Thursday, July 7, 2011

How I Came To Accept Evolution

As my books Focus and Second Focus attest, I used to be a staunch opponent of evolution. I don't think that I ever considered it to be heretical, or even severely theologically problematic; I hadn't actually given much thought to the theological issues. Furthermore, I was aware that Rav Kook held of it, and although Rav Kook didn't count for much as far as I was concerned back then, I figured that it precluded rating evolution as kefirah. But most of all, refusing to declare it kefirah enabled me to make a statement that I thought was very impressive: "I'm not against evolution for religious reasons - I'm against it for scientific reasons!"

I had read the anti-evolution books by Michael Denton and Phillip Johnson, and they seemed extremely convincing. But, looking back now, I realize that there were more powerful, subconscious reasons for me to oppose evolution. I had "flipped out" in yeshivah, and I wanted to show why the Torah True Worldview that I had absorbed was so vastly superior to everything else out there. I was joining a social group which had a siege mentality, where we had to show how wrong the rest of the world was in order to feel good about ourselves. But I had to feel sophisticated, so it was important to convince myself that I was objecting to evolution solely on scientific grounds.

It was approximately in the fall of 1999 that my views on the topic changed. I don't remember exactly what the sequence of events was, but I remember the various factors that were involved.

One factor was that I was studying Daas Chochmah U'Mussar by Rav Yerucham Levovitz. He had some chapters about how it is more important and impressive for Hashem to work through natural law than through supernatural miracles. This was an astonishing chiddush to me, but I found his presentation persuasive. It took a while to internalize it, but it eventually was to make all the difference between wanting to find a scientific explanation for phenomena (as the rationalist Rishonim preferred), and wanting to find problems with any scientific explanation (as I had been taught to do until then).

At about the same time, I was contemplating evolution, and I thought about it in some critically important new ways. Until then, all I had focused upon were the problems with evolution. But now, I started to think about what had actually happened instead. I always accepted that the world was billions of years old; it was clear that there many eras of life. So, if evolution was false, then what was happening? Were new creatures popping out of the ground every few hundred years? I had no problem with supernatural miracles - I was hardly a rationalist at the time. Still, while I readily accepted supernatural events in the context of such extraordinary periods as the Exodus, it seemed incongruous for them to be taking place throughout millions of years of dinosaurs and early mammals. Furthermore, based on what I had learned in Daas Chochmah U'Mussar, it seemed that Hashem would have much preferred to use pre-existing animals as the raw material with which to make new animals, then to start entirely from scratch each time, which would require more supernatural intervention.

Another critical aspect in the evolution of my thought was that I was getting in the hang of breaking down complex issues into their components. With evolution, this meant distinguishing between common ancestry and evolutionary mechanisms. I realized that these were two very different things, and that most of the anti-evolution arguments I had were against the latter, not the former.

The final critical component was my realization that I was looking at the entire topic in the wrong way. As mentioned earlier, I had solely focused on the problems with evolution - the kashyas. This was exactly what Denton and Johnson had done in their books. As far as I was concerned, the existence of these problems showed that evolution was bogus. But I realize that this wasn't the correct way of looking at things. The correct way was to ask whether the existing evidence better supported evolution or special creation. And this radically changed my perspective on it.

For example, previously, I had only thought about the fossil record in terms of hoaxes (such as Piltdown man), and in terms of missing links. But now I realized that the fossils that we do have - primitive hominids, and the remains of millions of extinct species that are intermediate in form to surviving species - fit far, far better with the evolutionary model than with the special-creation model. The missing links were much less significant than the present links!

Wherever I looked in the animal kingdom, things made so much more sense in light of common ancestry than in light of special creation. Emu wings, goose bumps, whale and bat physiology, archeopteryx - sure, the anti-evolutionists could always contrive some sort of ad hoc just-so story, but it seemed forced. Common ancestry was a simple principle that neatly explained everything. Just look at the picture of the bat skeleton. Why make a creature that functions as a bird, and is even classified with birds in the Torah, yet is physiologically similar to mammals? Bats did not share any fundamental similarities with birds; contrary to what Chazal thought, bats do not lay eggs. Why make whales that function as fish, but with the anatomy of land mammals and without the extremely useful (sometimes life-saving) ability to breathe underwater, like fish? Either Hashem made bats and whales from land mammals, or He was really out to fool us!

I still had, and still have, plenty of questions about evolutionary mechanisms. In an early draft of The Science Of Torah, I wrote about them at length. But one of the rabbonim that I showed it to for a haskamah (ironically, he retracted his haskamah as a result of the ban) made me take that part out. He told me that even if the Darwinian mechanisms were inadequate, presumably Hashem had some sort of means of transforming creatures via natural law, which science would eventually discover. Dissing the neo-Darwinian explanation would mislead people into thinking that it necessarily happened in a supernatural manner.

Together with further contemplation of the topic, in which it occurred to me that the "random" nature of Darwinian evolution was no more theologically problematic than the "random" nature of the events of Purim or of a lottery, I realized that it didn't make a whit of theological difference which mechanism powered evolution. As a result, I lost all interest in whether the neo-Darwinian explanation of the mechanism made sense or not. It was no more relevant to me than any other obscure problem of science. (And it's pretty clear that the reason why it's so relevant to Rabbis Shafran, Menken and Rosenblum is that it is anything but a solely scientific issue for them.)

Eventually I came across all kinds of other evidence for evolution, which I outlined in The Challenge Of Creation. A lot of people are clearly interested in my take on this topic, yet, strangely, have not read that book. I recommend it!

98 comments:

  1. I have never really understood the evolution/special creation debate. One, evolution, is a scientific theory that provides a framework within which to evaluate further hypotheses about biological development. The other is an untestable religious belief. They serve entirely different purposes and could both be true (though I myself don't hold by special creation at all).

    The point is that evolutionary theory provides a scientific framework that is useful for doing biological science. Neither Creationism nor Intelligent Design meet that test. If you adopt a framework of God-intervention in biological processes, then you have no way to predict or test anything because God's invisible hand isn't subject to independent verification. It is only subject to faith.

    Personally, I believe in Intelligent Design as a theological statement of God's love and immersion in the world. But I believe in evolution as a scientific model for explaining reality.

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  2. So in essence, what you are saying is that you think that common descent makes sense even if you have no mechanism by which to explain how it happened. Why doesn't the means by which it happens indicate to us whether or not it did happen? Note, I'm not just talking about whether or not there is a process for one animal to naturally turn into another animal, I'm talking about the idea that every living creature descended from a single cell - that's quite an assumption without a realistic mechanism to back it up.

    Also, why is it only a choice between special creation and evolution - a healthy does of I don't know is also an option. Why not take that option?


    In terms of random mutations - why is there no theological issue? If evolution is ultimately speaking an unguided, undirected process wherein any particular creature (including man) is not guaranteed to develop why does that not pose a theological problem?

    You may argue that it is not ultimately speaking an undirected, unguided process - that the random mutations need not necessitate that the process is undirected, but would you be saying that for theological or scientific reasons?

    In other words, do you think that there is a theological problem with the idea that G-d created the world in such a way that man need not have been created? If not, why not?

    Be well,

    Moshe

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  3. Tremendous essay. Thank you for writing it. I will have to check out the sefer by R' Yerucham Levovitz.

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  4. Another question - do you think that the first, original cell was a special act of creation or came about via an as-yet unknown law of physics which can create information systems and codes via some sort of natural process?

    If you do think it's a special creation, then why couldn't there have been other special creations? I don't mean that each and every new species that shows up in the record is a special creation, but perhaps the Cambian Explosion and the creation of man are good candidates.

    In other words, are not moments of special creations an option? Chazal compare the ten statements of creation to the 10 plagues (and, if memory serves, to the 10 commandments). Those are both examples of G-d's special revelation/involvement of Himself in the natural order. Does that not imply that creation itself had a similar feature and did not just happen vis-a-vis natural processes.

    On the other hand, if you do not think that the creation of the first cell (and we are assuming, of course, that there was one first cell) was a special act of creation what rational reason do you have for assuming that it can ever naturally be explained?

