I did not attend a Shavuot dinner hosted by Young Adult Chabad with Emeritus Professor of Statistics Abraham Michael Hasofer speaking on the conflict between Science and Religion: Do they Conflict?. I have only heard one attendee’s summary of the argument, and in public rhetoric the audience’s response is perhaps more important than what was said itself.
The summary suggested that since science has not decoded the mechanics of genetic mutation on the scale required for functional evolution, humans were created by God and are not descended from apes.
Seeing as the person who attended and summarised the talk for me had no desire to be descended from an ape, this was preaching to the converted. I hope it was not what Hasofer said, as I would think it clear to a statistician that the lack of clear scientific evidence to fill in all the holes in a theory is no real support to a counter-argument. I still fail to see the exclusive disjunction between creation and evolution.
But I was just as shocked by the idea that someone I know would have real aversion to the idea of being cousin to a gorilla or chimpanzee. Is this person equally shocked that our food is grown in something as disgusting as manure? Do they forget that they are cousin to genocidal serial killers, murderous tyrants, and fraudulent businessman? Do they find no compassion for animals, be they apes, or our more distant relatives the dogs and the snails that they are so upset to call them “cousin”, “friend”, “granddad”? Surely, we humans are at least as disgusting, even if we claim to be so with greater sophistication.
After an extensive discussion with a friend involving belief, rationality, numerology, science, psychology and all other sorts of big picture matters, we have concluded that there are three types of believers (at least within the context of Judaism):
- The one that does not challenge his beliefs
- The one that challenges and finds proofs to support his beliefs
- The one that challenges, fails to prove, and still believes
The tough question is: which is the biggest fool?
There is a term, bittul torah, which literally means ‘negation of Torah’—a term that I long did not understand. By some people it can be thrown around anywhere to refer to time spent doing anything apart from learning from the corpus of Jewish text and thought. The assumption is that if you’re not learning Torah (or possibly otherwise doing God’s Will), you are destroying it merely by wasting time.
I failed to understand this assumption until I decided to spend a bit of time in a yeshiva. Although maybe the feeling has decreased a little since then, the atmosphere here is one of immersion and little distraction, and so the first time I tried to leave the yeshiva, I felt somewhat guilty for not studying for a few hours. Learning of course doesn’t preclude enjoying (through studying or apart from it), but you really begin to notice when you have left it for something else. (more…)
In March 2005, McGill closed its Muslim prayer room. In 2006 the Canadian Supreme Court overruled a Québec school’s ban on carrying a Sikh ceremonial weapon. In January 2007, Canada was inflamed with discussions of “reasonable accommodation” after the release of a “Code of Conduct” for newcomers to Hérouxville. It seems as if Québec again wants to copy France in a strong stand on Laïcité.
Suddenly in these last few days, University administration has decided the chapel in the McGill “Birks” Religious Studies building no longer exists. Signs that once indicated its presence are now gone. The room that the rest of the building is centred around no longer has any official purpose or title. (more…)
One of the first things I did when I got to McGill was find out what singing groups I could join. After all, I had decided a couple of years ago that 2006 would be the year for singing: having been involved in Hineni, people would ask me (mostly after synagogue), “so what are you doing with that voice of yours Joel?” and I replied, “too busy… after Hineni”. So this year was set aside for singing. I led a lot more services in synagogue than ever before, got a couple of paid jobs as a chazzan, and joined two choirs in Sydney: the Sydney Jewish Choral Society (finally capitulating to Warren), and the Madrigal Society (under the leadership of Anthony who I encountered regularly, although he gave me no pressure to join). I enjoyed them a lot. I was even a little surprised to do so. (more…)