To laugh or to cry?
Make your choice
The ridiculous pseudo-scientific
exercise by an Orthodox rabbi
By Shmuel-Pairont de
Posted July 29, 2006
To be frank, I am writing this essay against my natural
inclinations. I am doing it only because some friends asked me to spend time
and effort on rebuffing the article by some Orthodox rabbi named Dovid
Kornreich. His screed titled "Can We Make Do Without Science?" can be accessed at http://chareidi.shemayisrael.com/archives5766/chukas/ordk2chk66.htm.
This piece is in fact so absurd that the proper reaction to
it should be to shrug and forget about it. My friends who asked me to write
about the article in question argued that although that paper is obviously full
of crap, it has an appeal to Orthodox Jews who are looking for an allegedly
scientifically based support for their beliefs.
I don't think the firmly believing Orthodox Jews would be
swayed by any arguments which contradict (or seem to contradict) their faith,
so repudiating Rabbi Kornreich's exercise is a futile endeavor regardless of
how well substantiated my counter-argument may happen to be. The true
believers' minds are hermetically closed to facts and arguments as they live in
a strange world having little to do with reality. Indeed, this is what Rabbi Kornreich himself proclaims to be
the foundation of his approach to reality, science, and facts.
Indeed, on the very first page of his screed Kornreich
....we need to become discriminating consumers of scientific
We start off with the following a priori position
that is never negotiable: The ultimate truth about our reality was revealed to
us by the same Creator of that reality through prophecy and various levels of ruach
hakodesh preserved by our mesorah.
A few lines further
As a consequence, those scientific understandings that
either confirm or conform to our superior source of absolute truth -- the Torah
— may be adopted. Those that don't, must be mistaken. And it makes no
difference whether the scientists will eventually discover the mistake through
investigation or they will not.
It is distinctly possible that they cannot in principle
discover their mistake simply because they cannot access the non-physicality of
the forces involved in the formation of the world (and its deconstruction and
reconstruction during the Mabul period). But mistaken they must be. G-d
informed mankind of unnatural formation of the universe well in advance of the
theories that try to pretend that all events are natural. This is self-deception
on the part of mainstream science.
The quoted display of
arrogance by a religious fanatic echoes a similar utterance by his Christian
counterpart William Dembski (on page 14 in the collection of articles titled Mere Creation, Inter Varsity Press, 1998). Dembski wrote:
As Christian we know that naturalism is false.
Both versions, Judaic and
Christian, illustrate the touching unity of attitudes in both faiths and show
the clearly anti-scientific nature of their authors' worldviews.
If one already "knows"
something, any debate about this "something" is out of the question. That is
the attitude of true believers whose minds are impervious to any arguments and
facts which are not in tune with their blind faith. Dembski "knows" that naturalism is false. He also "knows" that
Jesus of Nazareth was Son of God, who came back to life after having died on a
cross. Rabbi Kornreich does not possess the "knowledge" proclaimed by Dembski,
but he "knows" something Dembski does not -- that "ruah hakodesh" (holy spirit)
has been preserved by the Jewish "mesora."
What if Rabbi Kornreich and
William Dembski were both born in Islamabad to a Muslim family? Dembski
certainly would not "know" that Jesus rose from the dead, and Kornreich would
certainly "know" that many of Quran's "revelations" abolish those in the
Unlike faiths, science
never "knows" anything a priori. It
learns the truth through a painstaking process of inquiry based on observed
facts and logic. It never claims to "know" anything for sure but only offers
the most plausible explanations of the observed facts. Operating this way,
science has achieved enormous success, but, unlike faith with its pretense for
possessing the absolute truth, science remains modest in its claims despite its
well proven power.
Since Kornreich claims in
advance of discussing scientific questions that any scientific theory that
contradict the Torah "must" be wrong, what level of discussion can be expected
from his essay?
How does Kornreich "know"
that the Torah reveals the ultimate truth? He "knows" that because that is what
he was told by other rabbis who lived before him. Is there any logically
consistent proof of the Torah's reliability? None whatsoever. The Torah is
claimed to be reliable only because the Torah itself says so. Moreover, as is
obvious to any minimally reasonable mind, the Torah is full of contradictions,
inconsistencies, and plainly fictitious stories, like those of the Exodus or
Noah's ark. Discussing scientific
theories in light of the Torah is like deciding whether to buy shares of, say, Bank of America, on the basis of the
events in what the world press unanimously and ridiculously refers to by a
geographically preposterous name "the West Bank"
(meaning the territory between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea).
I believe any reasonable
reader would stop reading Kornreich screed immediately after seeing the above
Since, however, my friends
asked me to read Kornreich's opus to the end and to provide answers to his
asseverations, I'll turn now to some of his specific points allegedly showing a
lack of understanding on the part of the poor "mainstream scientists."
Kornreich suggests some
arguments allegedly pointing to the "young" earth, its age being just thousands
years rather than the billions of years asserted by the "mainstream" science.