    Because we explained gravity and discovered DNA, etc? I.e., science did it before, they'll do it again? Wouldn't a better comparison be how did the laws of physics develop? How did they take on their mathematical form and precision? And isn't the track record there basically non-existent? In other words, do we really have any rational reason for believing that we will someday come up with a natural mechanism by which life was first created? So, if not, doesn't that leave us back with at least one special act of creation (and return us to my questions above)?

    Be well,

    Moshe

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  5. "It was approximately in the fall of 2009 that my views on the topic changed."

    That's got to be a mistake, right?

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  6. It seems to me that the part of evolution people don't like is the randomness of it.

    However, for a beliver in Hashem, there is no randomness before Him because He is all knowing. (I know ther are some obscure rishonim who say Hashem does not know the outcome of certain events but that minority view is not important here as those opposing evolution do not hold like tem anyways).

    Since Hashem is all knowing and controling, what LOOKS random to us is not to Him and therefore a "random" process can easily be guided by Hashem to produce man through evolution. In fact it is my belief that the more random and intrinsicly (not due to lack of observational ability) unpredictable a phenominon, the more Hashem can guide it without an open miracle, i.e. weather patterns (prayers for rain), communilative quantum mechanical uncertanties etc.

    The real issue (where I beleive Rabbi Gottlieb gets it right) is that the random explanations of evolution do not threaten Judaism, rather they threaten one of our classic pieces of evidence of Hashems existance and control, that of the wonder and complexity of nature requiring an intellegence. With random evolution, a non-believer has an answer (weather convincing or not) to this evidence. However I feel there are so many other things about nature which can still uphold the intelligent design argument without including evolution (but they take a graduate degree to fully appreciate).

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  7. I was convinced once I took a good hard look at some of the people in my family. At that point, I realized that Darwin was right !!!

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  8. So you argued philosophy for Evolution. You accepted it philosophically and therefore allowed for it scientifically. In science we test each claim so as to have science, not philosophy (not that there is anything wrong with philosophy). Further if you accept the evolution of species but can criticize any and all mechanisms for it your arguments are then going against Evolution. There has to be a mechanism and they can't all have holes and still allow for Evolution. I frankly using scientific estimations have come to an opposite conclusion than you. The kashyas are still good and place limits on the ability of the theory. Common descent I discount as false. Darwinian Evolution minus Common descent I believe in. That means evolution to a degree but not infinite plasticity.

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  9. I think this is a great post. I really found it interesting to learn how you came not only to accept evolution, but that you also found nothing theologically wrong with it. We can certainly quibble over the details of evolutionary theory, but I agree with you that it does not have to contradict our faith. In fact, learning "how" Hashem created the world and life on it should only bring us closer to Him. I think extremists on both sides of this issue put up real stumbling blocks to ever reaching any deeper truth.

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  10. Thanks, R.Slifkin. With an economy of words, you've written quite a profound outline. Not only does it show the courageous path you took, but it also makes significant hints of how to relate to people involved with these different hashkafot. I'll print this off, study it and read it every once in a while so I develop more empathy for Jews across the hashkafa spectrum.

    Thanks,
    Gary Goldwater

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  11. What's the problem with saying each and every creature was created independent of each other? Hashem made a blue whale, a sperm whale, and a beluga whale. Neither came from the other. Same with every other species, including man. And the fossilized remains of so-called "in betweens" were created as separate creatures as well. Then they died out. I don't see a problem.

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  12. "Rav Yerucham Levovitz (said) it is more important and impressive for Hashem to work through natural law than through supernatural miracles."

    I agree with this, but I still have a question about it. Could it be -- and this is only meant as a trial balloon -- that Rav Levovitz meant this statement to apply only when there are humans around to witness the events?

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  13. Thanks to all those who pointed out the typo. It was in the fall of 1999 that my views changed, not 2009!

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  14. So in essence, what you are saying is that you think that common descent makes sense even if you have no mechanism by which to explain how it happened. Why doesn't the means by which it happens indicate to us whether or not it did happen?

    I can be sure that airplanes fly without understanding how they stay up in the air. I can be sure that someone is dead without understanding how he died. Etc., etc.

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  15. In terms of random mutations - why is there no theological issue?

    This is addressed at great length in my book.

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  16. Natan Slifkin said...

    "So in essence, what you are saying is that you think that common descent makes sense even if you have no mechanism by which to explain how it happened. Why doesn't the means by which it happens indicate to us whether or not it did happen?

    I can be sure that airplanes fly without understanding how they stay up in the air. I can be sure that someone is dead without understanding how he died. Etc., etc."

    But those we are seeing. We do not see Common descent. We see gaps nor do we postulate a programmed transformation from one species to another. It is supposed to be driven by random environmental conditions.

    It is not postulating a supernatural creation to deny common descent. If life can originate once, it can many times. It is just as miraculous looking. Are we to say that all life in the universe had to have a common origin, if there is extraterrestrial life? No, so why on earth? Your apriori reasoning seems biased in favor of Evolution. You were thinking of two alternatives:the miraculous versus a scientific theory, Evolution. In essence you were choosing between authorities. That was your bias. Using your limitation of options I would also postulate common descent but there can be a new theory whether discovered or not.

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  17. But those we are seeing. We do not see Common descent.

    But we see a wealth of evidence for it.

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  18. Moshe, the first living things were not cells. They were almost certainly self-replicating molecules, floating around bare in an amino acid-rich environment. Later developments like lipid bi-layers were on the road to cellular life.

    Was Divine Providence involved in this? I have no way of demonstrating this, so I wouldn't ask anyone else to accept it, but I believe so.

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  19. Moshe, furthermore you're missing some important points about how Science is done. You don't start off with a fully-developed Theory of Everything complete with evidence and citations.

    One generally starts off with observations. If there is not already a good explanation one collects more data and tries to find patterns. At the same time one tries to find an explanation which fits the observed facts and can give insight into its behavior and predict new things before you observe them.

    I don't want to get too hierarchical here. Things in the real messy world are often, well, messy. Things happen out of this order all the time. But here are the rough outlines.

    Facts You start with data. A fact by itself doesn't tell you much about how or why, just what was observed.

    Hypothesis Based on the information you have you try to predict future events. That educated guess is the basis for the rest.

    Law Once your hypothesis has been supported by enough correct predictions you can say that it's a law and can be relied on for predicting the behavior of the system right up until an inconvenient set of facts comes along. A law may still be entirely free of explanatory power. You may have no insight into why it is correct, only that it is correct.

    Model A conceptual model is a representation of the system in question. It may be physical, statistical, mathematical, theoretical or of some other sort.

    Theory At some point the explanation explains the observations better than any other one and offers insights into how and why they behave as they do. It should be predictive. It is then dignified with the title of theory.

    Sometimes you start with a well-developed hypothesis or theory and test it.

    More often you begin with observations and notice patterns in them. Fossils of a certain sort are always found in certain strata. The energy radiated by a objects at a certain temperature is always at certain frequencies. The pattern is observed before one has an explanation. It is said that genius in Science is largely the ability to distinguish between an important discovery and dirty glassware.

    So getting back to your original point, it makes perfect sense that Rabbi Slifkin would look at anatomy and say What I've been told just doesn't fit. He wouldn't start off knowing why it didn't fit, but the fact that it didn't would cause him to look for better explanations.

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  20. Todd writes: "the first living things ... were were almost certainly self-replicating molecules, floating around bare in an amino acid-rich environment."

    Some will argue that just because something is self-replicating does not mean that it is alive. I guess you can call it alive, but that's just a personal preference.

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  21. "The correct way was to ask whether the existing evidence better supported evolution or special creation."

    That is precisely the point. Absolute odds are irrelevant to science, only relative odds matter.

    "Why doesn't the means by which it happens indicate to us whether or not it did happen?"

    Because there are a lot of things that have been explained -- and made a big difference to humanity -- without an accurate mechanism. Limes prevented scurvy long before Vitamin C was isolated. The smallpox vaccine provided immunity long before anyone ever saw a virus. I could fill a book with such examples.

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  22. "R' Yerucham Levovitz."

    One of R' Yerucham Levovitz' grandsons, Rabbi Chaim Ozer Levovitz, was for many years the mashgiach at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. I was honored to learn much torah from him.

