Sunday, December 04, 2005

R' Miller's letter - A Response

There's something missing from R' Miller's recent letter. His stated purpose was to strengthen the hearts of those who have heard the words of kefirah. Yet he then goes on to explain how Chazal knew about photons and waves, that the moon and planets don't reflect their own light and that the Gra was aware of quantum mechanics.

In other words, Chazal knew science. The obvious implication is that Chazal were correct in these three areas, and are thus correct in other areas as well, namely the age of the universe and ma'aseh bereishis. For the sake of argument, we'll accept that Jewish tradition accepts the world being 5,766 years old. Ramban to the contrary, we'll also accept that ma'aseh bereishis is literal and actually consisted of 6 days of 24 hours in the way we perceive time.

But the argument doesn't follow. Picking and choosing examples is great, but provides a distorted picture. We don't follow the medicine of the Gemara, and I don't recall people seeing chicken's feet lately after they slaughtered a cat. The sun hasn't gone beneath the earth and warmed up hot springs in some time either.

Since the argument doesn't follow, I'd like to offer an alternative, which also doesn't follow.

For thousands of years, Chazal knew some of the basics of science which have only recently been discovered. Quantum mechanics, waves and photons, that the moon and planets don't have their own light. Now, finally, science has caught up.

But it hasn't just caught up. In some areas its surpassed Chazal's understanding (or at least what some assume it to be). We don't follow medicine of the Gemara, in fact, we may not be allowed to. Suffice it to say, that in some areas, modern understanding has surpassed Chazal's.

Thus, now that we've seen science catch up in these three areas (Quantum mechanics, waves and photons, and reflection), we should become even more comfortable with the application of science to our real life. Especially when we find obscure Jewish sources which have said the same thing, or given permission to believe in those things.

[Obviously R. Miller wasn't trying to make an ironclad case, and it is wrong to hold his letter up as an attempt at proof. To me, it appears to be more "mussar"-like, and is meant to sway the heart instead of the mind.]