Torah and Relativity: Attack of The Jewish Cranks

UPDATE(9/1): In a move that, frankly, astonished me, the author of the piece that I mocked in this post has withdrawn the article, because he’s recognized its errors. And he didn’t just withdraw it – he came back to this blog to explain the withdrawal. I’ve never seen a fundamentalist writer admit to errors this way. Most
authors of what I consider bad religion/science/math either ignore their errors, or silently pull the erroneous articles and pretend that they never existed. The way that
Mr. Bar-Cohn handled this is an excellent example of how honest people with genuine integrity behave. Mr. Bar-Cohn has earned a great deal of respect for me by doing this.)

Since I’ve been writing GM/BM, I’ve frequently mocked Christian
fundamentalists who make stupid arguments based on bad, or (even
worse) no math. I’ve also taken on some Muslim idiots a couple of
times. But I’ve frequently receieved emails asking why I’ve never done
the same thing to Jewish idiots. (Actually, it’s usually not really
asking, but more making accusations that I go easy on Jewish
arguments because I’m a Jew. Usually as a part of some nasty screed
about how I’m part of the Great Jewish Conspiracy to Take Over the

The real reason that I haven’t dealt with Jewish fundies before is
just because people don’t send me good links. Until now, I haven’t
known of any particularly good Jewish fundy nonsense to write about.
The only major bit of Jewish bad math that I knew about was the infamous “Torah
codes” or “skip codes”
, which had been well and thoroughly done to
death long before I started blogging.

Then, a few weeks ago, someone sent me a great link to a
relativity denial thing, arguing that the Torah demonstrates the
falsehood of relativity using some really wretchedly bad
math. It managed to combine a bunch of my favorite kinds of lunacy,
all in one hysterical package: religious stupidity, horribly bad math,
relativity denial, gematria, bizzare interpretations passed off as
literalism – it hit pretty much all the buttons! It was glorious, the
kind of stupidity that I really relish! I didn’t immediately write
about it, because I wanted to wait until I had time to do it justice.
A quick off-the-cuff mocking wasn’t enough for such high-grade insanity.
And then, being an idiot, I lost the link!

Yes, I really am an idiot sometimes. I could have sworn that put
that link in my “crackpottery” folder in my Safari bookmarks. But no,
it’s not there. And I only keep one week of history in my browser, so
it’s not there either. I lost one of the best cranky links ever to
come my way! If anyone happens to come across an argument from
gematria on why relativity can’t possibly be true, please
forward it to me. I really want to find that gloriously idiotic

But fear not – all is not lost. (Looking at this as I’m doing a
final editing pass, I’ve got to say that I’m sounding like Orac lately. But hey,
he’s the guy who inspired me to start GM/BM, so how bad could that
be?) While googling to try to find it, I found something almost – not
quite, but almost – as good. It’s a website run by an organization
called the “Torah Technology Institute”, which features an article by
David Bar-Cohn, called Kehushah and Time
, which attempts to argue that there’s a connection
between relativity and the presence of God: they argue that a literal
reading of the Torah shows that the presence of God has a relativistic
time-dilation effect.

The starting point of this incredibly idiotic argument is two
verses from the Torah. One of them says that the western lamp of the
Menorah in the temple in Jerusalem stayed lit longer than the others,
despite all the lamps being fueled with the same quantity of oil.
The second describes a loaf of bread from a sacrificial offering as
staying warm and fresh for a full week. Mr. Bar-Cohn claims that these
are strange events that require some explanation: there must be a
reason why one particular lamp’s oil lasted longer that the others,
and there must be a reason why the bread stayed fresh for so long.
(Apparently explanations like “different lamps can end up burning fuel
faster or slower depending on minor variations in how they’re built,
airflow, etc.” don’t fly.) No, it can’t be anything mundane: it must
be a miracle!

Further, in both cases, these “strange” events are related to the
specific placement of the objects: the western lamp of the menorah is
closest to the ark, and the bread in the sacrifice is placed immediately
in front of the ark. So obviously, it must be the
presence of the ark that is having some kind of miraculous effect
on the lamp and bread!

So he sets out to try to figure out just what the ark could
possibly be doing to cause this effect. And that’s where the fun begins!

Part of what makes this article so much fun is the way that the
author makes such an effort to superficially follow the scientific
method. He takes a naive, but adequate, description of the scientific
method: (1) Make observations. (2) Develop a hypothesis that explains
those observations. (3) Test the hypothesis. So that’s what he does.

The hypothesis is: the thing that the two examples have in common
is that they’re close to an artifact containing the presence of God.
(He consistently uses “Kehushah”, which is a hebrew term for “the holy
presence”.) He then considers what could cause this effect, and argues
that the most likely explanation is time dilation:

Now we must ask, what is it about Kedusha that would cause things
to be preserved? One might speculate that as Kedusha/the Presence of
Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu is life-imbuing and energizing that the oil and
bread drew extra “Shefa” from this source, and were essentially
“supercharged” as a result. (For more on the connections between
Kedusha and energy, see Rav Chaim Zimmerman’s book “Torah and
Existence” as well as my own article, “Dynamics of Kedusha and

One possible problem with the “energy thesis” in this particular
instance is the following: Imagine bread exposed to some sort of
energy/radiation for one week, such that it stayed warm. If our own
experience with heat and time is any indication, the bread would
hardly resemble something fresh out of the oven. It would be more like
bread that’s been sitting in the toaster too long! Given this
difficulty, an alternative explanation may go like this: If the bread
is described as fresh and warm as if hardly any time elapsed, maybe in
fact hardly any time elapsed. That is, the effect of preservation via
Kedusha/Shechina is due to a local slowing of time. Or expressed as a
rule: Time slows as Kedusha increases.