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  23. "There has to be a mechanism and they can't all have holes and still allow for Evolution. "

    This is another example of misguided scientific thinking. There are many examples in science where we don't know the exact scientific mechanism. We don't really know how bicycles work, but that doesn't mean they don't work -- it is obvious because people ride them. We don't know exactly how aspirin works, but we still use it. I could go on and on.

    In fact, almost every scientific explanation we have today is incomplete. It is nihilistic to insist on a perfect explanation for everything.

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  24. "they threaten one of our classic pieces of evidence of Hashems existance and control"

    If you require "evidence" for God then you accept the possibility of evidence AGAINST God, chas v'shalom. Nobody who believes "with perfect faith" can partake of that experiment. This is an example of where scientific ignorance begets bad theology!

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  25. > "Either Hashem made bats and whales from land mammals, or He was really out to fool us!"

    I'm not so fond of either-or choices when I can come up with a third choice.

    Another possibility is that He was really out to test us.

    This is only a possibility, and I don't feel bound by it. And for what it's worth I don't think He planted bones.

    If creating a drownable whale as a test makes it sound like God is odd, well, you can't get much odder than the akeidah.

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  26. Just to emphasize what Charlie said...

    The sort of person who says "Evolution doesn't explain everything, so there's no reason to believe it's so," is almost always hiding a Creationist agenda and a strong prejudice against Science. He treats any imperfection in any scientific theory as "proof" that it's worthless. Therefore, whatever he believes must be right.

    The fact that his beliefs can't even see the same standard of proof with the Palomar telescope does not deter him. In fact, nothing will. His mind is made up, so facts, logic, even an Angel with a Fiery Sword branding the answer on his butt wouldn't make a bit of difference. Such a person is fundamentally hostile to scientific inquiry, since it can lead to things he does not want to believe. At best he practices Cargo Cult Science

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  27. Todd writes, "The sort of person who says "Evolution doesn't explain everything, so there's no reason to believe it's so," is almost always hiding a Creationist agenda "

    I would say that the sort of person who imputes to his opponents such extreme statements is almost always advertising his Creationist animosity.

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  28. To R. Slifkin:

    You wrote:

    I can be sure that airplanes fly without understanding how they stay up in the air. I can be sure that someone is dead without understanding how he died. Etc., etc.


    You may not understand how they stay in the air, but someone figured out how to get it to work. You may not understand how someone died, but we have ample of cases where we see people die and understand how they died. We can fit it into existing frameworks and observations.

    With common descent - you have to postulate that everything came from a common beginning. Of course, that original cell (or cells) seem to be doing nothing for about 3 billion years and then poof turned into the Cambrian Explosion. How does that fit into common descent? Science has no clue how the Cambrian Explosion happened, just speculative theories. It's just as easy (if not more reasonable) to postulate descent from the Cambrian Explosion then from a single cell - at least there we have some solid basis to start from (i.e., we can fit the Cambrian Explosion into the existing phyla of today). It would be a sort of semi-common descent theory.

    With all that said - the idea of common or semi-common descent is more like a working hypothesis which needs to be verified. There seems to be an idea these days that suggesting a reasonable-sounding mechanism elevates it to some sort of level of truth. I'll suggest that a meteor hit the earth, so I'll believe that it happened. I'll suggest that the Cambrian Explosion was caused by sudden climate change, so I'll believe that is the reason. I'll suggest that all of life came from a single cell, so I'll believe that it happened.

    It's an unreasonable intellectual leap. Common Descent is an idea that needs to be demonstrated, without the demonstration it remains a theoretical possibility. An essential part of the demonstration is a provable mechanism by which it can work. Until that time, a far more intellectually honest position is to consider it (at best) a logical possibility.


    On a different note, I think the more important question I asked is what are your views on the start of life - on the coming into existence of the cell. Do you think that was a natural event, if so on what basis. Do you think it was a creation of G-d? If so, why limit G-d's creative activities to one singular event?


    [Note: I keep referring to the original single cell, I'm doing that partially for simplicity sake. Professor Shapiro clearly stated in a lecture he gave on Evolution in the 21st century that we really do not know how many types of cells there were in the beginning. Nor do we have any idea how cells could come about in the first place.]

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  29. To Reuven Meir:

    It seems to me that the part of evolution people don't like is the randomness of it.

    That's only one small facet of it. A bigger problem is the lack of a solid demonstration, the idea that suggesting evidence (which often times has is interpreted to fit into the theory, rather than necessarily suggest the theory) counts as a solid theory.

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  30. Tם Todd:

    Moshe, the first living things were not cells. They were almost certainly self-replicating molecules, floating around bare in an amino acid-rich environment. Later developments like lipid bi-layers were on the road to cellular life.


    The question is how did the cells that make up life today get started - we haven't a clue. In fact, we are beyond having a clue, we don't even know how we could have a clue.

    DNA is a code - it requires proper sequencing of the nucleotides to work. That sequencing contains intelligent information, information which builds the proteins that we all need to live. It's like a genetic recipe book - we have no idea how such information can come into being - it's beyond our scientific framework.

    --


    Was Divine Providence involved in this? I have no way of demonstrating this, so I wouldn't ask anyone else to accept it, but I believe so.

    I agree, you can't demonstrate this in a way that you can demonstrate that Newton's or Einstein's equations work or that DNA exists or that we have some (initial) understand how DNA works.

    However, I don't think that means there is nothing to point to. The discovery of an information system in nature means something - it really does imply an intelligent creator. Stephen Meyer (of the ID movement) is making a real argument. Codes like the type we find in DNA point to an intelligent designer because of their nature - not because we don't understand them, but because we do understand them. It is what we understand about them that leads us to think that an intelligent agent had to design them.

    That alone is an argument. I would also add a religious argument to that -- for the last 3300+ years we have claimed that G-d Himself revealed to us that He created the heavens and the Earth and that He created life (at least on the 5th day, life on the 6th day may be a different story).

    When we find evidence in the natural order that corroborates that we can point that out. Of course, one can respond what about the contradictions - why point only to the areas where there is agreement. That's a large topic, not one that I'll address here. Shortly though, I would say that there is no reason to expect that at any given moment there will be total corroboration between the Torah and contemporary science. Secondly, I would argue that this particular fact seems corroborated - independent of other difficulties which don't relate directly to this point. But, as I said, there is more to say on that.


    The point is, though, that if one thinks that the cell was specially created, then that impacts on how he thinks that life came about - he holds that there are moments in Earths history where G-d intervention was necessary for life as we know it to exist. The moment we can entertain that idea at one moment we can entertain it at other moments also. I'm not suggesting to run wild with this idea and point to every mystery in the development of life and say - aha, that's special creation. I'm just saying that we have left a 100% naturalistic framework which means we can now intellectually and seriously contemplate if there are other areas where we can or reasonably should leave the naturalistic framework again.

    Be well,

    Moshe

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  31. Of course, that original cell (or cells) seem to be doing nothing for about 3 billion years and then poof turned into the Cambrian Explosion. How does that fit into common descent?

    That's not what happened with the Cambrian explosion. And it's irrelevant to common descent.

    It's just as easy (if not more reasonable) to postulate descent from the Cambrian Explosion then from a single cell

    Fine. But once God is evolving everything from the Cambrian phyla, why say that He didn't evolve those phyla from a single cell?

    Common Descent is an idea that needs to be demonstrated, without the demonstration it remains a theoretical possibility.

    Er, no. It is an idea for which there needs to be evidence. And there is. Historical events don't need to be demonstrated as occurring again in order to accept that they happened in the past.

    An essential part of the demonstration is a provable mechanism by which it can work.

    Nope, that's not essential at all. Why would it be?

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  32. To Todd:

    Moshe, furthermore you're missing some important points about how Science is done. You don't start off with a fully-developed Theory of Everything complete with evidence and citations.

    One generally starts off with observations. If there is not already a good explanation one collects more data and tries to find patterns. At the same time one tries to find an explanation which fits the observed facts and can give insight into its behavior and predict new things before you observe them.

    I agree, there is no requirement to have everything worked out in the beginning and the starting point is with observations. My point is about the extrapolations one makes and how rigorously demonstrated are the theories and frameworks that are proposed to explain those observations.

