Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Religion, Blinded

I try not to get upset about Charedi/ religious opposition to evolution. It's never been my mission to convince everyone that evolution is true. And I don't think that it's especially damaging for people not to accept it. On the contrary; I think that many of them are better off not being exposed to it. That's why I put a warning at the beginning of "The Challenge of Creation," stating that the book is not appropriate for those with little exposure to science and who are opposed to the Maimonidean approach. Besides, while recent special creation is not a core belief of Orthodox Judaism, there are other genuine core beliefs that really are challenged by modern science, so it's hardly appropriate for me to insist that people accept modern science!

If people say that they couldn't care less about what scientists say, and all that matters to them is faith, that's fine with me. Even if they've convinced themselves that the scientific evidence disproves evolution, I don't care. If that's what they think, then, gezunteheit, live and be well.

But when you have an articulate, worldly spokesperson for the charedi community like Rabbi Shafran, and he posts an article on the Internet entitled "Science, Blinded," claiming that those who subscribe to evolution do so out of religious faith, whereas tzaddikim reject it out of objectivity... well, that calls for a response. First of all, it's a public attack on those of us who do accept evolution. Second, it's a chillul Hashem for an article with such nonsense to appear in public, which can be partially rectified by a demonstration that not all Orthodox Jews agree. Third, when articles like this come out, I receive all kinds of emails from people screaming in anguish, and my response appears to be therapeutic for them.

I completely agree - as do scientists themselves - that scientists are subject to bias. And those who are uncomfortable with the idea of an omniscient God certainly have a bias towards accepting naturalistic explanations for the development of life. But Rabbi Shafran has nevertheless gravely distorts matters.

First of all, and most obviously, the idea that religious figures who oppose evolution "can truly perceive the world with clarity," as a result of having "overcome the preconceptions, desires and imperfections of character to which we all play host," is ludicrous. Overcoming imperfections of character is a fine thing, but it does not assist one in evaluating evolution. On the contrary; since those who oppose evolution inevitably subscribe to a religious worldview in which evolution is theologically problematic at best and usually entirely unacceptable, they are overwhelmingly, critically biased against any evidence supporting it.

That is why it is futile to get into an allegedly "scientific" argument with a religious opponent to evolution. I was once challenged by some such people to have a debate on the merits of evolution. I responded by asking what kind of evidence, hypothetically speaking, would make them accept it. They dodged and hedged and would not answer the question. This was because no evidence would make them accept it - for them, evolution is a religious issue.

In the same vein, it should be pointed out that amongst the ranks of those who do believe in evolution, you will find both atheists and devoutly religious people (who are presumably free of the atheist bias that Rabbi Shafran describes). But amongst those who declare evolution to be false, you will only find religious people. And it is hardly the case that they have done so after a careful consideration of the evidence!

And consider the matter of the antiquity of the universe. That is something which Rabbi Shafran's charedi community officially rejects. And yet those scientists who initially proposed it certainly did not have a bias towards it; they were all deeply religious Christians who reluctantly accepted it due to the overwhelming evidence. On the other hand, those charedim who reject it clearly do so out of loyalty to the plain meaning of Bereishis, not out of an impartial consideration of the evidence. So who is more biased, scientists or religious figures?

Thus, to write an article accusing evolutionists of bias, and claiming tzaddikim to be free from it, without acknowledging that religious creationists have biases that are just as powerful (if not more so), is unfair and dishonest in the extreme. It so utterly distorts the reality as to be plain ridiculous.

There are some other errors in his article that are also important to point out. First of all, Rabbi Shafran makes the common error of dismissing evolution as "just a theory." In so doing, he is oblivious to two points. First is that there is a world of difference between common ancestry, which is often referred to as the "fact of evolution," and the neo-Darwinian explanations for the mechanism that powers it - the "theory of evolution." Second, the word "theory" has a very different meaning in science than it does in colloquial English. In science, a "theory" refers to a hypothesis corroborated by observation of facts which makes testable predictions. Would Rabbi Shafran dismiss gravitational theory as "only a theory"?

Then there is Rabbi Shafran's sole "scientific" objection to evolution - that "the appearance of a new species from an existing one, or even of an entirely new limb or organ within a species... has never been witnessed or reproduced." First of all, that's not actually true. Second, evolution takes place over many millennia, so we would not expect to see such dramatic changes in the few years that we have been watching for such things.

