Virtually every point made by Rabbi Eidensohn in his letter of December 9 reflects significant misunderstandings about the science that he is attempting to criticize. However, it's not the errors in Rabbi Eidensohn's letter that I find most troubling. What disturbs me more is the smug belief, evidently shared by many in the yeshiva world [I would add "many in the ID/Creationist world," too --JA], that the working scientist is on average less intelligent than the typical potted plant.
How else can we explain the rabbi's readiness to believe that he has discovered fundamental problems in the theories of physics or biology that have escaped the notice of scientists who study these fields professionally? Such an attitude reflects either an unusual degree of hubris or a fundamental belief that scientists are all bumbling idiots. I suggest it's the latter.
For example, the rabbi triumphantly cites the second law of thermodynamics as evidence against the possibility of evolutionary processes. Does he think the scientists who study thermodynamics and biological processes have absent-mindedly overlooked this issue? Or that because of their unfortunate stupidity they just cannot quite grasp the basic principles of thermodynamics that the rabbi somehow innately comprehends?
Surely even the faintest degree of respect for scientists' intellectual capacities would have led the rabbi to inquire whether they had previously considered this issue. And they have. It's discussed in many popular science books and on about 300,000 websites, which I assume are not yet banned in Monsey.
(Incidentally, if the rabbi will re-read his own letter, he will find that his repeated use of the term "closed system" provides an important clue to understanding why evolutionary processes do not violate the second law.)
The yeshiva world has long found it convenient to ridicule science and scientists, and the rabbi's letter exposes a common conceit that a yiddishe kup and high school diploma provides better insight into the fundamental questions of science than does eight years of dedicated graduate study and a career of scientific experimentation. Well, let me break the bad news — a yiddishe kup and high school diploma [or reading a few creationist websites and books --JA] provide virtually no insight whatsoever into the fundamental questions of science, especially considering the cadaverous state of most yeshiva science curricula.
I don't mean to suggest that the layperson shouldn't exercise his or her full intellectual abilities in trying to critically assess and assimilate the latest scientific findings. One need not believe everything one is told, by scientists or by anyone else.
But the fact of the matter is that scientists are generally highly educated and intelligent people who have a substantial level of competence in their fields of study. Their methods of investigation and analysis have proved staggeringly effective over the past 300 years.
The image of the "idiot scientist" conjured up in Rabbi Eidensohn's letter may be comforting to some, but it's ultimately just crude escapism.
Highland Park, NJ
(All emphasis added.)
The Wolf adds that perhaps people don't think scientists are stupid so much as that they are conspiring to hide the truth. As he points out, if you're going to believe that, you might as well believe that the moon landings were faked or that the government is hiding evidence of alien life at Area 51.