    Not all proposed explanations are equal. Some require greater levels of extrapolation than others, some are more rigorously argued for and demonstrated than others. My point is that the theory of evolution makes tremendous logical extrapoloations based on limited data and information. Common descent is a maximilisitic position - and as such requires more proof and evidence to be taken seriously.

    My other point is that the mechanism of evolution will have something to say about the extent of evolution. Those mechanisms (if we ever discover them) may place limitations on what evolution can do. One may have imagined that one could travel faster and faster and faster with virtually no limit but one's techncial skill before Einstein. After Einstein we hold that there is a limit to speed and science has to work within those limits. Claiming that something happened as a fact without any understanding of how it could have happened and with only indirect evidence is not the strongest of arguments. I'm not saying that it is a faulty argument or a false one, just a relatively weak one and as such should be taken with a grain (or a mound) of salt.

    In other words, there are degrees of acceptanace of ideas. Some ideas are possible to imagine although far fetched. others are plausible and perhaps could be true. Other ideas seem reasonable and likely and others still seem logically difficult to deny or reason dictates that I accept them. Where is common descent on that scale (you don't have to use that exact scale, but one should use some scale).

    Is the evidence so overwhelming that to think otherwise you are being irrational. That is a claim that is often made, but I see it made more than demonstrated. Why should I take common descent as seriously as gravity or relativity or quantum physics? Don't tell me 'because there is lots of evidence for it'. The quantity of evidence is not as important as the quality of evidence. Furthermore, the evidence for it has to be taken into account with the evidence against it as well as the evidence that is needed but does not yet exist.

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  33. To Charlie:

    Because there are a lot of things that have been explained -- and made a big difference to humanity -- without an accurate mechanism. Limes prevented scurvy long before Vitamin C was isolated. The smallpox vaccine provided immunity long before anyone ever saw a virus. I could fill a book with such examples.



    What is being suggested here is that Common Descent has been observed, now all that is left is to figure out how it happened. But it hasn't been observed, it has been inferred - and whether or not that is a good inference depends, in part, on the mechanism.

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  34. What is being suggested here is that Common Descent has been observed

    Nobody has suggested that.

    whether or not that is a good inference depends, in part, on the mechanism.

    No, it doesn't.

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  35. To Charlie:

    In fact, almost every scientific explanation we have today is incomplete. It is nihilistic to insist on a perfect explanation for everything.


    Agreed - but it is not everything or nothing. The Big Bang theory has problems and issues that it has to deal with - but it is built upon Einstein's equations and a variety of observations (some of which were predicted by Einstein's equations). The theory has been mathematically worked out to something like a fraction of a second after the Big Bang.

    So here I have a set of rigorous equations with predictions that have come true. Until, though, those predictions came to light (like the background cosmic rays), there were radically different suggestions. Physicists didn't say - we know that there was a Big Bang, now we just need to figure out how it happened, the Big Bang theory had to win over the hearts and minds of scientists.

    And with all this, I have heard one science writer (not a scientist) suggest that the problems facing the Big Bang today may require a new theory, that the explanations are more akin to Ptolemies explanations with the flaws with his theory.


    Does common descent have that level of evidence for it? Would we ever have predicted 3 billion years of silence and then a big bang of evolution based on the theory of common descent? Or are we fitting whatever evidence we find into the theory of common descent? The latter seems more like the truth to me than the former.

    So yes, it's true, not everything needs to be worked out, but something needs to be worked out, and there are standards on what that something is. The question is, has common descent met those standards.

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  36. To Todd:

    The sort of person who says "Evolution doesn't explain everything, so there's no reason to believe it's so," is almost always hiding a Creationist agenda and a strong prejudice against Science. He treats any imperfection in any scientific theory as "proof" that it's worthless. Therefore, whatever he believes must be right.


    Todd, please relate to what we write and stop making assumptions of what are agendas are and whether or not we have prejudices against science. Yes, there are people like that - yes they are sometimes loud and very public, but life is far more dynamic than that.

    Furthermore, the notion that agenda is necessarily blinding is not necessarily true. Many of the great medieval scientists were motivated to understand G-d's world. Einstein seems to attribute some sort of cosmic-religious motivation to his interest in science.

    Ulterior motives may create passion which inspire one to dig deeper, look harder or more originally at the same evidence. Scientists are not robots - if they were they would not have come up half of the theories that they hold. Religious motivation can blind, but it can also enlighten. The idea that only the secular scientist is objective is a myth - one perpetuated in large part by the secular scientists.

    In terms of my own beliefs - I believe that in the FULLNESS OF TIME science and Torah will coincide with one another (one way or another). I imagine that in the meantime there will be many moments of contradiction and tension.

    I also believe in the meantime that one has to play by the rules - although the rules are not solely set by the scientists.

    For instance, I think that the scientific assumptions one makes for studying how the world runs are not necessarily the same assumptions that one can make for how the world came to be. My computer was manufactured in a radically different process than how it runs.

    This isn't necessarily true, one can imagine naturalistic mechanisms for the creation and development of life and the universe - but it is certainly a real and logical possibility (at times I think the most logical and reasonable).

    I also think that G-d created the world and life and that this will effect the nature of how the universe and life functions. This is a point made by the ID community and I think it's a solid one. If I assume that DNA is created then I will resist the idea of junk DNA and assume logic and design in its operation (which may or may not involve random variables, but that random variable will be part of a logical, organized system). ID doesn't necessarily talk about processes, but it does indicate the types of solutions that we should look for - and that is legitimate.

    Finally, I think when discussing how life came about and how it developed one cannot a priori rule out the possibility of creation. Creation may not be a scientific position, but it may be a historical reality.

    We enter the world of the absurd if science is forced to come up with naturalistic explanations for events that did not develop nationalistically. It would be far wiser for science to say that this realm of reality is out of our reach - we'll take it as a given and work from there. Science is not obligated to say that - at times it may be foolish for them to say that, but at times it may also be foolish for them not to say that.

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  37. OK, Moshe, I think everyone understands your viewpoint, and either agrees or disagrees. I would like to now have comments from other people.

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  38. To Rabbi Slifkin:

    Okay - last comment for now - you wrote:

    whether or not that is a good inference depends, in part, on the mechanism.

    No, it doesn't.


    Do you care to explain why it doesn't. It's easy to say 'no, it doesn't'. But those are just words - how about defending that position?

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  39. I already had. Whether something happened, and what caused it to happen, are two entirely different questions.

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  40. It sounds to me like your upbringing has affected your view of this topic.
    It sounds as though you never actually took a critical view of the topic, but rather took a critical view of the politics surrounding the topic.

    I'd like to give my own biography on the topic. I went to a community Jewish day school, with a secular christian science teacher. She was a great teacher. One thing kept bugging me though, everything was anthropomorphised. The molecule "wants" to do this, evolution did that, our ancestors had to cope with this so their bodies changed. In college, the anthropomorphism never went away.

    This lead me to two conclusions. 1. "We" just don't know yet.
    2. People use the scientific explanation as a form of meaning in life, and break the scientific method when teaching anything but earth based physics. (likely because they want to get people "into it")


    I've never done more than glance at a book about evolution, or glance at a book about anti-evolution.

    It seems clear to me, that popular theories are incorrect, and there is currently only a working best guess. Too much effort is put into making the best guess fit all the evidence, instead of being more Tao and neutral about it, and just letting the experiments be what they are.

    The topic is only interesting as philosophy, but the philosophy debate never goes beyond the topic of evolution itself, which makes it boring. (And I have met few people who are willing to change their world view to its logical conclusion based on this topic, so its even less interesting)

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  41. There are many comments about the lack of a mechanism. This is simply not true. 1st, the revolutionary ideas from Wallace and Darwin were that evolution takes place by modification and natural selection. Natural selection is clear enough...an organism with a modification that is better able to adapt to an environment or to environmental changes will increase. Or, if the organism has a modification that is not as adaptive to the environment, that modification is decreased. These increases or decreases are "selected" by ability to thrive or by sexual selection.