Most ironic is Rabbi Shafran claiming that there is no observational evidence for "an organism emerging from inert matter," which he refers to as “spontaneous generation." (In fact, the origins of life don't really have anything to do with evolution, but let's ignore that for now.) But it is vastly, overwhelmingly more reasonable to accept that an extremely primitive life-form developed from primordial soup, than to accept that lice spontaneously generate from sweat, that mice spontaneously generate from dirt, that worms spontaneously generate from fruit and fish, and that salamanders spontaneously generate from fire. And yet the latter are all accepted as unquestionable fact by Rabbi Shafran's charedi religious authorities - along with numerous claims of nishtaneh hateva that are more extreme forms of evolution than anything ever proposed by scientists. Is this due to their evaluating the evidence objectively after having overcome their preconceptions, desires and imperfections of character? Or maybe it has more to do with their religious commitment to upholding the truth of all Chazal's words (despite the fact that scores of Rishonim and Acharonim saw no need to do so)?

Finally, we have Rabbi Shafran's description of evolutionists employing "militant insistence on its truth." Surely he can't be serious. "Militant insistence"? Like banning books by their opponents from being purchased, and using positions of authority to condemn their opponents, without even reading their material or allowing them any opportunity to defend their viewpoint?

"Science, Blinded"? Pot, meet kettle.

(See too my post "The Seven Principles of Bias.")

90 comments:

  1. "In the same vein, it should be pointed out that amongst the ranks of those who do believe in evolution, you will find both atheists and devoutly religious people (who are presumably free of the atheist bias that Rabbi Shafran describes). But amongst those who declare evolution to be false, you will only find religious people. And it is hardly the case that they have done so after a careful consideration of the evidence!"

    You know what else that's true of? The composite authorship of the Torah. Beam, eye, etc.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think all that is necessary to know about Shafran is that he is the only regular poster on cross-currents who refuses to allow even moderated comments on his posts.

    ReplyDelete
  3. And now I can stop screaming...

    Thanks :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Larry:

    I have also noticed this; but unless you know something I don't, we should probably withhold judgment until we know exactly why that is. There might be a more palatable explanation.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I think all that is necessary to know about Shafran is that he once wrote an article claiming that Bernie Madoff is more worthy of respect and admiration than Captain Sully!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hat tip!

    http://garnelironheart.blogspot.com/2011/07/rav-avi-shafran-accuses-chazal-of-error.html

    ReplyDelete
  7. I'll bet that when Rabbi Shafran gets sick, chas v'shalom, or any member of his family does, or, for that matter, if any of the gedolim get sick, they go to a doctor who has been trained in medicine according to the techniques of "Blind, Science".

    ReplyDelete
  8. I have also noticed this; but unless you know something I don't, we should probably withhold judgment until we know exactly why that is. There might be a more palatable explanation.
    In Rabbi Shafran's opinion, "some comments my offerings have elicited have fallen short, sometimes far short, of what I was raised and educated to believe is Jewishly proper speech or writing." There have been "comments posted over the years that strike me as mean-spirited; others that evidence anger or ad hominem scorn; and others still that misstate facts or state incomplete facts in ways that cause ill-will toward other Jews." However, he did inform readers that they can email him their comments and he'll try to respond. See http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2010/07/09/a-note-to-cross-current-readers/

    ReplyDelete
  9. I don't know if this can be answered on one foot, but evolution itself has many issues that I've never understood. How did males and females devolop so differently simultaneously? How did organs know where to go? How did fruits know to have colorful outsides? How did they know to drop from trees only when ripe? How did complex organs develop? etc. etc.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Try reading some books on evolution, you'll find answers to those questions. That's not the topic of this thread.

    ReplyDelete
  11. I'm curious and I know it's entirely on topic, but when you were attacked for your books, did Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel join in the attacks on you?

    ReplyDelete
  12. A lot of introductory questions about evolution can be answered by reading the talkorigins FAQ.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel did not join in.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Wow. Thanks for this. My head was exploding when I read R. Shafran's article and then saw comments are closed in Cross Currents. BTW, I dont know if R. Shafran knows anything about Gould but he is (was) one of the more religion friendly of the evolutionists and separately I think his science was not always well respected by his peers (though no one could argue that he was a very very gifted writer).

    BTW just in case it comes up. David Berlinski, is an agnostic and a mathematician who criticizes evolution but while I have read his math writing I have not looked into his stance on evolution.