So, our intrepid author has already developed one hypothesis for
why the events happened, and then discarded it, because it failed to
adequately explain things. Very scientific, eh? (Ok, so it’s not,
but it makes it look like he’s trying to be scientific.)

Then he found a better hypothesis for why these events
happened, and he’s very happy with himself. The next step is to test
it. How do you test a scientific theory? You look at your hypothesis,
and use it to make predictions. Predictions can be “If I do experiment
X, my hypothesis says that the outcome will be Y.”, or they can be “If
I look in the right place, I’ll find evidence X that my hypothesis
says should exist”. Mr. Bar-Cohn takes his version of the latter: he
predicts that if his hypothesis is true, then there should be
other instances in the Torah of apparent time dilation
associated with the presence of God. So he looks to the Torah again,
and – suprise! – he finds a list of other events that he argues show
time dilation.

Of course, he misses one of the most important parts of the real
scientific method. See, in real science, you don’t just come
up with a set of tests that confirm your hypothesis. You
actually try to find tests that could disprove your
hypothesis. That’s a very important distinction: in science, real
science, you try to prove that your hypothesis is
wrong. You specifically come up with lists of everything that
could possibly be wrong with it, and then design your tests with those
in mind – trying to devise experiments that would disprove your
hypothesis if any of the potential flaws were real.

That’s not the approach of Mr. Bar-Cohn. No – he takes the classic
crank route: he only looks for evidence that his hypothesis
is correct, never for exidence that it’s wrong. And his idea of
evidence is “more stories in the torah that could, if they’re twisted
just right, be interpreted as supporting my hypothesis.”.

I’m not going to waste space going through all of them; I’ll just
pick out one particularly funny one as an example. He tries to justify
the extreme lifespans cited for figures that appear in the early
section of the bible. Y’see, there’s this residual presence of God,
left over from the garden of eden. And that slows down time for the
people living then. So they live for a thousand years, because time is
moving more slowly for them. People later don’t live as long, because
the residual presence faded. (Of course, if this were the case, then
the folks who lived for a thousand years didn’t really live for a
thousand years; they subjectively lived no longer than you or I, but
for people outside of the zone of residual presence, they
appeared to live a really long time. And that would blow away a ton of
other Jewish fundie arguments about the long lifespans – provided this
bozo actually understood what relativity means. But he
doesn’t. So he appears to think, for example, that you could have
people living in a time dilation field age more slowly than other
people, while still experiencing the same amount of subjective time as
people outside of it. So Abraham could have his first child at an age
of more than 100 – and have 100 years of experience, etc.)

And now, finally, he gets to the relativity part. And that’s
where it just keeps getting funnier. He tries really hard to put
a mathematical facade on his argument; but since he doesn’t actually
understand what the theory says, or how to do the relevant math,
he ends up just sort of randomly sputtering and spouting nonsense:

(For the following, “Olam Haba” means, roughly, heaven.)

We can say that Olam Haba does exist in space & time,
only it is a different space-time continuum. That is to say, it only
looks eternal when viewed from our perspective. Time-dilation in
Special/General Relativity is experienced as follows: A observes B’s
clock as running slower, while B experiences a normal passage of time
(and in fact perceives A’s clock as running faster).

So Olam Haba is “eternal” when seen from our perspective. We observe
Olam Haba’s “clock” slowed down to nearly a dead stop. Someone
standing in Olam Haba however, sees time as running normally. On the
other hand, our world/history (Olam Hazeh) goes by in the blink of an
eye from the Olam Haba perspective. As it says, “1000 years in Your
eyes are like a bygone yesterday” (Tehillim 90).*

*If we take this pasuk literally, “k’yom etmol” means “as it is today,
yesterday,” meaning exactly 24 hours ago. Now we can translate the
pasuk in quantifiable terms: “1000 years (of Olam Hazeh time) = 24
hours in Your eyes (Olam Haba time).” For 1000 earth years to elapse
in approximately 24 hours, Olam Haba would have to run at just about
99.999999999625% of the speed of light (approx. 299,792.4599988758
Km/sec). This also means that from the Olam Haba perspective, all 6000
years of recorded human history goes by in 6 days. (Calculations made
using an on-line time-dilation calculator and a time conversion

Also, we have the idea that Hashem is Rishon & Acharon (sees
the entire picture). There is also the notion that Adam Ha’Rishon in
Eden saw from one end of the world to the other. All of these can be
explained if we speak in terms of time dilation, where Olam Hazeh time
runs exceedingly quick from the vantage point of Olam Haba.

It’s really amusing just how similar this is to the “Koranic speed
of light” that I wrote about last week. It’s the same kind of silly
nonsense. What exactly does in mean that “Olam Haba would have to run
at 99.999999999625%? Is heaven rushing through the universe at
phenomenal speed?

And again, we get his very strange misunderstanding of time
dilation. We have the statement that Adam could see from one end of
the universe to the other, taken literally, in terms of time dilation.
The problem with it is, that’s not how time dilation works. It’s a
fairly typical example of trying to understand a complex phenomenon
that is really described mathematically, believing that you understand
it and can work with it using nothing but informal prose.