    & a pretty good explanation of the mechanism of modification has been found in the field of genetics. As the RNA goes through the process of replicating DNA, variations called copying mistakes occur. Some of the DNA variations are "junk" and don't appear to code for any function and/or morphology. Some variations activate "junk" DNA. Some "turn off" the activation of a certain DNA. And some variations change how DNA affects function and/or morphology.

    So the theory of evolution has developed to the point of having a mechanism for both modification and selection.


    Should scientists stop with that explanation? No. By re-evaluating data these mechanisms will be developed further over time. Not every hypothesis will prove correct. And when it is proven incorrect, it will be modified or discarded. &, in the process, the hypothesis' that are borne out through a preponderance of evidence in multiple approaches will become part of the theory...though they, too, can be modified or discarded should a more refined hypothesis with more powerful predictive power appear.

    One excellent book for explaining these types of details magnitudes of times
    better than I can is Sean Carroll's Making of the Fittest:DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution.

    http://www.amazon.com/Making-Fittest-Ultimate-Forensic-Evolution/dp/0393061639

    Gary Goldwater

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  42. Moshe, you should read about the Lenski long-term E. coli experiment.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._coli_long-term_evolution_experiment

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  43. I happen to be in the same boat as R. Slifkin regarding a belief in common descent coupled with a lack of any comprehension how this could have occurred (short of divine guidance).

    I am not so comfortable with the idea of "guided" randomness, though. The existence of the vast amounts of nonfunctional or rudimentary vestigial characters in so many oragnsisms seems to point to "unguided" descent.

    I think there are pretty strong arguments for both sides of the divide, and pretty large holes in each side's position as well.

    But here's the thing. The scientific community has been very effective at sidelining and marginalizing anyone who questions any of the fundamental aspects of any part of the TOE. I believe that this happenned because there's been lots of misbehavior on the part of the ID crew, which in turn was driven by its desire to convert people, not by scientific discovery.

    An unfortunate effect of this is that the valid points made by ID proponents, even the more moderate ones, get swept aside. Another unfortunate result is that the loudmouths in the random mutation camp have the floor, and, at least in the public perception, is the only reasonable, and globally accepted, theory of the origins and development of life. Just look at any popular website discussing the theory of evolution. They feed the public the maximalist positions, with no nuance.

    Those of us who have no agenda but are interested in the topic have nowhere to turn. I have a feeling Moshe is this boat with me. The entire topic becomes a political livewire rather than a reasoned analysis. Many of the people who have accepted evolution through random mutation go into attack mode when even valid questions are raised. The assumnption seems to be that we are blinded by our fundamentalism.

    I am a lay person. All I have to contribute to the discussion is a healthy dose of skeptisism (perhaps driven by bias, but I think not - I am a skeptic by nature, about most claims) coupled with common sense. I feel that evolution via random mutation is exteremely unlikely. It's always a pleasure for me to get into a nitty gritty discussion with open minded scientists (who have the time and patience to deal with my questions despite my lack of a rudimentary understanding of biology).

    What irks me the most about this topic is the public perception that all has been answered, and those with questions that challenge the fundamental belief in evolution are a bunch of kooks.

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  44. I slo think it would behoove those who believe in common descent but have no mechanistec explnanation for it to admit that the lack of any known mechanism does very much weaken the theory (although does not rule it out).

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  45. I really don't see why it weakens it in the least. The evidence for common ancestry is so overwhelming that even if we didn't have the faintest idea of any mechanism (which is certainly not the case), there would be no reason to doubt it.

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  46. Moshe: One of the things that give support for a scientific theory is when it makes predictions that subsequently turn out to be correct. You pointed this out with respect to Big Bang based cosmology.

    Here is a list of predictions made by evolutionary scientists which turned out to be correct.

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  47. Larry, that link is fantastic! Thanks!

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  48. but why would any of the above lead you to make the same assumption about man? it seems to be more probable that man who is the purpose of creation recieved direct attention and creation then animals which are not the ultimate point of creation...

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  49. Please read my book! The physical evidence for man's evolution is compelling. And it is the aspect of evolution which is MOST compatible with classical Jewish thought - the Rishonim say that man was made from an animal! (albeit they didn't say that that animal came from other animals.)

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  50. I really don't see why it weakens it in the least.

    The belief in common descent is based on an aggregation of various facts, such as the commonalities (on the macro and micro scale) of all organisms, nested hierarchies, vestigial characters, and a few others.

    If there was a well-developed, viable, and likely mechanism, that would make the hypothesis much stronger. If you agree with that statement, I think you would also have to agree that the lack of same makes it weaker.

    A conclusion of common descent , without any known mechanism, or of special creation without any understanding of the mind of God, are both based on the statement of either, respectively, "I don't know how it happened, but factors a, b, and c make it look like it happened naturally" or "I don't know why God decided to do it this way, but it could not have happened naturally as there is no known mechanism in nature to allow this to just happen."

    The first statement is more likely to be used by those inclined to naturalistic explanations, the second by those more disposed to meta-natural ones.

    The competition of the two, then, is really more a question of perspective than of science.

    Once a viable mechanism is introduced, the equation changes. The debate then becomes similar to "is it raining because of the science of rainclouds, or because God decided it should rain." Even the theist would have difficulty denying that rain clouds are the proximate cause of the rain.

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  51. dear rabbi slifkin,

    i have taken the liberty of praising this piece on the "spittoon" website; i hope that meets with your approval and, generally speaking, hazaq u'barukh.

    b'shalom

    bananabrain

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  52. The Special Creationists will now proceed to nitpick semantic details of the excellent list Larry has provided without actually adding anything of substance.

    A handful of other predictions which have proved out...

    The existence of naked mole rats

    The existence of parthenogenic lizards in the American Southwest

    Widespread antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

    Herbicide resistance in weeds.

    Pesticide resistance in herbivorous insects

    Evolution towards avirulence in a number of infectious diseases

    Innumerable animal behaviors which turn out to follow kin-selection

    The rise of cereal crop mimics in Africa

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  53. I thought Larry's link was OK, but not excellent. Some items in the list were good, and some I felt were weak. First, I wanted to see that the predictions were indeed made before all the observations, and not concurrent with the observations. Second, I wanted it to say that the transitional whale fossil was mamash a link between the baleen and teeth types, and not a specimen off a different branch. Third, I wanted it say that there were no counter-predictions that such-n-such would be found. (If X and not-X were each predicted by different evolutionists, the field could claim credit no matter how things turned out.)
    Maybe I'll list the good parts of the link in a future post.

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  54. "Moshe, the first living things were not cells. They were almost certainly self-replicating molecules, floating around bare in an amino acid-rich environment. Later developments like lipid bi-layers were on the road to cellular life." - Todd

    Except that the formation of self-replicating molecules (unless you include crystals that add on to themselves from a saturated solution) is far more difficult than the formation of liposomes having a lipid bilayer membrane. The latter form spontaneously when certain surfactants are stirred in water. It should be a lot easier to form a surfactant having a non-polar long section (hydrocarbon tail) and a suitable polar head, than to form a stable, complex molecule such as an RNA oligomer which can make copies of itself.

    Moshe, I have already alluded to the basic evidence for the presumed common ancestor of all life forms [universal triplet code for protein synthesis, universal spatial orientation of amino acids (L form) and saccharides (D form)]. Had life had various independent beginnings, we should not expect to see such universality in subtle structural details and basic synthesis mechanism. You clearly believe that the origin of life was a miraculous event (You may be correct, but it is the challenge of science to attempt to duplicate it.) Why, then, assume that it had multiple origins when one will do?

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  55. " how about defending that position?"

    My two very simple examples: The smallpox vaccine worked almost a century before we knew what a virus was, and limes prevented scurvy a century and a half before anyone had isolated Vitamin C. With your attitude, you would have gotten scurvy and smallpox in the 19th century because we didn't have a mechanism.

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  56. "popular theories are incorrect, and there is currently only a working best guess"

    The great statistician George Box is said to have remarked, "All models are wrong, but some are useful." What that true statement means is that all scientific explanations are approximations to reality, and that all will eventually need to be revised in accordance with new data.

    But you can't become nihilistic. Certain things are empirical facts. Cigarette smoking DOES cause lung cancer. HIV DOES cause AIDS. Vaccines DO NOT cause autism. The earth HAS gotten warmer. The holocaust DID happen. The universe IS billions of years old. New life forms DO evolve and HAVE evolved.