    In any case, I can now happily drive home knowing that the fight has been fought.

    Yasher Koach!

    ReplyDelete
  15. >Rabbi Shafran: There have been "comments posted over the years that strike me as mean-spirited;

    Remember DF's rule: when someone, says comments are "mean-spirited", it means he is unable to answer the substance of the comment. Take it to the bank, it's true every time. Something has definitely happened to Rabbi Shafran, ever since he went to his new magazine. It began with his fawning piece over Obama, and all but claiming that Orthodox Jews who disagreed with him were merely "racist." [That tactic is a very close cousin to DF's rule.] The ducking of comments - on a website like cross-currents, where hard-hitting comments are anyway routinely censored - is very sad. It shows a failure to "get" the new pundit zeitgeist. He doesnt have to respond to comments, but they should certainly be posted.

    ReplyDelete
  16. >Rabbi Shafran [claims] that those who subscribe to evolution do so out of religious faith, whereas tzaddikim reject it out of objectivity...

    This struck me as so outlandish, I had to check for myself. In reviewing his article, I find Rabbi Shafran did not quite say this (that scientists who subscribe to evolution do so out of faith, while tzaddikim who reject it do so out of objectivity) neither in these words or otherwise. However, there is no doubt that this is the direct implication of his article, and you are 100% right to point out the absurdity of it.

    ReplyDelete
  17. "Then there is Rabbi Shafran's sole "scientific" objection to evolution - that "the appearance of a new species from an existing one, or even of an entirely new limb or organ within a species... has never been witnessed or reproduced." . . . Second, evolution takes place over many millennia, so we would not expect to see such dramatic changes in the few years that we have been watching for such things."

    I know your post is primarily about R. Shafran's claims of bias in the scientific community and the lack of bias among all religious Jews (but not religious scientists), but I thought I would point out that under any theory of gradual evolution we would expect to discover millions of links (for each and every species, extant and extinct) of gradual changes in the fossil record. This, of course, has not occurred.

    The fossil evidence contradicts any theory of gradual evolution.

    ReplyDelete
  18. "under any theory of gradual evolution we would expect to discover millions of links (for each and every species, extant and extinct) of gradual changes in the fossil record."

    That is not true. We would not expect any such thing.

    On the other hand, for a theory of all species being created 5771 years ago, we would not expect to discover millions of fossils of intermediate species. And yet we do.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Avi Shafran's article is ill informed and misdirected. His complaint against the alleged bias of scientists could be more easily raised against those torah figures whom he professes to revere. I was rather astonished that he chose to use the absence of direct evidence for the inorganic origin of life as an argument against evolution. It is far more easily used against the talmudic and Rishonic assumptions of 'spontaneous generation' of various organisms. His statement about the absence of members of a species with new limbs and organs is peculiar given the not uncommon occurrence of such anomalies. Even his argument about the alleged bias of prof. Sheldon Gould in refuting a 19th century study of the relative cranial volumes of the races is ill founded. For one, studying several hundred skulls is inadequate to properly conclude that these were representative of their races (assuming that the racial origin of the skulls was correctly assigned). More importantly, cranial size has little to do with intelligence among humans. If it did, then women could be said to be distinctly less intelligent than men.

    ReplyDelete
  20. > I think that many of them are better off not being exposed to it

    Ignorance is bliss?

    They’re “better off” in that their worldview remains unchallenged, but they’re worse off in that their beliefs are out of sync with reality. As a community, they’re worse off in that they are so sure of their beliefs – because they have never been challenged and are assumed to be self-evident - that they have nothing but disdain for anyone who differs from their ideal.

    > there are other genuine core beliefs that really are challenged by modern science, so it's hardly appropriate for me to insist that people accept modern science!

    I understand if you don’t want to be a crusader for science in the Chareidi world, but why is it “inappropriate?” The world is as it is, and Chariedim sticking their fingers in their collective ears doesn’t make it go away.

    > But when you have an articulate, worldly spokesperson for the charedi community like Rabbi Shafran

    He’s Agudah’s PR man, and constantly turns out inane and infuriating articles.

    > On the contrary; since those who oppose evolution inevitably subscribe to a religious worldview in which evolution is theologically problematic at best and usually entirely unacceptable, they are overwhelmingly, critically biased against any evidence supporting it.