When relativity talks about time dilation, what it’s talking about
is a mathematical description of a system with certain kinds of
invariants – in fact, certain kinds of mathematical symmetries. For
example, no matter how fast you’re moving, no matter where you are,
the speed of light is a constant. If I’m moving towards you at 500
miles an hour, and I shine a flashlight at you, the light is moving
away from me at 186,000 miles per second, and the light is moving
towards you at 186,000 miles per second. There’s no 500 mile per hour
difference caused by our differing speeds. Time dilation is the
phenomenon that describes how that can work. When you’re moving
relative to some other object, time moves at a different apparent rate
for you and for an observer at that different point, and the different
apparent rate of time passing makes things work out so that the
observed speed of light is the same from both positions.

The math of it is incredibly elegant. But it’s far from intuitive.
There are some very surprising effects that work out incredibly
cleanly when you do the math, but which are very strange from an
intuitive perspective. For example, suppose that we’re both in
spaceships. My spaceship is stationary, and your spaceship is moving
at C/2. Whose time is moving more slowly? Obviously, you are. But what
if we say that your ship is really the stationary one, and
I’m the one moving at C/2? Then my time should be the slower
one. It turns out that they’re both valid ways of describing
things: as long as neither of us is accelerating, both viewpoints are
correct. But it works out – once you factor in the speed of light and
the time it takes for information to get from one of us to the other,
you can make it work equally well for both reference frames. There’s
no way to tell which one of us had “slower” time than the other. You
can see from this paragraph that it really doesn’t seem to make sense
intuitively. But if you saw the math, it would all work out

But back to the original example. I’m going at 500 miles per hour
relative to you. Because of time dilation, the speed of light is the
same for both of us; my subjective time is slightly slower than
yours. But – we’re both there at the same time. We both
see me shine the flashlight at you. What our fundie nutter would like
to say is that Adam could see the entire history of the universe from
the viewpoint of his seat in the garden of eden, because of time
dilation. And then after he was done, and he left eden, he joined the
universe outside of it, and became part of the universe that he
witnessed. Mr. Ben-Cohn is basically arguing – without realizing that
it’s what he’s arguing – that relativity allows Adam to be two places
at the same time; that relativity allows you to both experience the
“slow” time flow in a dilated region, and the “fast” time flow in a
non-dilated region simultaneously.

And even this amount of silliness isn’t enough. He needs to go a
step further, and tie in “space dilation”. Space dilation is his
clueless interpretation of relativity. He doesn’t understand it –
it’s all just words to him. He’s heard something about “space warping”
and relativity, so it must be “space dilation”.

Time-dilation by definition comes with a corresponding space-dilation.
In Special Relativity, space is shortened in direction of travel. In
General Relativity, space is curved around point of gravitation.

The Word “Olam” itself connotes both space (ha’olam) and time
(l’olam). Thus discussion of different Olamot (Hazeh/Haba or Asiya,
Yetzira, etc.) definitionally speaking refers to differences in space
& time. When we speak of an Olam that is more “ethereal” or “eternal”,
a “higher realm”, we can define this quantitatively as an alternate
space-time continuum, one which runs on a slower clock.

Also regarding the space-time connection, the Talmud describes the
Aron with its winged Kruvim as being too big to fit in the Kodesh
Kedoshim (Bava Batra 99a). That is to say, since the Gemara
essentially cites space-dilation, we should expect time-dilation. In
fact we find that time-dilation in the preservation of the oil &

Thus, the concept of space-time dilation helps to demystify Kodesh
spaces and phenomena. Rather than describe them in metaphysical terms
such as “eternal” and “holy” we can use the language of energy and
space-time. And the explanation appears to fit the Torah material,
which is an important litmus test.

As usual, we’ve got the typical result of not doing the math.
Space dilation, in relativity, is gravity. The kind of time
dilation effects that he’s arguing for here are legitimately
connected to space warping effects. But those space-warping effects
are called gravity. They can’t be separated.

The effects that he’s arguing for would be accompanied by
incredible gravity. To get the time dilation effect that he wants for
the ark – to keep bread oven-fresh and warm for a week – would entail
an absolutely astonishing gravitational field, and tidal forces that
would tear the earth apart.

Of course, there’s an easy out for our flaky author, after all,
for a religious nut, whatever God wants to do, he can do – physics be
damned, literally! But that would totally contradict the supposed
basis of this entire article. After all, the point of the article is
to not just decree that “God did it”, but to “take as a given
that it happened and try to understand how it happened”. Relativity
does nothing to help: it solves a small problem (why a loaf of bread
supposedly stayed warm) and replaces it with a much bigger problem
(why the earth didn’t shatter into a new asteroid field due to tidal
forces of a massive localized gravity field).

It’s also typical of what always drives me crazy about
fundamentalists. Why can’t a loaf of bread staying warm just be
a bit of poetic license? Why can’t talk of how long a day is for an
angel just be a bit of poetic phrasing, instead of a bogglingly
stupid way of talking about the speed of light?

0 thoughts on “Torah and Relativity: Attack of The Jewish Cranks

  1. Pierre

    Some corrections, Mark. Not about the content, about the style
    of the post (minor typos etc).
    First paragraph: your blog is “GM/BM” not “GM/BW”
    Second paragraph: you fogot to close your Italics tag
    Second paragraph: “done TO death”
    Fourth paragraph: “not there EITHER”
    Sixth: “QUANTITY of oil”
    Seventh: “in both cases” (should be lowercase I in “in”)
    Seventh: “in from of” -> “in front” of
    Gotta go get lunch… will keep reading this later! It sounds like
    it’s some good crackpottery you found there!

