Monday, January 09, 2006

More B'or HaTorah - from rockingmelbourne

(View from my hotel room)

What a day it was! After attending lectures all day long, my mind is numb, and my body is paralyzed. I have realized that it would be impossible for me to report accurately the on goings at this conference because a) there is simply too much information, and it would take me longer than the time of the conference to re-write that which has already been written, besides for which it would be boring and unproductive because the papers submitted will be published, IY”H in B’OR HATORAH, and you can read it there, and b) while yesterdays introductory remarks were simple enough, today most of the science was way above my head, and the little bit that did manage to penetrate my thick skull was quickly flooded by more information, so unfortunately, I can’t present a full report on any of the speakers. For this I apologize.

There were reporters here, and representatives of schools and colleges, (Stern College, for instance,) so you can either ask your school’s representative or search out the material.

What I will do, however, is post my reflections and insights, however useless they may be, because hey, I need to vent somewhere. So here we go:

The program began with introductory remarks by Professor Herman Branover, who explained that considering the political climate, now is a very opportune time to present real suggestions on how to incorporate these two worldviews, as opposed to just theorizing behind closed doors. Without much fuss, he introduced William Dembski, the leading proponent for Intelligent Design, or, the intelligent designer of intelligent Design.

Before the conference I had a certain image of what Dembski would look like. I imagined him as some cross-waving evangelical, who would ramble about doctrine or hell. The reality is, however, that Dembski is a man of very pleasant disposition, who is very rational and well presented. He didn’t introduce ID based on religious evidence, but explained that his interest was sparked by work he was doing in statistics.

Now, I’m sure certain readers will be quick to point out that my impression of him is hardly proof, because a) he is propagating a view I hold, and b) I have limited exposure to scientists. Well, truth be told, I, too, am cynical of my own judgments of the man, so I asked my father what he thought. And trust me, my father is no lover of religious science! In fact, my father was looking forward to the presentation as an opportunity to debate the man and his science. But Dembski quickly explained that the ideas people have about him are based on specific misquotes and lies in the media about him and his science. When he pointed them out, case-by-case, and then presented the alternative ID offers, it was quite clear that he had converted a room full of scientists to ID. (While most of the panelists were religious Jews, many, if not most, in the audience were either nonobservant Jews, or non-Jews.

All in all, Dembski’s presentation was amazing, and in itself, worth the trip. Dembski explained that the main problems facing ID, were politically entrenched people or organizations, such as the ACLU, who reject ID based on certain political philosophies and worldviews, but they can’t contest it on a scientific level. He cited, case by case, all the lies and misinformation suggested by the other side of the debate in order to cast ID as unscientific.

Dembski presented much scientific research too, but this is not the place or time for that, for as you know, it is all out there already, and I’ll leave it to you to research from more scientifically reliable sources than myself.

The next speaker was Professor Eliezer Zeiger, (Biology, UCLA) who lectured on the evolution of consciousness, but I can’t put the pieces back together now, and so, I guess you’ll have to Google him to find out his views on Biology.

The next presenter was Dr, Lee Spetner who suggested that Creationism and ID should be left out of the science class, because, if taught properly, biology will not contradict Torah! He explained that much of what is now controversial are the assumptions made by Evolutionary theorists. The facts are indisputable. If the kids learn to discern between the two, identify dogmatic rhetoric, and to think critically, they will be fine with their current biology curriculum.

Dr. Yaacov Hanoka, (PhD, Physics,) next contrasted catastrophic dating with Uniformatarianism, and explained how while once catostrophism seemed unscientific, today we use it to explain many otherwise puzzling aspects of our universe. There is no reason not to reintroduce catostrophism back into the debate on the age of the universe too!

All that was in the morning session, and in the afternoon there was a panel that took questions.

The main topic was how to teach biology today, especially to our orthodox children. Many questioners had valid points, and I will not go through each question and answer (although you can’t Google those. I guess you have to suffer a little for not coming!) . I guess I’ll just tell you about the questions and answers I found most interesting.

One questioner, a biology teacher in Ramaz, pointed out that the vast majority of biologists, even teachers in frum schools, are secular. Even if we want to teach the kids about ID, the teachers wouldn’t do it. The alternative is teaching it in religious classes, but that too won’t work, because religious teachers have very elementary knowledge, if any knowledge at all, of evolution. So, who do we force to reform, and how?