    It’s a standard tactic: if you ask questions that challenge accepted religious norms, it’s because you’re nogeah b’davar and your questions are just excuses to be porek ol. If you defend Yiddishkeit, your arguments are obvious and objective. It’s maddening, and the further you go from accepted norms, the more maddening it gets. Men who, though they may be great lamdens, know next to nothing about theology and science dismiss years of earnest study by those who ask uncomfortable questions because, “There are no questions, only answers.”

    > Finally, we have Rabbi Shafran's description of evolutionists employing "militant insistence on its truth."

    By which he means that they insist evolution is true, and don’t immediate recant when presented with the gedolim’s brilliant rebuttals.

    The article is standard Creationist rhetoric with some Chareidi flavoring.

    ReplyDelete
  21. "That is not true. We would not expect any such thing."

    Why not? The choices are either gradual changes, or sudden changes. If the changes were gradual, then there would have to be thousands, if not millions of intermediate species, or at least changes, between, say, a dinosaur and a bird.

    "On the other hand, for a theory of all species being created 5771 years ago, we would not expect to discover millions of fossils of intermediate species."

    Red herring. From a scientific perspective (which is the only perspective I'm bringing to the table) 5,771 years has nothing to do with special creation.

    ReplyDelete
  22. If the changes were gradual, then there would have to be thousands, if not millions of intermediate species

    Indeed. But that would not mean that we should expect to find them.

    From a scientific perspective (which is the only perspective I'm bringing to the table) 5,771 years has nothing to do with special creation.

    Come on, who are you trying to kid? The options are modern science or a literal reading of the Bible.
    If you want to just focus on evolution, then I'll rephrase it: For a theory of separate creation of all types, we would not expect to find intermediates, and certainly not intermediates that are specifically along lines of homologous similarities rather than those of analagous similarities.

    ReplyDelete
  23. "I don't think that it's especially damaging for people not to accept it."

    It is if they want to tell scientists what to do, as Rabbi Shafran seems to want to do. I note that no comments were accepted for the essay, which is unusual for Cross-Currents.

    ReplyDelete
  24. That's alot of fancy language your using there. It'll take time for me to digest, but I'll get back to you as soon as I do.

    I just wanted to point out that I'm not trying to "kid" anybody, and that, in truth, you offer a false dichotomy. Possibly because you are looking at this as a political issue. I am not.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Nachum:

    If you have questions we can find answers for you. But if you already have the answers we can't give you answers for answers.

    For more about how one species 'evolves' from another I recommend the following article on punctuated equilibrium

    ReplyDelete
  26. Nachum Boehm:

    I understand you read some of Avigdor Miller's apologetics and a book by Richard Dawkins, but that's really not how you go about this sort of thing, particularly when Dawkins's book is more a celebration of the amazingness of what we know about evolution and a survey of the most interesting evidence for it than a response to the various creationist polemics which Christians used and Miller borrowed.

    A response site to creationist polemics was already referred to by Larry. Your claim is addressed there:
    http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC200_1.html

    ReplyDelete
  27. Okay. I've analyzed it. Here's my response.

    Special creation is not falsifiable. Anything found in the fossil record, whether anomolous or not, is consistent with Special Creation.

    Contrarily, the Theory of Evolution is falsifiable. Some see the fact that there is an absence of a chain of fossils gradualy connecting one species to another, of which there should have been billions of such specimen, as a very strong indicator against the TOE.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Charlie - not allowing comments is unusual for Croos-currents but is the usual standard for Shafran's articles there. See Baruch Pelta's comment above, quoting why Shafran has chosen to do it that way.

    ReplyDelete
  29. The above comment was directed to R. Slifkin.

    Larry Lenhoff:

    if you already have the answers we can't give you answers for answers.

    Please don't condescend to me. The above can be said to anyone.

    Baruch Pelta:

    I'm flattered that you follow my comments. Dawkins's book, "The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution" holds itself out as the book containing a summary of the evidence for the TOE. The book does address the various creationist polemics. It is very engaging, though Dawkins does come across as somewhat disingenuous at times.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Nachum Boehm, the absence of falsifiability is no indication of truth, but of dogma. The virtue of science and the source of its progress is the very fact that any claim to truth must be subjected to tests which will either confirm or demolish that claim.