  2. Michael R. Head

    My sister pointed me at a (long) video of an educated (MIT PhD) Jewish fellow that attempted to explain the 7 days of creation in terms of a point of view switch where before man appears, time is somehow much longer. He went on to take some physical constants, runs some calculations, and eventually divides them to come up with a number that’s slightly less than 7 (which is what he wanted).
    My sister found this shocking and thought provoking, but I found it a bit facile, since he takes some constants which have varying levels of error (which he conveniently leaves out) and finds the number he was looking for. I guess the fact that the formula pumps out the “right” value is enough confirmation that there must be no error after all.
    I no longer have the link, but after searching for the video (which I didn’t find), I think this must have been a video of Gerald Schroeder, who seems to be selling books which promulgate this this argument.

  3. a reader

    I was slightly distracted by the number of ad hominem references (e.g., bozo etc.) in this post. I have no sympathy for crackpots, but demolishing their position does not require (nor is it aided by) constantly calling them bozos and idiots. It is sufficient to show that their words are idiotic. There is enough pointless name-calling online without encouraging more.
    Apart from that, though, great post.

  4. Pierre

    More minor typos. I lost track of the paragraph numbers, Mark, so I’ll just dump some excerpts.
    “What exactly does in mean”
    “allows Adam to be two places”
    Well, that’s it! Sorry about being so picky.
    Clearly, that’s another fine example of brain failure. If the
    presence of the ark slows down time around it, wouldn’t it mean
    that once a priest got close to it he would clearly be able to
    see the rest of the world, further away, move at breakneck speed?
    A bit like in that old “Time Machine” movie from the sixties? The
    priest would see the sun ‘move’ in the sky from one horizon
    to another in a matter of minutes, the pedestrians in the
    street walk at a frantic speed back and forth, etc etc. Something
    so absolutely extraordinary would HAVE to be documented in the
    Torah. I’ve never read it, but I bet nothing like that is
    described in there.
    I loved the paragraph where you point out that us scientists
    also try as much as possible to destroy our own models. I was
    afraid you wouldn’t mention it. If I think I have found an
    explanation for a phenomenon, I try to think of all the possible
    tests I could make to show that my explanation is wrong. So
    I can quickly reject (or adjust) my explanation. Not sure
    Mr. Bar-Cohn understand that… otherwise he probably would already
    have rejected his own theory using a few choice thought

  5. Equisetum

    There’s a really easy test for this guy’s theory. Take a brood of flies. Put half in ‘kedusha’ and half somewhere else far away. Measure their life spans. Those in ‘kedusha’ should live significantly longer.
    Now, where would one find a kedusha-like environment? Well, there’s a rumor that the ark of the covenant is stowed away somewhere in a Pentagon warehouse. It shouldn’t be too hard to get some neocon wack (Doug Feith? Wacko, Jewish, and has pentagon connections) to dig it up.

  6. Pierre

    Equisetum: the Pentagon warehouse is deep inside area 51.
    It’s too difficult to get there. Maybe the effect could
    still be detected from the periphery of the base, many
    miles away, though? And instead of using flys, we could just
    carry GPS units at different distances. The position they
    compute are based on accurate time calculations synchronized
    on the atomic clocks on board the GPS satellites. We should
    see a weird drift.
    (No, I don’t believe any of this!)

  7. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    That’s a fairly common sort of argument. I’d like to find a good name for that, because it comes up so often. The idea is to pretend that you’ve done some math to support your
    theory, and use the fact that the math “works” as supporting evidence. But in fact,
    you’ve set up the math so that it’s *got* to produce a result which does exactly what you want.
    A great example of that is the expanding earth theory as promoted by
    Neal Adams. He’s got these fundamental particles that he proposes as a fundamental building block for all of the particles we actually observed. To come up with a mass for his fundamental particles, he worked out the greatest common divisor of the masses of all of the known particles, and then defined that as the mass of his fundamental particle. Then he uses the fact that all know particles have a mass that is a multiple of the mass of his fundamental particle as “proof” that his theory must be correct, because “the math works.”
    The argument that’s in this article about the “speed” of heaven is similar: take a desired time dilation factor, plug it into a relativistic equation, and get the speed. Suprise! You get a speed that provides the desired time dilation.
    Likewise for your example of the bozo who wants to argue for a different rate of time before men were created: take the age of the universe, and basically divide it by not-quite-seven, get a period of time, plug that into another equation like relativity, and use it to produce a time dilation factor that you want. And presto! 7 days that aren’t 7 days, but where “the math works”.

  8. Brian Jaress

    I think I’ve heard it called “thinking in a circle” and “self-confirmation”.
    (But I think self-confirmation usually refers to statements like, “I’m a great guy.”)

  9. Sili

    Hmmm — There’s is spatial contraction in Special Relativity too.
    But if we consider General Relativity, can’t we conclude that God isn’t actually fast, but he is very very dense? Or is that just his followers?

  10. Paul Murray

    I was under the impression that the “your clock is slow”/”No! *your* clock is slow!” thing was not casued by the speed at information travels between the two observers, but by a disagreement on how to slice up spacetime into “simultaneous” layers. The same thing causes the Fitzgerald contraction.