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  57. ". New life forms DO evolve and HAVE evolved."

    As have the definitions of "new", "life forms" and "evolve"

    It's one thing for new facts to cause you re-examine your premises. But an entirely different story when new facts, cause you to re-define your premises. That is often refereed to as shifting the goal posts. But such logical fallacies have never been a problem for politics, which evolution is mainly about.

    Secondly, the formulas of physics which have been proven accurate in all environments, are not mere "approximations". Evolutionary theory however, is more than an approximation, its a story created to fit the facts, and the story is constantly being re-written. The story of say light refraction, has never needed a re-write.

    To put this another way. The story of evolution as told to a high school student 10 years ago is not the same as the story told today, and will not be the same as told to a high school student in 10 years. The reason for this, is because when it comes to evolution, we really just don't know yet (even after 200 years of the theory's existence) The lesson on electron orbitals however, has remained and will remain pretty much the same.

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  58. "A handful of other predictions which have proved out..."

    Todd, can you list any predictions which have not proved out?

    Most people look at evolution as a political debate, and so they will dismiss failed predictions or pretend they don't exist, or insist that they don't exist. (Or on the opposite, find one failed prediction and use that to attack everything)

    Spherical orbits of the planets, and geo-centrism suffered a similar history until someone was able to make a leap to a new theory which was much more simple and elegant.

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  59. Well, I bought the copy of "Focus" (used). That puts me only the Yaakov book away from a complete Slifkin library.

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  60. You already have the complete Natan Slifkin library. You're just missing a book from the Nosson Slifkin library. Two different people.

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  61. " But an entirely different story when new facts, cause you to re-define your premises. That is often refereed to as shifting the goal posts."

    No, it is called scientific and intellectual honesty. Which evolution opponents mostly lack. To my knowledge they have yet to produce even a single accurate scientific prediction.

    'formulas of physics which have been proven accurate in all environments, are not mere "approximations".'

    Wrong again. There are levels of uncertainty in all the known physical constants.

    "The lesson on electron orbitals however, has remained and will remain pretty much the same."

    Electrons don't "orbit" anything. If they did, they would radiate away all their energy. This issue was resolved only by quantum physics. There is no "lesson" on electron "orbitals" but unfortunately some science textbooks still present an inaccurate century-old model of the atom.

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  62. "without any understanding of the mind of God"

    The understanding of the mind of God is beyond science, or for that matter any human.

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  63. I really don't see why it weakens it in the least. The evidence for common ancestry is so overwhelming that even if we didn't have the faintest idea of any mechanism (which is certainly not the case), there would be no reason to doubt it.

    I believe a reasonably possible mechanism is more important than you seem to give it credit.

    Below is a Taxonomic hierarchy for the Written Word I just made up. I'm sure you could do better but it demonstrates some incontrovertible facts. It exits; much like the taxonomic hierarchy for living things. I could push the example and point out similarities and common decent among many of the species in the phylum of the Written Word. Who knows, maybe they evolved from a common WORD. Absent a meaningful mechanism of how they evolved not much can be proven about how they evolved.

    Much can be theorized and much can be learned about similarities, differences, and other aspects of the Written Word. But, to repeat, absent a meaningful mechanism of how they evolved not much can be proven about how they evolved.

    1. Phylum
    1.1. Order
    1.1.1. Genus
    1.1.1.1. Species

    1. Written Word
    1.1. Tablet
    1.1.1. Clay
    1.1.1.1. Cuneiform
    1.1.2. Stone
    1.1.2.1. Inscribed
    1.2. Manuscript
    1.2.1. Folio
    1.2.1.1. Single page
    1.2.1.2. Multiple pages
    1.2.2. Rolled
    1.2.2.1. Parchment
    1.2.2.2. Paper
    1.3. Book
    1.3.1. Hard cover
    1.3.1.1. Fiction
    1.3.1.2. Non-fiction
    1.3.2. Soft cover
    1.3.2.1. Fiction
    1.3.2.2. Non-fiction
    1.4. Pamphlet
    1.4.1. Mimeographed
    1.4.1.1. Single page
    1.4.1.2. Stapled pages
    1.4.2. Typed
    1.4.2.1. Single page
    1.4.2.2. Stapled pages

    I know the species of the Written Word are not living organisms (but it might be argued they live :-)). The point is the mechanism observation may be like the boys observation that the Emperor has no clothes.

    Avraham

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  64. Avraham, there are two critical differences. One is that in the written word, you find overlap. There are things that are single pages AND fiction. But in the natural world you don't; there is nothing that has features of birds AND mammals.

    Second is that, to some extent, you do indeed find a hierachal taxonomy in the written word, and that is indeed evidence of evolution - the limited possibilities in early civilization. But God has no limitations. Maybe I'll expand on all this in a future post (or you can read Niles Eldridge's book).

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  65. I'll have to check out:

    Farmer, C. G. (2000). Parental care: the key innovation to understanding endothermy
    and other convergent features of birds and mammals. Am. Nat. 155, 326-334.

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  66. Rabbi Slifkin if you see a plane flying but you can disprove every mechanism to make it fly, that's not called science. It is called a miracle. Further your objection that more species should not imply more fossils is false. If it cannot be explained away it would be fatal. The problem with you is nothing for Evolution is fatal for you because you say it is ok as long as most things are answered. Well that's not how things work in science. An objection has to be met. Some objections are fatal. Others are not but always potentially are or else they would not be objections. To you if Evolution predicts something and it is supposedly met that proves it and if it's not met it doesn't matter. Further in order to prove Evolution a prediction has to be unique to Evolution.

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  67. "Electrons don't "orbit" anything. If they did, they would radiate away all their energy. This issue was resolved only by quantum physics."

    Charlie, I don't know which science classes you've seen lately, but the general area in which an electron has a % chance to show up, is called an orbital, even though it doesn't "orbit" the nuclear in a planetary fashion. It has been taught this way in schools since the 1960s... (perhaps earlier?)

    Can you explain your desire to nitpick on such a small level? Do you really not understand the difference between ideas which once discovered and tested stay constant, and ideas which are still forming and are influenced by politics?

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  68. " there is nothing that has features of birds AND mammals.
    "

    Duck billed Platypus?

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  69. Nope. It doesn't have a bird beak and it doesn't lay bird eggs.

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  70. I just want to add, in case there is any confusion...

    Eseret Dibrot at Har Sinai ,exodus from Egypt, and conquest of Israel, are historical claims. But when those events occurred, what date, which century, how many years apart even, can not be derived from the text, (for various reasons). However, modern biblical archaeology likes to use the medieval timeline of the bible to try to collaborate evidence, which again, scientifically is making the whole enterprise backwards.

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  71. "Nope. It doesn't have a bird beak and it doesn't lay bird eggs."

    This article strongly implies otherwise:

    http://www.usatoday.com/tech/science/genetics/2008-05-08-platypus-genetic-map_N.htm

    Can you explain what you meant?

