[b-hebrew] Academic Debate"

belaga at math.u-strasbg.fr belaga at math.u-strasbg.fr
Thu Nov 1 11:36:37 EDT 2007

Dear Yigal and Karl,

Without entering into your particular disagreement, I want to add  
another dimension to the philosophical foundations of science you  
discuss: you both omit the dimension of scientist's motivations and  
sources of inspiration.

Sure, for Yigal there is no such problem, as probably for Yitzhak  
Sapir (see below a copy of his recent message), with his basic "Lo  
BaShamaim He", "The Law is not in Heaven": all motivations are  
ultimately confined to their rational origins.

However, for Albert Einstein it was not so: "Raffiniert ist der  
Herrgott, aber boshaft ist er nicht". And it is difficult to claim  
that Einstein was especially religious, in a Jewish or Christian or  
any other way. The above remark, as many others remaining in the  
memory of his colleagues, were deeply personal expressions of the  
motivations and inspirational sources of his scientific enquiry.

Quoting K Randolph <kwrandolph at gmail.com>:

> Yigal:
> On 10/31/07, Yigal Levin <leviny1 at mail.biu.ac.il> wrote:
>> In the world as we know it, if a person writes about events that happened in
>> the past, he either: 1. had written sources, 2. depended on oral tradition,
>> 3. made it up. Possibility number 4, "God told him", does not work in the
>> world that we live in, which leaves the other three to be discussed on a
>> case-by-case basis, which I'm willing to do, but not right now.
>> Yigal Levin
> There is a difference between methodological naturalism and
> philosophic (religious) naturalism.
> The definition for science that I found in numerous textbooks is
> according to methodological naturalism: all what we can repeatedly
> observe is limited to the physical universe. Furthermore, it is
> limited to the present. It does not a priori rule out the supernatural
> as an unobserved cause for observed phenomena.
> Philosophic naturalism, which is a religion, teaches that the physical
> universe is all that exists, therefore only naturalistic causes for
> observed phenomena may be entertained. The supernatural is ipso facto
> ruled out.
> Dave Washburn has well dealt with the problem of studying the past, so
> I won't repeat him, but the same demand for accepting only natural
> explanations for historical events typifies the religion of naturalism
> from an even handed study of history.
> On this list we have opted for methodological naturalism and ruled
> that a discussion of religion, including philosophic naturalism, is
> off limits. That doesn't mean that religious concepts can't be
> mentioned, just that we cannot say on this list that our religion is
> the only way. However, I find that when people openly admit their
> religious bias, like Shoshanna, that it is less offensive than when
> one hides it behind openly neutral statements, but still follows it
> behind the scenes.
> Karl W. Randolph.

Quoting Yitzhak Sapir <yitzhaksapir at gmail.com>:

> I think, especially in light of the ensuing discussion, that perhaps  
>  we should
> be aware of different theological backgrounds.  Foremost, is the concept in
> Judaism that prophecy ended in the Second Temple period.  Afterwards,
> God stopped using prophecy as a method of communicating his will.  But
> more interesting and relevant, is a small discussion in the Talmud about an
> oven.  The Mishnah makes a ruling about an oven and a dissenting opinion
> from the Rabbis is brought in the name of R' Eliezer.  The Talmud purports
> to tell us how the discussion took place.  R' Eliezer explained his   
> ruling but
> that didn't convince.  So, R' Eliezer said "If I'm correct, the tree should
> prove me right," and appropriately enough the tree was displaced so many
> feet at that moment.  R' Eliezer continued, and waters in the aqueduct
> changed their course, the walls of the building were ready to fall,   
> and finally
> when R' Eliezer called upon the heavens to prove him right, a voice from
> Heaven rang out and said "R' Eliezer is always right!"  To this the rabbis
> responded by quoting Deuteronomy: "[The Torah] is not in heaven."  The
> Torah was given at Mt Sinai, along with explicit instructions as to how to
> rule in disagreements, among them "majority opinion."  Because the
> majority opinion in this issue disagreed with R' Eliezer, this is the way God
> wanted it.  This is not to say that there aren't other places where a voice
> from heaven is instrumental in deciding Halakha, Jewish rulings, but it is
> significant in that it illustrates a concept in Judaism that the   
> interpretation
> of Torah is to be guided by rational thought, not supernatural phenomena.
> Now, my interpretation of Gen 1/2 and Yigal's refusal to take on faith
> apparent direct prophecy from God in the Bible is obviously not what the
> Rabbis intended in the above, but the above does illustrate the
> background from which we come -- one where rationalistic thought is
> more powerful than supernatural phenomena.
> Yitzhak Sapir

Edward G. Belaga
Institut de Recherche en Mathématique Avancée
Universite Louis Pasteur
7, rue René Descartes, 67084 Strasbourg Cedex, FRANCE
tel.: 333 90 24 02 35, FAX: 333 90 24 03 28
e-mail : edward.belaga at math.u-strasbg.fr

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