If an individual, such as a sage or commentator, does or supports something that's completely inaccurate in one field of study of which he claims to have knowledge, does it make sense to give much importance to his contributions to other fields?

For example, רמב"ם has offered commentary and Halachic codes, which we seem to hold in rather high regard, but also seems to adamantly refuse the primitive forms of theories which we now know with near-certainty to be accurate, such as atomism.

If someone is not only incorrect in one claim, but adamantly refuses it, as though he has understanding of the field, in which he apparently does not, how can we treat his contributions to other fields as valid? In other words, if someone claimed more understanding than he really possessed, and made false claims within one field, do we have any legitimate reason to say he didn't do the same in other fields? This is not necessarily a question about Maimonides, nor am I trying to suggest that he or anyone else is wrong, I just wonder why we regard them as "right" or "qualified" to offer what they do.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Double AA Nov 12 '14 at 16:55

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    In all likelihood had you lived in any time but the present you would have mocked atomism and embraced the Aristotelian view of the world and your question would be 'how can we trust ploni almoni's chidush in the gemara if he believes the nonsense called atomism?'. – user6591 Nov 12 '14 at 13:28
  • Jews often focus on Moshe's role as the lawgiver and the midwife of the Jewish people, but seem to downplay the fact that Moshe was a pretty good murderer too. – Clint Eastwood Nov 12 '14 at 13:54
  • If our view of such theories for physical reality have changed, and what was once considered is valid is now considered valid, and vice versa, who's to say the same is not true of religious and philosophical claims? – Yaakov Schectman Nov 12 '14 at 14:03
  • So I have to make the question more fact-based wording, so how about this: How can we know that a commentator, Rambam for example, has the authority to say what he does, especially when making very incorrect claims on other issues? – Yaakov Schectman Nov 12 '14 at 17:15
  • I suspect you have in mind a certain living rosh hayeshivah who is brilliant with Jewish knowledge but whose opinion on medical topics run counter to 99.9% of medical scholars. Interestin as that may be, you're sill looking for opinions. – Bruce James Nov 13 '14 at 0:18

If a five-time Oscar winner makes stupid comments about current political events he knows nothing about, does that mean we shouldn't trust his advice about acting? Of course we should: his acting has been tried and found true. Similarly (though l'havdil), any authority the Jewish community as a whole has examined over the years and accepted is a "winner".

  • I guess an important part of my question was: how do we know a given commentator, such as the Rambam, is "successful" in his more affiliated-with field? If this is decided by it still being studied nearly a millenium later, as your answer seems to suggest, then this is actually very helpful. Thank you. – Yaakov Schectman Nov 12 '14 at 15:41
  • +1 for a great answer....this also applies to "Why do we have multiple sites in the Stack Exchange network?" :-P – Shokhet Nov 12 '14 at 22:47

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