    Your attack on evolutionary theory is also based on an older model of that theory wherein evolutionary changes should exhibit a continuum from earliest creatures to those now present. This is, indeed, not consistent with the fossil record. That record tends to show no significant change for some 25 million years, followed by comparitively short intervals featuring dramatic changes. Such observations gave rise to the 'Punctuated Equilibrium' model of Gould and Eldridge (by the way, I incorrectly called him Sheldon Gould, whereas it should be Stephen), where macroevolutionary changes are driven by dramatic environmental upheavals. Change is then a result of the survival and propagation of those species who happen to be most fit for the new environment - even if they were barely surviving in the old one. One can consider those dramatic changes to be a product of divine intervention - albeit with 'natural' mechanisms, such as asteroidal or cometary impact, as the immediate cause.

    ReplyDelete
  31. I thought that Dawkin's book was very poorly written. I think that Kenneth Miller's book, Finding Darwin's God, is much better.

    Special Creation is not falsifiable because you can always say "Well, God did it that way for inscrutable reasons." However, there are many, many aspects of the natural world which evolution neatly explains and predicts, whereas special creation has to struggle to find an ad hoc explanation for them. My book The Challenge Of Creation gives numerous examples.

    ReplyDelete
  32. the absence of falsifiability is no indication of truth, but of dogma.

    Agreed, though "dogma" is not the best word to describe a belief in something that cannot be proven; I see "dogma" as a strong belief in something that cannot be proven, coupled with a lack of openness to anyone who disagrees.

    I take umbrage at your charaterization of my comment as an "attack" on evolutionary theory. I was pointing to what I see as a strong question. It was not an "attack." I am agnostic with regard to evolutionary theory, but have embarked on a search for truth, whch entails a negation of all polemics.

    Such observations gave rise to the 'Punctuated Equilibrium' model of Gould and Eldridge, where macroevolutionary changes are driven by dramatic environmental upheavals.

    I believe that punctuated equillibrium is much less trite than what you seem to be stating, namely, that some species go extinct while others survive in any given environment? Even with environmental factors, doesn't PE require that a species gradually evolve, with many links in the chain (just speeding up the "gradually")?

    I need to study more.

    R. Slifkin. It's funny that you point me to Kenneth Miller's book. It's the next one on my reading list.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Another good book is "Why Evolution is True" by Jerry Conye. (Professor at University of Chicago, PhD in Evolutionary Biology). He also runs a blog by the same name.

    ReplyDelete
  34. R' Slifkin, When you say that you believe in Evolutionary theory, do you mean theistic evolution (evolutionary creationism) or standard neo-Darwinism?

    ReplyDelete
  35. R' Slifkin,
    You write:


    "But amongst those who declare evolution to be false, you will only find religious people."

    Permit me to point out a counterexample. Fred Reed. He's not a scientist by training, but judging by his writings, he's an awfully bright (if a bit nutty) guy. He also, judging by his writings, does not strike me as particularly religious.

    Witness a couple of his articles. They dispute evolution in some pretty interesting ways.

    http://fredoneverything.net/Evolution.shtml

    http://fredoneverything.net/EvolutionMonster.shtml

    http://fredoneverything.net/EvolutionPhiladelphia.shtml

    http://fredoneverything.net/EvolutionAgain.shtml

    http://fredoneverything.net/NeoFredwinism.shtml

    http://fredoneverything.net/gnxp.shtml

    http://fredoneverything.net/Hart.shtml

    In his writings, he's pretty unsparing in his criticism of Christians, so I doubt he's much of one himself. He's almost certainly not Jewish.

    So, there ARE some fairly secular people who dispute evolution. (Whatever the merits of their arguments are a different issue).

    ReplyDelete
  36. I take umbrage at your charaterization of my comment as an "attack" on evolutionary theory. I was pointing to what I see as a strong question. It was not an "attack."
    You actually wrote that "the fossil evidence contradicts any theory of gradual evolution," so I think Y. Aharon's characterization is fair.

    I've referenced you to http://www.talkorigins.org/indexcc/CC/CC200_1.html as a place which I think answers the specific apologetic you presented while others referenced some books they liked (I agree with Rabbi Slifkin about Ken Miller's book. I haven't gotten around to Coyne yet, but I suspect he's good.). I hope this all helps with your search for truth. Hatzlacha.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Nathan Boehm, you're correct. I should have referred to your criticism of the Darwinian theory, instead of attack. In any case, Darwinism isn't the issue; modern evolutionary theory is. 'Punctuated equilibrium' now has many adherents among paleontologists and evolution theorists - although it is still being contested after nearly 40 years. That, however, is not unusual when a paradigm shift occurs in science. The scientific community, is not much different than the general educated public when it comes to reluctance to discard traditional ways of thinking.