  11. Flex

    When I read the lines about the oil burning slower and the bread remaining fresher, I thought that maybe, just maybe, the inner temple had fewer air currents to accelerate the flame, and that being in the far recesses of a temple the bread may have been in a cooler, moister environment.
    Somehow I never considered the idea that the holiest of holys was emitting radiation or distorting time and space.
    Of course, his explaination reveals why Tanis was buried in a sandstorm lasting an entire year. The storm was really was only a few days long, but time dialation made it look longer to outside observers. ūüėČ

  12. Joshua Zelinsky

    The word is “Kedushah” not “Kehusha”.
    One reason you’ve had fewer Jewish cranks than Muslim and Christian cranks is that there are fewer Jews than there are Muslims or Christians (range is millions as opposed to billion). So one would expect correspondingly fewer cranks if cranks occurred at the same general rate in the population which seems an ok assumption for a naive model.

  13. Chad Groft

    To #12: that’s correct, and it’s a small but important point. An observer is assumed to be intelligent enough to figure out where and when an event occurred in his own reference fram, taking into account the delay in signal. Two such intelligent observers, in two different reference frames, will get different time intervals between events. So c does not enter as the speed of information, only as a fundamental relation between units.

  14. Equisetum

    That’s a fairly common sort of argument. I’d like to find a good name for that, because it comes up so often. The idea is to pretend that you’ve done some math to support your
    theory, and use the fact that the math “works” as supporting evidence. But in fact,
    you’ve set up the math so that it’s *got* to produce a result which does exactly what you want.

    A mathataulogy? Or mathaulogy?

  15. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    So c does not enter as the speed of information, only as a fundamental relation between units.

    Yes, I think it is incidental that this turns out to be a “speed limit” for information, like the Heisenberg uncertainty principle is incidental on it. Though both are important and necessary consequences, it can be quite a hassle to derive them at times.
    Basically, it isn’t light that transmits information (phase velocity), it is modulation of it (group velocity).
    Well, that is what I learned in graduate studies.
    But apparently experiments showed that it is specifically the group velocity of the pulse edge that counts.
    Here is how you get a pulse to have a negative speed and another to leave a material before it has entered it. (Because the real pulse information is hiding in almost imperceptible leading and trailing edges.)
    Except that isn’t entirely true either, experiments showed that it is specifically the group velocity of the edges of a sufficiently step-like pulse that matters.
    Here is how you get a superluminal pulse by rephasing different group components which have undergone anomalous dispersion (energetic photons is most refracted). (The superluminal “signal” isn’t useful as it is too smooth.)
    In other papers it has been found that it is decoherence and not the Heisenberg uncertainty principle that matters for understanding the outcome of QM slit experiments.
    I believe that demotes HUP entirely to its informational/observational role of constraining what we can know of a system, analogous to that the Einsteins “certainty principle” ūüėõ constrains how we know what we can know of a system.
    Or maybe I just need more (or less?) coffee.

  16. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    So super massive black holes are the holiest things in the universe?

    Sure, sure, just don’t hold your super mass near my house, please.

  17. Mu

    So, the reason that, when I’m zipping along at near speed of light and turn on a flashlight, I still can’t see the “edge” of the beam slowly moving by me is that my time is so slowed down that the light is still going 300,000 km/s?

  18. Omer Moussaffi

    My once-religious-sister once gave me a hilarious book (in Hebrew, I’m afraid), full of lengthy articles, all desperately trying to show how science is compatible with religion. It had an especially laughable piece by the late Lubavitch (which was supposed to be the messiah), in which he claims this:
    The Torah says the world is 6000 years old.
    Science says the world is 4000000000 years old.
    These two claims are compatible because of time dilation: Torah is in “real earth time”, while the scientific measurements done by geologists are in a different reference frame.
    You’ve got to love that.

  19. Wry Mouth

    “But it works out – once you factor in the speed of light and the time it takes for information to get from one of us to the other, you can make it work equally well for both reference frames. There’s no way to tell which one of us had “slower” time than the other. You can see from this paragraph that it really doesn’t seem to make sense intuitively.”
    Actually, I thought you did a nice job here — missing only (perhaps) adding the punchline, “and THAT’S why it’s called RELATIVITY!”
    Cheers! ;o/

  20. Coin

    What exactly does in mean that “Olam Haba would have to run at 99.999999999625%? Is heaven rushing through the universe at phenomenal speed?
    And concerningly– if so, where is it going?
    Do we need to worry about what happens when it finally gets there?

  21. Wesley Parish

    I’ve come across a wide variety of fundie nutters, and at times participated in take-downs of them. They were Christian fundies, of course – they give them out at every street corner, or so it seems. I’ve also encountered a few Muslim fundie nutters, and tended to ignore those.
    This is the first time I’ve come across the Jewish variety, and the take-down. I enjoyed it.
    (BTW, I encountered a similar relativity misunderstanding quite some time ago, with a Christian “Young Earther” arguing that the speed of light was faster in the past, ergo, the universe was only 6000 years old … and then some time later I discovered a book on Christian Creationism pointing out that if the speed of light had been faster back then, the increase in the level of available energy that the speed of light constant serves as an index to, would have made Paradise Hell! I don’t know what websites service such viewpoints, and have no wish to find out … ūüėČ
    Keep it up!

