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Francis Collins Mangles Maimonides — Following Leon Wieseltier?

posted by David Klinghoffer

When I complained a couple of days ago about people who misrepresent Maimonides as a proto-Darwinist, then cited a newish biography by Joel Kraemer on the subject as solid evidence that Maimonides would be an intelligent-design advocate and that the issue was for him the most important of philosophical and scientific questions, reader Anderson complained in turn that I was attacking a straw man:

You should be able to link to several examples of people making this or a very similar argument. You shouldn’t have to create a straw-man version of it.

Your wish, Anderson, is my command. Just yesterday a colleague sent me this from Obama’s favorite pro-choice Evangelical Christian, Francis Collins, speaking at a Pew Forum conference:

Basically, if you look at Judaism and Islam, you will find a range of views about origin. Certainly in Judaism, conservative and reform Jews are generally accepting of evolution, and a lot of Orthodox Jews are as well. Maimonides is often cited here as a reason to assume that if you have a conflict between science and the Torah, there’s been an error and a misinterpretation, not that science is evil.

There you have it. According to Maimonides, our understanding of Torah must yield before anything scientists happen to say at a given moment.
I believe this egregious misunderstanding, resulting from a sloppy reading of a chapter in the Guide of the Perplexed (2:25), was either originated or decisively advanced several years ago by Leon Wieseltier in The New Republic.



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Turmarion

posted July 22, 2009 at 11:35 am


Just to get it over with, from earlier posts:
Not everyone who believes in evolution is an atheist. And theistic evolutionists believe in “the idea of an orderly universe governed by laws of a cosmic intelligence” just as much as IDers, or for that matter, young-Earthers, do! The way in which that intelligence works in the cosmos is the point of disagreement, not that it does so. Why can’t you seem to grasp that?
David, in his post on Francis Collins: “On the other hand, that life has an evolutionary history including billions of years of change — that is unassailable as science and unobjectionable to me as a Jew.” Please explain to me how this is one whit different from theistic evolution. David, you said on that same post that you’d like to see someone debate Collins or ask him some pointed questions; yet you resolutely avoid all such questions and attempts at debate here. This one, which seems to me a statement of what almost anyone would refer to as theistic evolution, is especially egregious. I think I’m going to re-post it on every thread, if that’s what it takes to get you to speak to it. I mean, really!
Also, I’m still waiting to hear you speak to the issues of randomness and alien intelligence vis-à-vis the “image of god”.



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Turmarion

posted July 22, 2009 at 12:05 pm


Collins as quoted by David: Maimonides is often cited here as a reason to assume that if you have a conflict between science and the Torah, there’s been an error and a misinterpretation, not that science is evil.
Read Rambam’s discussion of the incorporeality of God. Scripture clearly attributes a body to God. This is also clearly against reason. Maimonides goes on to argue that God is not corporeal.
From Interpreting Maimonides, by Marvin Fox, p. 40, courtesy of this site:
“For Maimonides, however, the matter [of God’s incorporeality] can be settled finally and definitively only by an appeal to reason. His guiding rule is that what reason finds incorrect and unacceptable cannot be the meaning of Scripture, no matter what it appears to say. In a move not unlike that of Zeno and the whole classical rationalist tradition, he in effect asserts that what reason finds to be impossible cannot be the case in Scriptural reality.” (emphasis added)
From the Amazon site, regarding the author: “Marvin Fox is Philip W. Lown Professor Emeritus of Jewish Philosophy at Brandeis University and professor of philosophy and religion at Boston University.” Thus, I assume he knows what he’s talking about!
Once again, from The Guide for the Perplexed, M. Friedman translation, 2:25, emphasis added:
“If, however, we accepted the Eternity of the Universe in accordance with the second of the theories which we have expounded above (ch. xxiii.), and assumed, with Plato, that the heavens are likewise transient, we should not be in opposition to the fundamental principles of our religion; this theory would not imply the rejection of miracles, but, on the contrary, would admit them as possible. The Scriptural text might have been explained accordingly, and many expressions might have been found in the Bible and in other writings that would confirm and support this theory. But there is no necessity for this expedient, so long as the theory has not been proved. As there is no proof sufficient to convince us, this theory need not be taken into consideration, nor the other one; we take the text of the Bible literally, and say that it teaches us a truth which we cannot prove; and the miracles are evidence for the correctness of our view.”
He’s saying that an eternal universe per se is
not a problem, only the Aristotelian verson of it–the Platonic version is OK. He goes with the Scriptural version of creation since an eternal cosmos can’t be proved, but it is clear that he’s saying that if it could be proved it can be reconciled with Scripture.
Finally, I think that LVQ put it quite well in the last thread, and that this is an anemic non-response. Are you ever actually going to discuss what the Rambam actually said, or are you going to keep throwing out one-line, non-contextualized, third-party quotes, which are, in fact, straw men?