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  72. That is poor journalism. See http://www.truthinscience.org.uk/tis2/index.php/evidence-for-evolution-mainmenu-65/274-platypus-a-darwinian-cautionary-tale.html

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  73. I plan to check out the E. coli experiment and list of predictions more in-depth and will respond either respond here or on my site. In the meantime, 1 point about this prediction:
    "Similarly, Darwin predicted that Precambrian fossils would be found. He wrote in 1859 that the total absence of fossils in Precambrian rock was "inexplicable" and that the lack might "be truly urged as a valid argument" against his theory. When such fossils were found, starting in 1953, it turned out that they had been abundant all along. They were just so small that it took a microscope to see them."
    The fossils that were found in no way support the theory of evolution and certainly not the gradualism that Darwin predicted would be found (listen to the interview with Simon Conway Morris et al that I posted earlier. If memory serves, Simon Conway Morris does NOT think that those precambrian fossils are even the precursors to the fossils in the cambrian.
    Also, note the unbelievably general nature of this prediction:
    * fossils would be found…fossils were found...they had been abundant all along. They were just so small that it took a microscope to see them
    The implication is that any fossil found before the cambrian period supports his theory because he predicted it even though a) it doesn't say anything about WHAT TYPE OF FOSSILS NEED TO BE OR WILL BE FOUND and b) that one could make the same exact prediction without any scientific theory whatsoever.
    Compare this to stating that Neptune would be in a particular place in the sky on a certain date and being accurate to within 1% (and there more accurate predictions that physics can point to).
    --
    For over 1500 years it was a fact that the earth was the center of the universe. It turned out that it couldn't be true because the mechanism by which planets orbit the sun (i.e., gravity) does not allow it to be true.
    --
    The extremes of special creation:
    * Every change in the fossil record is a special creation
    * Everything developed naturally.
    Once we leave the extremes we have to figure out where to draw the line. The question isn't why posit more than one - the question is how does one determine where to draw the line.
    The cell inherently indicates it was created because of the immaterial nature of the information contained within it. The Cambrian Explosion is a good candidate because a) it is such a radical development in life (the sudden formation of eyes, nervous systems, skeletons, etc) with no seeming natural explanation and b) because it fits in (at least partially) with peshat in the Chumash for the 5th day.
    The ID movie Darwin's Dillema gives an argument why the Cambrian Explosion inherently indicates that they were designed (I'll assume that means created, although that's not a necessarily assumption). While (IMHO) not as strong an argument as for the first cell, it's not bad either.
    --
    Common Descent hits a massive wall at the Cambrian Explosion. Many of the arguments for descent work just as well from the Cambrian as they do from the first cells.
    DNA points more towards a first cell, but faces the wall the of the Cambrian. Once you have to posit special creation for the first cells, you can also posit special creation at the Cambrian with all creatures using the same DNA structure. Alternatively, G-d used the structure of the first cell, but added the extra information needed to code for the animals found in the Cambrian.
    --
    Man was Created (bara), Made (naase), formed (Yitzar) and had a breadth of life from G-d breathed into him. Man has intellectual capabilities far surpassing the needs for survival, a soul, a physical form - some of which give him tremendous control and opportunities (like standing upright and having an opposable thumb) and the ability to speak. I do not think that the laws of nature can account for all of these features - some of them require a special creation.

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  74. I'm sorry, what exactly in that article was poor journalism? The link you provided gave me the same information, but with more words. The conclusion of the link you provided states as follows:


    "Thus the platypus will remain a significant misfit in any Darwinian scheme. Is it from a sauropsid lineage which includes reptiles and birds? Is it from a synapsid lineage which supposedly led to the emergence of the mammals? Or is it derived independently from some unknown ancestral amniote? Or could it be that the Darwinian hypothesis, cladistic analysis or any other classification system for that matter is just far too restrictive? Without doubt, there are mammal-like reptiles as there are reptile-like mammals. The platypus is a Darwinian cautionary tale. Is it a bird or is it a plain … old platypus?"

    The section on bird genes, just said that it doesn't fit the model, but don't worry, more research will tell us more. However, today, the best evidence we have, is that the Platypus has genes evolved from birds, genes evolved from reptiles, and genes evolved from mammals.

    I'm all for the "wait and see" approach, but in this case, it sounds like they are going to create a new category of animal, rather than suggest that the platypus doesn't fit nicely into any of the categories that currently exist. (such as egg laying mammals... even though mammals are defined as giving birth to live young)


    What exactly in that link you provided did you want me to see/read/understand, that wasn't in the original link that I provided? The apologetics?

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  75. It doesn't mean that they have genes that evolved from birds!

    See the comments at
    http://richarddawkins.net/articles/2545

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  76. "It doesn't mean that they have genes that evolved from birds!"

    If you found these genes in a bird, would you believe that the genes evolved from previous birds, or not? If the presence of genes in an animal that exists only in another "tree" of animals, isn't proof that one evolved from the other, then how can you argue that there is proof for evolution in the Taxonomy and a common ancenstor? It sounds like you are trying to argue both ways...

    I agree, it doesn't mean it evolved from birds, because nothing can tell us if something evolved from birds or not, other than someone deciding it must be true! (or was it the presence of genes from other animals that tells us that? I can't keep up)

    The comments in that article don't say anything to support you other than "This must be impossible, so it can't be true." However, the "better article" that you linked for me, says that it is true, and a mystery. I trust a well researched article more than comments from people trying to score political points.

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  77. " ideas which once discovered and tested stay constant, and ideas which are still forming and are influenced by politics"

    There are NO theories in science that are guaranteed to stay constant. ALL scientific explanations are potentially subject to modification based on new evidence.

    However, some theories have explained so much, so well, that they are as a practical matter not going to be discarded. Evolution is one such area.

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  78. "I do not think that the laws of nature can account for all of these features - some of them require a special creation."

    Please cite what prediction special creation would make, and suggest an empirical test for that prediction.

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  79. " But when those events occurred, what date, which century, how many years apart even, can not be derived from the text, (for various reasons)."

    You've never heard of Seder Olam Rabbah?

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  80. It's interesting that you picked a Truth in Science article, Rabbi Slifkin as Truth in Science is against the Evolutionary establishment.
    http://www.truthinscience.org.uk/tis2/index.php/faqs-mainmenu-54.html

    Oh horror we must stamp out this heresy! Thinking different than the establishment is AntiScience, Counter Revolutionary! Comrades this must not be tolerated.

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  81. "The problem with you is nothing for Evolution is fatal for you because you say it is ok as long as most things are answered. Well that's not how things work in science. An objection has to be met. Some objections are fatal. Others are not but always potentially are or else they would not be objections. To you if Evolution predicts something and it is supposedly met that proves it and if it's not met it doesn't matter. Further in order to prove Evolution a prediction has to be unique to Evolution."

    You are absolutely mistaken here. What matters is not whether a prediction is unique, but whether the entirety of predictions are better explained by evolution or by some other theory. And to my knowledge nobody has every predicted any scientific result using "special creation" or any other alternative. (If you know of any, please cite.) In contrast, evolution explains a lot of things quite well. Not perfectly, but to dispense with a theory that has explained so much without proposing an alternative that does as well is nihilistic.

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  82. The protein structural composition of the bill of a duck much resembles a compact keratin structure with relatively little outer nervous innervation, while that of the platypus resembles a soft flexible organ packed and concentrated with electrical and touch sensors. In fact, the "bill" is actually an elongated snout covered with soft leathery skin and saturated with mechanoreceptors and electroreceptors.

    The only thing the duck bill and the platypus "bill" have in common is the shape.

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  83. Charlie Hall:

    I've noticed that in a number of comments you have made statements to the effect that what matters in science is the best explnantion of all of the available ones provided, not the perfect explanation. You have also stated that if an explanaation is not falisifable then it has no place in science.

    My question to you is twofold:

    Isn't it true that the "best" explanation can be a very poor explanation, and indeed false? ie doesn't this rule set you up for a false dicotomy?

    and

    Just because an explanation has no place in science, can't it be true?

    To bring these questions to the discussion at hand: IF random mutation coupled with natural selection is the "best" explanation for the existence of the myriad species that have ever existed, can it still not be true that in light of the tenuousness of this explanation, it is probably false? And can't special creation be the true explanation, even though it is scientifically useless?

    Does "common sense" at all come into the equation, and science be damned?

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  84. "You've never heard of Seder Olam Rabbah?"

    Of course I've heard of it. Have you every tried following along and seeing it if it works? I have, and it doesn't. It relies on midrash, and only one of several possible midrashim.

    Classic example, 480 years from Yitziat Miztraim to the First Temple, is contradicted by the list of Shoftim and the years they rule.

    Second classic example: Length of time Jews were in Slavery.

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  85. "The only thing the duck bill and the platypus "bill" have in common is the shape."

    Did you read the article? The sex genes of the platypus are based on birds, not the eggs or the bill.

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  86. To Charlie:

    Please cite what prediction special creation would make, and suggest an empirical test for that prediction.


    Why? Special creation (at least as I am using the term) is not a scientific theory - why does it need to make a prediction? I am not holding to a scientific materialistic position. I'm also not saying that there are no scientific processes that can explain some aspects of the development of life.

    I am saying that science is insufficient to give a total account for the origins and development of life. Asking me for a prediction or scientific demonstration for those elements where I think science falls short is to insert scientific reasoning into a non-scientific realm.

