Conflicted Interest, Obscured Reality

Every so often, we are provided with allegories which help us
get a better grasp on issues many grapple with as frum Jews. When something happens in the world which has nothing to do with our religious values, but is rather a political subject or some other matter on which we don’t necessarily have a firm position, it can help us gain insight into matters regarding which we do.

For as long as anyone can remember, people who seek to undermine our religious traditions attack our beliefs citing “science.” They challenge our beliefs by citing whatever the contemporary scientific thinking is — on whatever they can find to be in conflict with what we believe. This is nothing new. We find scientific thought being used to question the wisdom of the Torah as far back as the days of Rav Yehoshua ben Chananya (see Bechoros 8b).

To be clear (and this goes without saying), science most certainly occupies an important place in our lives. But what isn’t important are the views of the scientists. As a wise man once told me, “Believe in the science, but question the scientists.”

Modern thinking has totally changed the approach we take to science. There once was value assigned to the scientific method and the constant questioning of “settled” scientific theories so as to refine them and better explain things we see and never exactly understand. This has been replaced (in many instances) with a dogmatic approach to “settled science” where anyone who questions a theory gets labeled a denier of science and a religious fanatic. However, the very fact that science only ever recognizes theories and not facts speaks in direct contradiction with this new “scientific method.” But it’s what happens when belief in science is replaced by belief in scientists.

It’s become the religion of the secularists.

A perfect example of this, not involving religion, took place two weeks ago at a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight hearing on Overregulation. The president of the Sierra Club, one of the country’s largest and most influential environmental organizations, Aaron Mair, was there to give testimony. Senator Ted Cruz asked him to clarify what he had meant, in written testimony previously provided to the committee, when he wrote that the science behind climate change “should not be up for debate.”

“[I]s this a frequent practice of the Sierra Club,” asked Senator Cruz, “to declare areas of science not up for debate, not up for consideration of what the evidence and data show?”

Mair responded by asserting that the science is “settled” and that “it’s not up for scientific debate.”

Cruz then asked what Mr. Mair and his organization would do with the fact that satellite data has found “no demonstrable warming whatsoever,” now that he has said that it’s no longer up for scientific debate? Surely he could agree that that is a data point that ought to be discussed and debated?

But Mair refused to acknowledge that there could be any place for debate, repeating over and over some variation of “we concur with 97 percent of the [Union of Concerned] Scientists who believe that anthropogenic impacts of mankind with regard to global warming are true.”

Cruz kept pressing him, and pointed out that the Union of Concerned Scientists, like other scientific groups who are involved in climate change advocacy, receive massive grants based on their position on global warming. But he would not be swayed, and continued to reiterate the same line over and over.

To be perfectly honest, I have no idea whether or not global warming is real, or if it is man-made. What I do know is that any time I see someone who demands unquestioning fealty to a political or practical position, it makes me suspicious of their stance. And the fact that the Union of Concerned Scientists is the one so often cited makes me doubly distrustful. A “scientific” organization which saw the need to come out in support of the Iran deal, of which most of the concerns are not scientific, is probably more “concerned” about politics and grants than about science.

It brought to mind something I discussed with a friend about last week’s parashah. Regarding the Dor Haflagah, Rashi brings one pshat that they decided to build Migdal Bavel as the result of a calculation. Every 1,656 years, they said, the heavens collapse, causing a Mabul. The way to remedy this, obviously, is by building pillars to prevent the next collapse.

Science.

The amazing thing to remember here is that this happened only 340 years after the Mabul — which means that Noach himself, who built the teivah which survived the Mabul, and was the ancestor of all the people who were constructing these pillars, was still alive at the time. Wouldn’t it have behooved them to ask him what had caused it?

But they chose not to. Because they wanted to believe what they believed, and negiyus (as Rav Dessler points out in Michtav MeEliyahu vol. 3, p. 177) causes a person to be unable to rely solely on his own judgment if he wants to reach the truth. So they built the tower, with such single-mindedness that even if someone died during the construction, they didn’t care (Pirkei D’Rav Eliezer 24).

It’s negiyus which drove the anshei Dor Haflagah, and it’s negiyus which drives those who also say, in our dor, “naaleh l’rakia v’naaseh imo milchamah.” It leads people to choose believing scientists over science, and the secular religion of “Science” over the One Above. All the facts in the world would be of no use, and stand no chance, when faced with the power of negiyus.