzal, particularly regarding the origins of Torah. My next post should be on the "New Pashtanim" and their adoption of academic scholarship in 'continuing' the approach of the Pashtanim of old, and how it may unintentionally share certain ideas with Jacobs.


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