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Glen Davidson

posted July 22, 2009 at 1:25 pm


Perhaps Maimonides should be understood as counseling honesty.
If you do that, well, you’re going to be accepting evolutionary theory, not the ad hominem-spewing nonsense of ID.
As one not especially concerned about idle speculations about whether or not Jefferson or Maimonides would accept evolutionary theory had they actually known it, though, I really don’t see how the Collins quote supplies even one example, let alone the several that Anderson requested, of someone supposed to be misrepresenting Maimonides as a proto-“Darwinist” (can you believe that David had the gall to whine about Meyer being called a creationist at Coyne’s blog? Well, yes you can, because he seems ready to expose his hypocrisy at the drop of a hat).
Collins may or may not be right in his statement (there was a dispute over whether “a lot of Orthodox Jews are as well” are accepting of evolution), but his only claim was that Maimonides is “often cited” for his statement regarding Jewish acceptance of evolution. It wasn’t “several examples” of anyone doing so, even if it tends to back up Klinghoffer’s original assertion.
What I’m wondering is if David understand plurals, what examples actually are, or what Collins actually meant by saying “Maimonides is often cited here…”.
Does ID entail misunderstanding everything, or can it be limited to misunderstanding and misrepresenting science?
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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Turmarion

posted July 22, 2009 at 3:36 pm


Glen: As one not especially concerned about idle speculations about whether or not Jefferson or Maimonides would accept evolutionary theory had they actually known it, though, I really don’t see how the Collins quote supplies even one example, let alone the several that Anderson requested, of someone supposed to be misrepresenting Maimonides as a proto-“Darwinist”
That’s because Collins’s quote doesn’t supply such an example. But we both knew that!
Some thoughts:
1. This issue should be argued on the science, which David won’t do. However, in this case he seems to be arguing that Maimonides said that reason (aka “science”) must defer to religion when the two conflict. Several of us have pointed out that the Rambam says no such thing, and in fact clearly teaches the opposite, that is, that faith must be interpreted differently if it conflicts with reason, since reason cannot be rejected. This is what David is at pains to deny.
2. The way to make such an argument is to do one of two things. One, quote Maimonides extensively, accurately, and in context to build one’s argument. Two, find out the opinions of relevant authorities on Maimonides. The latter is weaker, since arguments from authority are problematic, but since none of us is omniscient, we often need to see what recognized authorities say. The important thing is that the authority be an expert in the relevant area. If I’m arguing about 15th Century Korean history, for example, it’s not enough for me to cite a historian, or even a historian from Korea–I’d better cite an expert in Medieval Korean history!
3. David fails both of these tests. He has never yet quoted more than a sentence or two from Guide for the Perplexed whereas I have cited entire paragraphs. He has made no attempt to make any kind of systematic arguments based on what Rambam says, and the quotes he has given leave out important context, as I’ve shown.
As to authorities, well, he cites the biographer Kraemer, who is professor of “Jewish Studies in the Divinity School, the Committees on Jewish Studies and on Social Thought, and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies” (you can read details here–notice no mention of expertise in Medieval philosophy), whereas I cited Marvin Fox, professor of Jewish Philosophy at Brandeis University and professor of philosophy and religion at Boston University. Now, saying “my guy against yours” isn’t really the right way to argue, but of these two, whom are you going to trust to understand Maimonides’ philosophy and accurately represent it, really?
4. Finally, I point out that David resolutely refuses to acknowledge, let alone respond to, the questions I’ve been re-posting. This is especially irritating since the questions deal with theology and philosophy, not science! David is always saying he’s no scientist, but wants to look at the religious issues, but then he won’t even fight on what he claims is his own turf!
Does ID entail misunderstanding everything, or can it be limited to misunderstanding and misrepresenting science?
I think the answer is shaping up as “everything, no exceptions”!



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David Klinghoffer

posted July 22, 2009 at 4:58 pm


I’m getting bored with Gabriel Hanna’s personal attacks, one of which I’m about to unpublish. There, that’s better. No more warnings.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted July 22, 2009 at 5:27 pm


Right, David, pointing out your rhetorical tactics is now a “personal attack”.
Going to ban me the next time I ask why you distorted a quote?
Going to ban Turmarion, Glen Davidson, and Olorin too?
Other commenters had time to read my post, David, and can judge for themselves my comment was “abusive”



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Gabriel Hanna

posted July 22, 2009 at 5:45 pm


David Klinghoffer is an author and senior fellow in the Religious, Liberty & Public Life program at the Discovery Institute….he currently lives on Mercer Island, Washington, with his wife and five children.
It can’t possibly be this you objected to.



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Your Name

posted July 24, 2009 at 11:51 am


Maimonides should have accepted Christ?
discuss



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Vulgarian

posted July 25, 2009 at 10:58 pm


If he had, your name, he would not be in hell today



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