Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dovid Kornreich's Rebuttal to Baruch Pelta's Presentation

I will paste Baruch Pelta's presentation here in full so avoid the necessity to scroll down to read it. (For the life of me, I do not understand why Baruch expected me to use my previous presentation as a forum to address his presentation. It stands completely on its own, independent of his presentation)

Opening Argument by Baruch Pelta

Rabbi Dovid Kornreich and I agree on very little, but there is at least one thing I think we agree on. If our lives are to be reliant on The Torah and the rabbinic literature because of Divine rules given at Sinai, we must accept the following opinions as normative: humans did not evolve from a common ancestor of chimpanzees and the universe is no older than 5,771 years. I am aware that my friend Rabbi Slifkin has attempted to reconcile science with Torah and I would be happy to debate anybody on the Torah interpreted that way too, but for the purposes of this debate, I think it is sufficient to note that I agree with my opponent and his interpretation. The accepted gedolim, Rabbi Moshe Meiselman (Kornreich’s rebbe), Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb (the man Kornreich has written would do best in a debate for the veracity of the Torah), and many others agree with us! Gottlieb has written the following gem about 15 years ago. It sums up the Torah view better than I can:

“The solution to the contradiction between the age of the earth and the universe according to science and the Jewish date of 5755 years since Creation is this: the real age of the universe is 5755 years, but it has misleading evidence of greater age. The bones, artifacts, partially decayed radium, potassium-argon, uranium, the red-shifted light from space, etc. - all of it points to a greater age which nevertheless is not true. G-d put these things in the universe and they lead many to the false conclusion of a much greater age. I said the evidence is misleading. Does that mean that G-d is tricking us? Not at all: He told us the truth! Only someone who [perversely] decides to ignore the statement of the Creator and rely only on what he can investigate will be lead to a false conclusion.”
There you go! Every piece of evidence we have which converges may be dismissed because of what the Torah said!
I don’t know of any book or website where this Biblical model of our young universe has been fully explained in a rational manner. What about the fossil record? What about all of the things which Gottlieb mentioned? To quote a question from Rabbi Slifkin to this model, “From when to when did Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous dinosaurs, respectively, live?” How about the Sumerians who historians maintain invented glue a thousand years before the universe was allegedly created? Folks, I just think that these are the sorts of questions which a Torah Jew would have to address to convince modern thinking secular individuals that he has the truth. I put the challenge forthrightly to Dovid to propound his model of the universe as a plausible one; otherwise, the Torah doesn't seem very plausible.

Conditional upon our debate mirroring some National Forensic League format or a format which Hitchens has debated a proposition in over the past ten years, I agreed to defer to Dovid with regards to how the debate was to be conducted. He asked that I come up with an official format to mirror (I chose the Hitchens-Hitchens debate on the proposition that God does not exist and he is not great at the Hauenstein Center in 2008), requested that it be text-based, and decided that I should go firs and that he should have the last word. Finally, he wrote that the maximum word count for our opening arguments should be 5,000. I have not seen it necessary to utilize this limit because the opinion of Young Earth Creationism which both Dovid and I agree the Torah normalizes seems to be such a simple and basic falsehood. Should Dovid choose to utilize far more words than I did, readers should understand that is his prerogative. I beg to propose the motion which stands in my name.

It is quite unfortunate that Mr. Pelta, in his desire to debate someone with a greater standing in the Orthodox world than myself, has decided to impose the views of Rabbi Gottleib upon me. And given Mr. Pelta's prowess in internet research, it is inexcusable that he did not bother to find and link to any of the posts and articles I have written on the topics in question. Had he done so, one could easily verify that the views which he has attributed to me are clearly not my own.

I'm afraid he is quite mistaken in assuming that:
there is at least one thing I think we agree on. If our lives are to be reliant on The Torah and the rabbinic literature because of Divine rules given at Sinai, we must accept the following opinions as normative: ...the universe is no older than 5,771 years.
I wish to state for the record (again) that I have never personally advocated Gosse's Emphalos approach to the previous eras of pre-history and have never suggested that the total age of the universe is no older than 5771.

