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While I am admittedly not a world expert in physics, I have a degree in the subject and a strong personal interest. Through my examination of the intersection of religion/philosophy and science I often find that I am situations where people's beliefs are either logically inconsistent or contrary to observation.

My natural inclination is to address the inconsistencies and discuss the relevant observations but I find this rarely endears me to the people with whom I'm speaking. Is there any advice on this situation offered in Jewish law or tradition?

Someone please retag this as appropriate.

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I heard in the name of the Ba'al Shem Tov an explanation of the famous expression: "With truth a person can cover the world". A Person will come somewhere and tell the truth. People won't like him and kick him out. He will move on and tell the truth there. The people there won't like him either and kick him out. Sooner or later he will have covered the world. –  Shmuel Brin Oct 24 '11 at 22:36
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@ShmuelBrill: Excellent, I love it. –  AdamRedwine Oct 24 '11 at 23:01
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up vote 7 down vote accepted

Something that might bear on this is in Proverbs (26:4-5):

"Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest even you become like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his sight."

Noting the obvious contradiction, the Talmud (Shabbos 30b) points out that the first statement is referring to "worldly matters," the second to Torah issues. According to that, then, one should correct others' misconceptions (or even deliberate mockery) when it comes to Torah (so that they don't walk away thinking that they've beaten you), but ignore them in other areas (where if they think so, it's not as critical).

There are other ways of explaining these two verses, though. Some of the commentaries say that it means: don't answer the fool with invective of your own, because that will put you on his level, but do answer him in a way that will help him (or, at least, the audience) realize his lack of knowledge. (Ralbag, specifically, comments that it would be wrong to leave him with his mistaken notions; "it is appropriate to remove stumbling blocks from people's way, [even] forcibly.") So perhaps indeed this would require you to correct their scientific misconceptions, although perhaps one might argue that there's a difference between those that have practical and immediate repercussions vs. those that are more theoretical.

(Also, most people aren't "fools" in the sense used here; Malbim points out that this term means someone who knows he's wrong but is trying to twist the truth in order to rationalize his improper behavior.)

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Thanks, I like it. Unfortunately it's not easy to figure out who knows he's wrong and who's genuinely confused. –  AdamRedwine Oct 25 '11 at 1:55
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