Before turning to any of his specific arguments, it seems proper to point out
that not one of these arguments are Kornreich's own. All these arguments are
copied wholesale from the publications of Christian young earth creationists,
such as Henry Morris, Ken Hovind, and Russell Humphrey.
Furthermore, Kornreich's argument essentially boils down to the assertion
that "mainstream scientists" only offered hypothetical models without having
made any actual measurements. Kornreich
in defense of experimental approach -- what a farce. First, Kornreich
conveniently forgets to mention that Morris, Hovind, and Co. have never
conducted any measurements whatsoever in any area of research, including those
fields which are relevant to the arguments in favor of the young earth.
Apparently, in Kornreich's opinion only the "mainstream scientists" are under
obligation to support their opinions by experimental data obtained by them
personally. The creationists, as per Kornreich, are free of such obligations,
as they are in possession of the ultimate revealed truth. Reading Kornreich's
demand for experimental data from mainstream scientists creates a strong desire
to remind Kornreich that double standards are a sign of intellectual
dishonesty. What empirical data support
blind faith in the Torah's inerrancy? Well, this question is plainly rhetorical,
as the esteemed rabbi, with all of his immense erudition in the Torah and
Talmud-related matters, does not seem to have any experience in experimental
work. I have, a few times, met such "experts"
in experimental science who could hardly distinguish between binoculars and a
Last but not least, Kornreich is either ignorant of the real arguments
against the young earth notions or deliberately ignores them. Such behavior is
typical of creationists of all variations. They offer arguments in favor of
their belief in the young earth. Scientists offer rebuttals of such arguments.
Creationists dismiss them -- they are simply incapable of accepting the factual
evidence which negates or seems to negate their faith. No argument, however fact-based and
scientifically sound, can penetrate the thick envelope of prejudice reigning in
the creationist's mind; accepting the rebuttal of their faith means a
disastrous crush of their entire world.
Let us briefly discuss some of Kornreich's specific arguments (each and all of
them borrowed from Christian creationist literature).
Actually I don't need to provide detailed rebuttals of Kornreich's stale
arguments -- all of them have been thoroughly and unequivocally shown to be
wrong many times over. All I need to do is point to publications that have made
mincemeat of Kornreich's borrowed arguments originating in the output of
Christian young earth creationists. Contrary to Kornreich's asseverations, such
rebuttals are quite far from being just speculations. Even those rebuttals which
do not cite specific measurements, usually follow the standard scientific
methodology which has brought about the great successes of science.
As an example, let me address Kornreich's asseveration regarding the
concentration of helium in the Earth's atmosphere. The essence of the argument
is the assertion that the helium concentration in the atmosphere is lower than
what would be expected if the Earth were indeed a few billion years old.
Gaseous helium is a product of processes of radioactive decay of minerals in the
Earth's crust. The rate of helium emission from minerals is pretty well known.
Based on that rate, assert young earth creationists, the accumulation of helium
molecules in the atmosphere can be calculated. If the Earth were indeed as old
as science maintains, the concentration of He in the earth's atmosphere would
be many times larger than the one actually observed, or so say young earth
Not to be accused of distorting Kornreich's argument (if we assume that it
is at all possible to avoid being so accused) here is the quotation from
The "nexta" example (love that Yiddish)
comes from smaller than expected amounts of Helium-4 if earth is old. Helium-4
is created by radioactive decay (alpha particles are helium nuclei) and is
constantly added to the atmosphere. Helium is not light enough to escape the
Earth's gravity (unlike hydrogen), and it will therefore accumulate over time.
The current level of helium in the atmosphere would accumulate in far less than
billions of years. Therefore the Earth is relatively young compared to their
Once again, the conventional response is to assert that
polar wind can account for the escape. And if that won't do the trick
(because they haven't actually measured it to know for sure) then there is
always the handy "interaction of the solar wind with the upper atmosphere
during the short periods of lower magnetic-field intensity while the field is
reversing." However, no one has ever measured a single magnetic-field
reversal of the earth taking place, let alone how long they last before
reaching full intensity. But that doesn't stop mainstream scientists from
simply assuming that 20 of them could have taken place over the past 3.5
billion "years" to account for the missing helium. Problem solved.
Like every one of his arguments in
favor of young earth, also this one is borrowed by Kornreich literally from the
opuses by fundamentalist Christian Bible literalists such as Henry Morris (see Morris, Henry M., 1974. Scientific
Creationism, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, pp. 150-151) Ken Hovind, the biblical literalist whose
ridiculous output is largely rejected even by some other creationists, and
Russell Humphrey (see, for example http://www.nmsr.org/humphrey.htm).