I have so far gone through three stages in my view of the age of the universe question and it may be of value to readers to summarize them in brief.

In high school I was introduced by Rabbi Leibel Resnick to the Tifferes Yisrael's approach which is elaborated upon in great detail in Rabbi Dovid Brown's Mysteries of Creation. That book bears the approbation of Rav Moshe Feinstein (although nowadays we know how much that's worth--especially since Rav Moshe didn't read English)
It accommodates a greater age to the universe--much older than 5771, and can be seen as a prediction by Chazal of the discovery of artifacts of prehistory in the geological and fossil record. It is based on Chazal, The Kuzari I, 67, and Rav Hirsch (second approach)-- besides the Tifferes Yisrael who popularized it.
It does not insist that the Universe is 5771 years old.

With much gratitude to Rabbi Slifkin and his well publicized resistance to the ban on his books, I was spurred to do further research on the topic.
This led me to discover the Rav Hirsch (first approach)/Rav Schwab proposition that all the artifacts of prehistory discovered by science are genuine, but the rate of physical processes occurring during period of creation was not fixed. Therefore, all the physical events which occurred during this six day period are not calculable in principle by scientific measurements which, without exception, rely on extrapolation from current consistency into the past.
This is not a dismissal of the evidence but an independent evaluation of it which renders all the scientific assumptions underlying the methods employed in the dating and the descriptions previous eras completely unreliable and irrelevant to the religious position.
This approach is also based on Chazal and the standard reading of the Rambam in Moreh II, 30.
It does not propose that the Universe is only 5771 years old. it could be anywhere between 5771 and billions of years old. The rate of physical processes by which to measure time elapsing during the six unnatural days of creation remains an unknown.

More recently, I was introduced to a third approach by my Rosh Yeshivah which focuses on the difficulties of calculating time with any possibility of accuracy before there is any consistent, standard measurement of change. This approach turns the tables completely and challenges that the scientific attempt to measure the passage of prehistoric time, before bothering to establish when the cesium atom started to decay at a steady rate, is incoherent.
This problem of finding a standard rate of change by which to measure the elapsing of time is actually discussed by the Ibn Ezra, Rambam, Ramban, and Rabbeinu Bachye-- revolving around a statement found in numerous midrashim that the Torah existed 2,000 years before creation. And that a day on G-d's extra-cosmic clock is a thousand years.

Again, this approach does not propose that the Universe is only 5771 years old. It could be anywhere between 5771 and billions of years old. The rate of change by which to measure time elapsing throughout the period before and during creation remains an unknown.

So there is really no reason in the world for me to adopt or defend the position that the universe is only 5771years old.
What is more puzzling is that Mr. Pelta who monitors my writings quite closely, should be well aware of all this.

As a consequence, Mr. Pelta's major focus in his presentation is built upon a completely false premise. It should be thrown out and replaced with one that is addressing the views of the individual with whom he is actually debating.

His minor reference to my alleged advocating of homosexuals committing suicide is also a serious distortion. The original post and comments made it clear that it was a theoretical exploration of the halachic permissibility only. I have never made this suggestion on a practical level to anyone. I clearly presented it as a polemic againist the liberal Jewish movements which condone homosexually on pseudo-halachic grounds.
Later clarifications on the original post made this even more explicit. After further research into the topic I formally retracted from this possibility even on theoretical grounds, over a month ago.

All this occurred well before Mr. Pelta posted his presentation above. One wonders if Mr. Pelta's more recent characterization of me as being "really quite dangerous" is a disingenuous one designed to obfuscate rather than inform and enlighten.

Taking all of this into account, Mr. Pelta's misrepresentations of my views in his presentation quite possibly qualifies as libel.
For someone who wants to build a future career in academic history and wants his reports of people's views to be taken seriously, this is a serious charge.

As a courtesy, and in the interest of genuine dialogue, I will allow Mr. Pelta to retract his presentation in full, replace it with a new one, and subject it to a new rebuttal from me.