Rabbi Tendler responded saying that it is unfortunately almost impossible to tell Rabbeim that they have to learn biology on a competitive level. Torah study is almost overwhelming, time wise. Our solution therefore, is not to force biology teachers to teach ID, but to force them to teach biology, as it was meant to be, with skepticism, and room for doubt.

Questioner: it is hard for me to accept that all biologists are part of a conspiracy theory. Why do the vast majority reject ID?

Rabbi Tendler: They don’t believe in G-d because they think they are G-d! (Laughs.)

Seriously, scientific fraud is like looking for 2, getting 1.9, and then publishing it as 2. So while there may not have been an outright agenda, since they are looking for certain results, they will find them by making very small modifications on test results, etc.

My father then suggested that instead of letting religious schoolteachers edit their own textbooks, which inevitably results in disaster, we need one unified orthodox approach. Why don’t the panelists write a textbook?

The panelists gave several answers, when I felt I had to speak up. I was so nervous and my heart was pumping, but I got up to the mike, and before I knew it, Dr. Spenter called on me to ask my question.

I said this: Dad, your main motivation in writing this textbook is so that kids feel less schizophrenic and torn between their morning classes, and their afternoon classes. So, what you suggest is that we harmonize them, and kids will feel comfortable again. But what you’re missing is that when they enter education at the university level, they are bombarded by rhetoric from prestigious biologists who are deeply entrenched in evolutionary theory, and the schizophrenia now returns harder than before. I turned to Dembski and asked him what he’ll do if he wins the Dover case. If the court decides that truth is on his side, the textbooks will have to incorporate his theory. But that still won’t influence prestigious biologists in universities, who will then come smashing down on Dembski, with what may, or may not be propaganda. So, what I suggested was a little political savvy; first of all, the underdog always has an appeal, which is the appeal of ID today. Putting yourself into the textbooks makes you fair game, and once you do that, when the students will hear their professors raging against your theory, they won’t bother understanding it better, for they will feel they were already taught it, and now, in college, they were presented with the “truth”. If it isn’t taught, however, they can go to classes and hear their professors rage, but if they’ll care for intellectual honesty, they’ll want to hear what ID offers, and so, they’ll attend lectures similar to these, where they will gain a much better understanding of ID, than from one passage in a textbook. So, let’s withdraw from the debate and keep quiet and let the students come to us. While we are in the shadow, we should be involved in SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH, which when revealed will be very respected, and too important to be swept under the carpet by evolutionary theorists. But, until we have that slam-dunk, we should stick to research, and be the attractive, oppressed underdog.

Although I was nervous, I think my point was well received (I got much positive feedback).

Dembski responded saying that although in theory I’d be right, the fact is that the time of the idea has come. You can’t repress a thought that is so prevalent in organized dissent, and unorganized dissent, such as blogs. (Ironic he’d say that while addressing me, no?)

That concluded the afternoon session. We ate dinner, and then proceed to hear lectures from Yair Kaufman on Alzheimer’s, and the effect a meaningful life has on the disease; Dr. Aaron Glatt, on metzitzah b’peh; Barry Kinzbrunner, on the halachik opinion of Terry Chiavo’s case, and Gideon Weitzman, on what plays a more important role in gender determination, genetics, or external organs.

The first speaker of the evening, Yakiir Kaufman, spoke about Altzheimers and the affect a positive additude has on the physical composition and state of the brain. All in all, he discussed the positive affect of stress reduction of torah study, happiness, gemilas chassodim, and other positive persuits.

Rabbi Dr. Aaron Glatt, (his credentials are too long to list!) gave a powerful presentation on metzitzah b’peh. He explained the origins of the custom, and its representation in rabbinic literature. He then introduced the science concerning metzitzah known to us today. He concluded that there is NO KNOWN RISK FOR METZITZAH B’PEH, and he has testified about this before many battei dinnim and the health department. But he explains how each shitah is understandable, and therefore, correct. I loved his presentation. It was lucid and beautiful. (He was the only lecturer so far to conclude with a wish for Moshiach now, and unbelievably, he is not a Lubavitcher! Shame on us!)

Rabbi Dr. Kinzbrunner paskened that Schaivo was, according to halachah, wrongly killed, and there was no hetter for the discontinuation of her feeding.

And finally, Rabbi Dr. Gideon Weitzman explained androgenus according to science and halachah, and said that competent halachik authorities have not yet resolved the cases.

And that, my friend, is what I have learnt today. But tomorrow is another day so I’ll be going to bed NOW!

Layla Tov

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