  22. Jonathan Vos Post

    “… the increase in the level of available energy that the speed of light constant serves as an index to, would have made Paradise Hell!”
    Well, that explains Global Warming, anyway;)

  23. Stephen

    If all of human history is as 6 days to God, it explains why she doesn’t do much. We’re all zizzing by. She doesn’t have time to interfere! And if it were me, i’d be into procrastination. Whatever the problem is today, it’ll surely solve itself by tomorrow.
    Relativity explained: Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

  24. chris g

    First off here is a question to all of those that believe in god.
    Have you ever seen god? no right? so if prayer is the way you communicate to god, how do you know you are talking to god if you never seen or heard god before?
    Here is question this time for the Jewish community.
    When Moses got the Ten Commandments he led the Jews to the promise land! (Although he died before getting there) anyways when his people got there, there was people living there. And what does his follower do there? Kill them! Now violate the 6th commandment “do not kill”?
    Same thing can go for any Christian/ Catholics how can you justify the crusades and the inquisition?
    How can one follow texts full of contradictions? Or maybe god is one big contradiction?
    *waiting quietly for the hate mail to come in*
    anyone want some green tea?

  25. Joao

    Hey Mark,
    As usual, great post. I have a question, though, and don’t take it as a provocation.
    What kind of Jew are you?
    Judaism as an ethnicity goes beyond the religious beliefs. There are many examples of Jewish atheists and somehow it doesn’t strike them as a contradiction. Are you one of them?
    Disclaimer: I consider myself an atheist.

  26. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    I’m a Reconstructionist. Most people haven’t heard of it. It’s an offshoot of the conservative movement. A lot of orthodox refer to us as atheist jews, but that’s not how most of us in the movement see it. But in general, reconstructionists don’t believe in a personal, omnipotent, or interventionist God.

  27. Joe K

    Chris G:
    You’ve never seen an atom either, and you still seem to think it exists.
    The sixth commandment was against “murder” not “killing”. The killing that goes on during wartime is most certainly not “murder”. Heck, according to the way you think I guess we should arrest all the Iraqi war vets for murder…..
    Look, you want to argue with religious people, be my guest. But do us a favor, use some arguments that let us believe that you’re an intelligent being. Thanks!
    abc10011 at yahoo dot com

  28. Chris G

    to Joe#33
    Killing = Murder! and yes i have seen an atom actually! u religious people can never anwser my question because there is no LOGICAL ANWSER to it ^_^ nice Ad hoc attack on me though! Maybe i should point it out that i have 140 IQ so more then likely smarter then you! Nice Try

  29. Chris G

    Joe you still haven’t awnsered the questions!
    As Albert Einstein said “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”
    I really Could care less if people believe in a god, as long as they don’t violate separation of church and state, or use their belief to affect others.

  30. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    You’ve never seen an atom either, and you still seem to think it exists.

    Besides that Brownian movements gives an excellent indirect observation (to add to chemistry and gas dynamics), here is an overview (and some images) from over 50 years of direct atom imaging.
    And just in case you need an optical image, here is an image of single atom in visible light. No need for 140 IQ. (The image can actually be found on google image, so I suspect IQ 60 or so would suffice.)
    But yes, I do loath when people are two generations behind their time. (Being a specialty isn’t a defense, if one raises the subject. Otherwise a lag time of 50 years would be reasonable, seeing the difference between todays math research and basic education.)

  31. Chris G

    In early Humanity’s history the belief in a supernatual being(ae God) helped them get through the shitty life they had… now a days it is used to inforce personal belief’s and ideas on others AE Oppression of rights and their belief in god causes them to kill others
    To all the people who belive in God
    Question #4
    If the chosen people where created by God, then why did he make people that he did not want?
    i hope i get an anwser (logical ofcourse)to atleast one of my questions!
    :: Shrugs :: but i highly doubt that
    P.S non believers can awnser the question too!

  32. Chris G

    *dead silent from the Religious people*
    Man this always happens. I bet they read the questions and their brains can’t compute it and explode!

  33. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    Chris G:
    Either the religious folks just aren’t as brilliant as you… Or perhaps they’re as sick and tired of answering the same stupid gotcha questions from snide atheists as scientists are of answering stupid gotcha questions from creationists.

  34. Blake Stacey

    An answer to question #4 readily presents itself: not all people were created at the same time, for the same reason, by the same god. Historically, this type of reasoning has been used to justify racism (in the mind of the racist, anyway), for example by saying that We The Chosen People were directly crafted by the Divine Fingers, while all those “lower races” are leftovers from pre-Adamite peoples.
    It has been suggested that the simplest way to explain many of the “gotcha” moments in the Old Testament — the “where did Mrs. Cain come from?” questions and the like — is that the traditions on which those books were based were originally poly- or henotheist. In other words, the god they talk about was the national or tribal god of a particular people, not the supreme cosmic architect. Cain took his wife from another tribe and became ruler over a city whose people belonged to a different tribal god. Simplest thing in the world. It only becomes problematic when that tribal deity is elevated, first to supremacy over Elyon and the Canaanite pantheon, and then to cosmic status.
    The fellows who redacted the various extant traditions into a single Torah, during or shortly after the Babylonian Exile, made a montage of lofty, elevated passages (the P document) with the earthier, tribalistic folktales (the J document), leaving later generations to puzzle over the result. The entertaining suggestion has been made that the original tribal deity of the J document was viewed as a child god, perhaps twelve human years old in appearance and personality, of the type familiar from Canaanite mythology. I am not competent to judge this hypothesis historically, but to me, it makes literary sense.