    The real question, in my mind, is why do you think that there needs to be a 100% scientific, naturalistic, materialistic explanation? What evidence or line of reasoning leads you to that conclusion (or assumption)?

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  87. You should know that the ID fellows say that ID makes predictions. (Found via a quick google search) I will put in italics the part that is, shall we say, debatable. And of course, certain terms need greater definition than is stated in this brief outline. I add these caveats to preempt a long debate.

    FAQ: Does intelligent design make predictions? Is it testable?


    The Short Answer: Yes. Intelligent design theory predicts: 1) that we will find specified complexity in biology. One special easily detectable form of specified complexity is irreducible complexity. We can test design by trying to reverse engineer biological structures to determine if there is an "irreducible core." Intelligent design also makes other predictions, such as 2) rapid appearance of complexity in the fossil record, 3) re-usage of similar parts in different organisms, and 4) function for biological structures. Each of these predictions may be tested--and have been confirmed through testing!

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  88. "Did you read the article? The sex genes of the platypus are based on birds, not the eggs or the bill."

    Gotcha. However it should be noted that the sex determination genetic structure of the duck billed platypus and birds still bear crucial differences. In mammals, males have an XY and females have an XX. It is the males who have two different sex chromosomes. In birds, it is the female who gets two different sex chromosomes. (Females get WZ and males get ZZ)

    The platypus has 10 sex determination chromosomes, but the principle outlined above remains the same. Male platypuses have 5 XY pairs to make 10, and Females have 5 XX pairs to make 10. It is the males who get two different sex chromosomes (like mammals, not birds)

    That being said, the actual X chromosome of the platypus does show homology with the the avian Z. This is actually not too surprising considering how monotremes are already considered to be a very early branching off the mammalian tree, and since mammals and birds share a common ancestor in the first place. In fact, platypus like fossils are considered to be some of the oldest mammal fossils around, up to 187 million years ago.

    That being said, more than 80% of the platypus genes overall are common to the other mammals whose genomes have been sequenced.

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  89. I see ID more as an overall perspective on how to relate to biological organisms - view them as designed entities rather than entities that came about vis-a-vis random mutations (which were channeled via natural selection).

    That will lead to some predictions - such that there is no such thing as Junk DNA (or not nearly as much as assumed - there could be what they would call degenerative evolution, although I don't know if they apply that to DNA), the claim that the bacterial flagellum is older than the type 3 secretion systems, etc.

    However, I don't see these as general sort of predictions, one's that give us a general perspective and tell us generally how things should look. It is not a fine-tuned prediction (like predictions made from various equations in physics) or a fine-tuned description like we have of the atom.

    Perhaps a better word than prediction would be attitude and assumptions - assumed that biogical organisms are intelligently designed - assume to find order, structure, purpose and reason in their functioning. At the very least assume that they started out that way and any deviation is from degenerative effects, not because they were built from the bottom up.

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  90. i think one thing is being overlooked. Rav Yerucham Levovitz is quoted as advising to find the natural as much as possible. if you can't do that for the mechanism of all those big jumps, at least do it where you can.

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  91. >> "there is nothing that has features of birds AND mammals."

    Ameteur asks: "Duck billed Platypus?"

    Just this week, a new article on the topic came out:

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110706113450.htm

    "Chromosomes' Big Picture: Similarities Found in Genomes Across Multiple Species; Platypus Still out of Place"

    A relevant sentence: "The only genomes that deviated from forming an S-curve were that of the platypus -- an organism that contains characteristics of birds, reptiles, mammals, amphibians and fish -- and those of birds."

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  92. Okay - I am starting a series on issues relating to the theory of evolution under the belief that more education in this realm and less talk about it will be helpful.

    My first topic is bacteria resistance to antibiotics as evidence for evolution. Take a look at what modern science has to say about antibiotic resistance and decide for yourself whether or not you think this is evidence for evolution or not: http://www.morethinking.com/2011/evolution/antibiotic-resistance-and-evolution-understanding-what-really-happens/.

    I plan to do more posts, including ones relating to the predictions of evolution and much more.

    Be well,

    Moshe

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  93. "there is nothing that has features of birds AND mammals."

    Ameteur asks: "Duck billed Platypus?"

    One of the common misconceptions regarding the falsification of evolution is that species belonging to two different phylum, classes, or orders having the same characteristics will falsify the evolutionary phylogeny based on common descent.

    The evolutionary phylogeny can only be falsified if it is evidenced that a particular trait arose AFTER the speciation / divergence event in the phylogeny. And then we were to find nonetheless, both classes displaying homology.

    There is no evidence that the sequence of homology on the platypus X chromosome arose in birds after the bird-mammalian divergence.

    If however, we found say, a platypus with genes that demonstrated homology for the peacock feather, this would be a significant problem for evolution since it is clearly evidenced that that type of feather arose far after the mammalian-bird divergence.

    Take humans for example. Every human has the genes for making tails. Is this consistent with evolution? Sure, because it is clear that tails existed before the divergence event that resulted in primates without tails. If tails were shown to arise after the divergence event, this would actually be a problem for evolution.

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  94. "The evolutionary phylogeny can only be falsified if it is evidenced that a particular trait arose AFTER the speciation / divergence event in the phylogeny. And then we were to find nonetheless, both classes displaying homology."

    Didn't that happen with a certain species of humanoid, and because of that they said that the feature must have not diverged where they thought it diverged?

    Meaning, if there was a peacock feather in the platypus, you would just argue that all the animals had peacock feather potential just it didn't get activated... but it must have always been there.

    The Platypus has traits of reptiles and birds, and mammals. It is a crazy outlier, and it is causing a new narrative of how evolution works.

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  95. "Meaning, if there was a peacock feather in the platypus, you would just argue that all the animals had peacock feather potential just it didn't get activated... but it must have always been there."

    No, unlike the sex chromosomes of the platypus and the reptilian homology of the platipus, it would be very difficult to say this with a peacock feather.

    The peacock feather is not something on unique the level of the class of organisms (such as the X chromosome we are discussing) It is something unique NOT to avian organisms, but unique to a specific genus (pavo) of a specific family (phasianidae) of a specific order (Galliformes)of the class of avians.

    In order to claim that the peacock feather was there all along, it would mean that the entire trait would to have to have been lost in every subsequent avian divergence except the one resulting in the genus pavo for the avian phylogeny to still hold in consistency with the avian-mammalian divergence. This is almost absurd.

    Furthermore this contradicts fossil record which indicates that the entire order of galliformes didn't even appear until around 45 million years ago, over 100 million years after the first platypus like fossils are found. Clearly the peacock feather is a trait that arose after the platypus.

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  96. " This is almost absurd."

    I agree, but that wouldn't stop the argument.
    All you have to say is that the gene existed in what we previously thought was junk DNA, and some rare events happened to activate this gene only later, but its always been there, just lying unexpressed until the right circumstances allowed for it.

    Or if you don't like that argument, you can say that the dating of when the split happened was just incorrect, as this new fossil gives you a new timeline.

    These sorts of changes are easily overcome, and never seem to phase anyone when they happen. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101230123554.htm

    Or the Find of Ardi, which was simply brushed away with a new timeline.

    If fossils are found which contradict the current story, the story easily adapts to the new find.

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  97. "I agree, but that wouldn't stop the argument."

    Yes it actually would. It is simply too weak to hold that it was lost that many times with that many divergences.

    "you can say that the dating of when the split happened was just incorrect, as this new fossil gives you a new timeline."

    You would have to modify the dating of the split so far in the future from where it originally was it would be clearly nonsensical and completely inconsistent with the genetic data used to construct the phylogenies which already exist.

    "These sorts of changes are easily overcome, and never seem to phase anyone when they happen. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/12/101230123554.htm

    Or the Find of Ardi, which was simply brushed away with a new timeline.

    If fossils are found which contradict the current story, the story easily adapts to the new find."

    I'm sure that I need not point out to you that a discrepancy of 200,000 years is much easier to modify a phylogeny accordingly than a discrepancy of 100 million years.

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  98. Wait a second, how exactly was the phylogeny changed with ardi? Were any clades moved? Were any branches re-positioned?

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