texts it seems to follow that he is more or less familiar with repudiation of
the creationist arguments regarding helium concentration, as he mentions
certain counter-arguments by "mainstream scientists." However, Kornreich not
only omits any references to the Christian creationists from whom he borrowed
his arguments favoring young earth
concepts, he also studiously avoids providing any references to publications
where Morris, Hovind, etc. have been convincingly shown to be egregiously
wrong.I will fill the void left by
Kornreich. The creationists' argument regarding helium concentration has been
thoroughly debunked, for example, at http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/hovind/howgood-yea.html#proof14. A detailed discussion showing the
fallacy of creationist quasi-arguments regarding helium was also provided by
Dalrymple (Dalrymple, G. Brent. 1984. "How
Old is the Earth? A Reply to Scientific Creationism" Proceedings of
the 63rd Annual Meeting of the Pacific Division, American Association for
the Advancement of Science, Volume 1, Part 3, edited by Frank Awbrey and
William Thwaites, April 30, 1984, pages 66-131).
brief description of the counter-arguments by mainstream scientists, Kornreich,
as it could be expected, reduces these arguments to their caricature. I invite
readers to look up the above references themselves rather than rely upon the
straw man erected by Kornreich.
Kornreich brazenly makes obviously incorrect assertions -- such as, for example,
his statement (not supported by any data) that helium molecules are too heavy
for escaping the earth's gravitational pull and therefore cannot escape the
atmosphere (see the above quotation). This assertion betrays Kornreich's
ignorance of the pertinent scientific facts. Contrary to Kornreich, helium
molecules can very well escape the atmosphere. It is true that the rate of
their escape indeed is insufficient to account for the amount of helium in the
atmosphere. However, there is a well substantiated
explanation of why helium escapes the atmosphere at a rate much higher than
calculated for helium molecules. Helium gets ionized in the upper atmosphere,
and this is not just a speculation, as Kornreich wants us to believe, but a
firmly established fact. If ionization
is accounted for, the seeming discrepancy between the observed amount of helium
and the age of the earth completely disappears. Whether Kornreich accepts this
explanation or prefers to mislead his reader -- in either case mainstream
scientists would hardly lose sleep.
repeatedly asserts that scientists have not conducted any measurements to support their explanation of, say, the observed amount
of helium in the atmosphere, and that therefore their explanation is just
unsubstantiated theorizing. The answer
to that thesis is twofold.
one: What measurements have creationists ever conducted to substantiate their
anti-science stands? None whatsoever. Neither did Kornreich himself, and he
can't cite any empirical data supporting his position besides quasi-arguments
borrowed from his Christian partners in the creationist enterprise. Why does Kornreich
consider it reasonable
to demand measurements and detailed calculations from mainstream scientists
while allowing creationists to make assertions not supported by any
measurements or any factual data at all?
two: Kornreich's assertion is false. NASA scientists have performed enough
measurements to show Kornreich's assertions for what they are: the rants of a
religious zealot who either is blind to facts or deliberately misleads his
out where helium in the atmosphere goes (including description of pertinent measurements), please see http://science.nasa.gov/newhome/headlines/ast08dec98_1.htm
where data are presented showing the absurdity of creationist asseverations,
and with them of Kornreich's piffle.
The helium concentration question
is just one example of the sheer absurdity propagated by Kornreich, who follows
in the footsteps of thoroughly debunked Christian creationists. His other arguments, likewise borrowed from
Christian creationist literature, are about the amount of salts and metals in
ocean water and about variations in the direction and strength of the earth's
magnetic field. Both are as absurd as the argument regarding helium -- see, for
example, the pertinent items in Mark Isaak's Index of Creationist Claims (at http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/list.html).
Of course, when a person starts a
discussion with a categorical assertion that he "knows" in advance the absolute
truth, so anything that contradicts his self-confident "knowledge" must be
wrong regardless of actual evidence, whoever is inclined to rely on such
person's opinion may do so only at his/her peril.
Perhaps it is proper to note that
Kornreich's attitude is imbued with unbounded arrogance: the fruit of
scientific research has been gained through the hard work of thousands of
honest scientists; Rabbi Kornreich takes the liberty of summarily denying
science's achievements while in his own personal behavior he does not hesitate
to make use of the results of the scientific exploration he brazenly rejects.
He flies aboard airplanes, takes pills when sick, perhaps drives a car or at
least takes buses and taxis, wears clothes made of modern fabrics, eats food
obtained in abundance thanks to scientific breakthroughs, and with all this
insults the same scientists, to whom he owes so much, with his anti-science
fanatic rants. A little humility and a dose of apology would go a long way to
at least partially salvage Rabbi Kornreich's so far shamelessly offensive
I see two possible results of
having read Kornreich's screed: one can either laugh at the sheer absurdity of
his discourse, or cry over the time wasted on a senseless anti-science
diatribe, and that in the 21st century such crock can be posted as
allegedly serious stuff.Readers have
the choice between the two above possibilities.
Shmuel-Pairont de la Meyraque is a post doc researcher with
a specialization in astrophysics. He is part French, part Jewish, with an
admixture of at least three more ancestries, including some obscure offshoot of
a tribe whose name nobody can pronounce. One of his avocations is making
motor-driven dolls, another is speleology, and still another is occasionally debunking
pseudo-science of creationists of all types.