    Yahweh sees to his surprise that Adam is lonely, and Yahweh’s first thought is that the man needs a pet. He keeps pets himself. Why shouldn’t the man? He doesn’t know that the man wants a woman. And Yahweh, while the man waits—surely this was meant to be a comic moment—creates every animal in the world before he figures that out. Without knowing anything about the likelihood of Canaanite boy gods, disregarding all the other evidence, just looking at this one incident, how old would you estimate that person to be? Remove our historically and textually unfounded assumption that Yahweh is a kingly grown-up man, and what is now a baffling moment—at best a poor reflection on Yahweh’s judgment—is revealed to have been, in J’s original tale, a charming and poignant moment, no reflection on Yahweh’s judgment, only on his maturity, in this long ago time before he came of age.

    The story from the Fall until the conquest of Canaan then becomes the tale of this child-god’s maturation.

  35. Skemono

    What exactly does in mean that “Olam Haba would have to run at 99.999999999625%? Is heaven rushing through the universe at phenomenal speed?And concerningly– if so, where is it going?

    Sha Ka Ree, of course. God got dropped off there a while back and is waiting for his ride to pick him up.

  36. Chris G

    isn’t there only supposed to be one god? also wern’t we all made at the same time? but thank you for awnserin! *hug* now how about awnsering the Do not kill question! ^_^ but thanks again for you feedback!

  37. David Bar-Cohn

    Hi Mark,
    I just stumbled on your response to my essay. First of all, just so you know I’m not put off by your scathing language – because if I’m wrong I should be duly taken to task! (There’s actually a robust tradition among the great Jewish commentators of squaring off with one another, and not mincing words in doing so…)
    In fact I really appreciate your comments. It’s one of the only honest (i.e. critical, scientific) assessments of this essay I’ve received thus far, and you did not disappoint!
    To quote your final words: “Why can’t talk of how long a day is for an angel just be a bit of poetic phrasing, instead of a bogglingly stupid way of talking about the speed of light?”
    Yes, you nailed it. Not that I don’t like poetry, but if it’s only poetry – if it’s all lore, superstition, symbolism, and ancient cultic practices, then honestly I can think of better things to focus on in life. Here’s where we may go in different directions. Most thinking people (yourself included I assume) take “metaphysical realities” with a serious grain of salt and simply get on with other things. Perhaps it is a work of naive futility or wishful thinking on my part, but I have this sense that there is something to concepts such as “Kedusha” that goes beyond poetry and superstition, and I feel I owe it to myself and my tradition to try to understand and unpack what’s going on.
    Personally, I have a bent towards science and technology as an explanation package – Why? Because it is so elegant, precise, pragmatic and devoid of dogmatic ideology (when done right). And because it provides us with the most accurate description of reality that we can attain at present. That being the case, I want to see if and where this greatness is reflected in Torah. And if nothing else, I’d like to see the language of religious discourse change, transform from something that is at best poetic – too often dogmatic, superstitious, and ideology-laden – to a more practical and scientific language.
    Now here’s where I risk getting in trouble, because I’m not a scientist – just a science “enthusiast.” So by opening my mouth about science I stand a good chance of coming off sounding like a fool (as you were keen to point out) – and doing a disservice to Torah instead of helping to upgrade it.
    So I appreciate your pointing out my “klutziness” as far as scientific method and my conceptualization of relativity. The essay needs work, to be sure. And you may be right that it creates more problems than it solves. That said I still do think there’s a value in bringing scientific language into the religious domain. Not only does it offer a new entry to understand religion, but language affects consciousness – and if we can cultivate more of a clear-thinking, pragmatic, solution-oriented headspace among religious people, this has to be a good thing.
    What I’m realizing is that if I want to write this sort of essay I need to be more careful not to make overstatements – and maybe to offer an explicit disclaimer that this may be more creative science-fiction than science.
    Just one “critique” of my own – I do wish I didn’t have to stumble across your comments, that you wrote to me directly. Because even though I may be “nutty,” I’m a reasonable kinda nut who values the opportunity to get feedback and also to respond.
    Best wishes,

  38. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    What you did in that article is far beyond “scientific klutziness”. It’s pure idiocy. I don’t say that lightly.
    But science is very precise. Relativity is very precise. It’s a tightly interwoven description of a piece of how the universe works.
    Using it the way that you did in your argument is, to use a metaphor, rather like the dreadful way that newagers use Kabbalah. Kabbalah is an incredibly deep, beautiful subject to study. But foolish people who don’t understand a fraction of its depth read bad translations of tiny out-of-context fragments of commentary of the Kabbalah, and then use them to build up elaborately foolish arguments.
    That’s what you did. You took a shallow, incomplete understanding of a non-mathematical description of relativity, dragged bits of that out of context, and then built an argument on it.
    You can’t meaningfully discuss Jewish commentary on the Torah without understanding the hebrew of the Torah and the aramaic of most of the commentary. You can’t meaningfully discuss the meaning of relativity without using the language of the math in which it’s written.
    More generally, I think you’re going the wrong way trying to find ways of treating our religious texts as if they were scientific. As a Jew, I consider our religious texts to be something more than *just* poetry and/or superstition. Kedushah is something that I understand as very deep, and very important. To try to take that beautiful concept, that
    *meaningful* concept, and reduce it to nothing more than another expression of the mechanics of relativity degrades its religious meaning, and makes you look foolish.

  39. David Bar-Cohn

    I certainly hear that you don’t take this lightly.
    And I agree that where a concept is used superficially and/or incorrectly, it does degrade that concept.
    But where it comes to *meaning* this is by definition subjective — what constitutes something ‘meaningful’ or ‘deep’ or ‘beautiful’ depends on how it resonates with a given individual at a given point in his/her life.
    For myself and many others, the idea of there being a physical, quantifiable component to Kedusha is tremendously meaningful and not the least bit degrading.
    So for some, the idea that Kedusha is “merely physical” is degrading. For others, the idea that it is “merely metaphysical” is degrading. Could it be a case of the religionist romanticizing science and the scientist romanticizing religion? My guess is there’s probably some of each going on.

  40. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    The problem is that in your attempt to create a physical component to Kedushah, you’re engaging in a kind of shallow, ignorant argument that makes you look foolish, and that makes a mockery of the concepts that you’re trying to support.
    You ignored the substance of my response. What you’re doing in using relativity in your argument is no different in kind than what newagers do with Kaballah. Go read one of the many pathetic newage Kaballah sites on the net – like this one. Odds are, you’ll be filled with disgust at how these idiots are abusing our tradition. That’s what you did to relativity: you took one of the most brilliant, amazing theories of modern science, and twisted into something that resembles reality in name only, and presented it as a defense of Judaism. That makes Judaism look foolish.

  41. David Bar-Cohn

    I didn’t ignore you – I’ve taken your points to heart. What I construed from your earlier post however is that even if one were to develop an analysis of Kedusha based on “good math”, this too would comprise a degradation because it would have reduced Kedusha to a physical property.
    But I share your reaction to that Kabbala page, and it is certainly not my intent to join their ranks!
    Be well,

  42. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    If you could do a valid mathematical or scientific description of the properties of kedushah, I wouldn’t find it degrading. The problem, to me, is that you’re trying to take a spiritual text, and treat it as something that it isn’t. The Torah isn’t a science textbook.
    What’s degrading isn’t the idea of finding a real concrete meaning for what I (currently) regard as a spiritual or subjective phenomenon. What’s degrading is when you take a statement that has meaning when interpreted as poetry or spirituality or mysticism, and you strip it of that meaning by trying to impose a non-sensical mathematical frame on it. Suddenly, a statement that “to God, a thousand years are like a day” isn’t a poetic statement; it’s a precise mathematical description.
    When the interpretation of a statement like that becomes a mathematical description, it becomes silly. That’s the degredation that I’m talking about.

  43. David Bar-Cohn

    Torah is not a science textbook in the traditional sense. But the word “torah” literally means “instruction”, and if you look at many passages – particularly those in Vayikra/Leviticus relating to sacrifices, or in Shemot/Exodus relating to building the sanctuary, it sounds very much like a technical manual. I think it is safe to say there is wisdom behind this level of specification.
    The question is whether it is a “divine/spiritual” wisdom whose depths are beyond human comprehension, or something much more down-to-earth, where if probed sufficiently will reveal a kind of technology, with operating principles that can be understood (in theory – maybe we’re not there yet) and effects that can be reproduced.
    I opt the latter. Not only do I find Torah more interesting that way, but I personally don’t think God would give us something that would frustrate our intellectual curiosity.
    Regards, David

  44. David Bar-Cohn

    To Mark & blog readers,
    I am letting you know that I have decided to pull my article on Kedusha and Time-dilation.
    While I believe there’s a value in creative interpretation of religious texts and traditions — including interpretations that dovetail with science — the juxtaposition of Relativity with Torah phenomena simply doesn’t fall under the umbrella of “reasonable speculation”. There are a host of reasons for this, some of which were brought out in this blog, and others which became clear to me upon further reflection.
    Jewish tradition places great value on intellectual integrity and the pursuit of truth. Dogmatic, unreasoned fundamentalism is quite antithetical to Torah! So to the extent that this article led some readers to think otherwise, I very much regret — it was the opposite of my intent!
    Best to all in your pursuits,

  45. Mark C. Chu-Carroll

    I’m very pleased to hear that. It’s a fine demonstration of intellectual integrity. One of the hardest things to do is to admit to errors, and take responsibility for them. I’ve seen a lot of religious argumentation about science in the years I’ve been active, but I’ve never seen one of the authors admit to making errors, and take responsibility like this. You’ve earned quite a lot of respect from me.

  46. Jonathan Vos Post

    David Bar-Cohn: you are a mensch!
    Anyone can build a flawed theory. Very few have the wisdom to retract it when the flaws are pointed out. Well done!
    This is important in the way that science is done. Charles Darwin wrote dozens of ways that would disprove Evolution by Natural Selection, in a dazzling array of arguments, counter-arguments, and counter-counerarguments. Albert Einstein admitted that Special Relativity was flawed, at set to work building Gneral Relativity.
    Progress to truth is marked by admission of error.

  47. Jonathan Vos Post

    Tie to look at another Abrahamic religion?
    Weird science
    Ziauddin Sardar
    Published 21 August 2008
    According to some Muslim scholars, everything from genetics to robotics and space travel is described in the Quran. What nonsense

    “Almost everything, from relativity, quantum mechanics, Big Bang theory, black holes and pulsars, genetics, embryology, modern geology, thermodynamics, even the laser and hydrogen fuel cells, have been ‘found’ in the Quran,” says Nidhal Guessoum, professor of astrophysics at the American University of Sharjah. Whereas centuries ago, Muslim mathematicians discovered algebra (and led the world in countless fields of knowledge), some of today’s believers look to the Quran for equations to yield the value of the speed of light or the age of the universe, and other bewildering feats.”

  48. David Bar-Cohn

    Mark & Jonathan,
    Thanks for the kind words!
    Although this was relatively easy. Think of people (scientists included) who have years out of their lives, their reputations, research money, etc. riding on a particular theory. Now THAT takes courage to retract!
    Best, David


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