    The fossil record is necessarily incomplete since sampling is limited. While Darwin used this fact to rationalize the hiatus in prevalent species found in distinct layers of sedimentary rock, the far larger data bank of fossil species since his time makes his gradualism less tenable.

    My own conjecture is that extensive new speciation occurred when the ozone layer was destroyed either because of gigantic impacts or extensive methane liberation from the seabed. This loss of a critical filtering medium allowed the earth and its surviving organisms to be bathed in high energy UV rays which produced a high rate of mutations. Such mutations need not have been merely point defects in DNA, but could have involved activation of dormant genes. For there is much in common among widely different species. Often the difference is a matter of what genes are active and inactive.

    In sum, finding transitional forms is limited by sampling issues. If the locus of such macroevolutionary change is limited in location and numbers, then it may not be found even after decades of search. Thus such lack is not a disproof of modern evolutionary theory.

    ReplyDelete
  38. The mistake that you are making in trying to prove evolution and the antiquity of the universe to the Traditionalist Ultra-Orthodox, and even to some Traditionalist Orthodox, is by trying to prove it with science rather then with Torah.

    No scientific evidence would be sufficient enough for them, since they consider it a religious issue.

    They have an automatic non-rationlist reaction to science, that they mimic from each other.
    And are totally uneducated in science, as well as secular.

    You might as well speak to them in chinese.

    Lay out all the Torah prove that you believe that can be of prove.
    And allow others to add to yours, and then together we can make a strong argument.

    In other words, hit them over the head with their own stick.

    And if that dose not work. At least we can say, we tried.
    o

    ReplyDelete
  39. From R' Shafran's article: "As a faith that hallows chance as the engine of all, Evolutionism may owe less to objectivity than to a subconscious desire to reject the concept of a Creator."

    An argument like that is ample evidence that it is not possible to have a meaningful scientific debate with R' Shafran and his ideological colleagues. QED.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I agree with this post even though I am a creationist. The arguments presented by R. Shafran don't make sense and are an embarrassment to Judaism.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Sorry Mr. Slifkin, I'm not ready to buy into your faith based evolution religion. Evolution is liberal junk science that can in no way explain the origin of life, nor can it explain the origin of a speaking being with intellect such as man. I believe Darwin clearly indicated his motivations for inventing the evolution religion were to minimize the necessity for any supernatural Creator.

    For those looking for an antidote to evolution kool-aid, I recommend reading some of the essays of Dr. Georges Cuvier, a brilliant 19th century scientist who is mentioned in the "Drush Or HaChaim" of the Tiferes Yisrael. Unlike today's dope addled leftist professors who follow the evolution drumbeat like sheep, Dr. Cuvier was a true intellectual with a knowledge of human history and respect for the Bible.

    The documentary "Expelled: No intelligence allowed" contains a great expose of the totalitarian group think among the university evolution fundamentalists. It also exposes the connection between evolutionary theories and Nazi genocide.

    I also recommend reading some of the material on the www.creationscience.com website, which contains many powerful refutations of the evolution religion.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Ari writes: "So, there ARE some fairly secular people who dispute evolution. "

    Besides Berlinski and "Fred", one more name can be added: Bradley Monton. His book is called: "Seeking God in Science: An Atheist Defends Intelligent Design"
    Are these the exceptions that prove the rule?
    R' Slifkin, I think you'd like to listen to an interview with Monton, if only for the reason that he seems more willing than most people to actually listen to voices from both sides of the debate. And, like you, he's polite, too.


    "However, there are many, many aspects of the natural world which evolution neatly explains and predicts,"

    Agreed. Are there several aspects in which it fails?

    ReplyDelete
  43. People like Monton do not dispute that the world is billions of years old. Nor do they dispute that all life evolved from a common ancestor. All that they dispute is the mechanism responsible for this evolution.

    ReplyDelete
  44. "the appearance of a new species from an existing one, or even of an entirely new limb or organ within a species... has never been witnessed or reproduced." First of all, that's not actually true. "

    The first item at the link you provided concerned the Culex Pipiens. For what it's worth, I found the following online:

    "many authors maintain that the pipiens and molestus forms are the same species, with any differences being purely physiological variation (e.g. Harbach et al., 1984). Between these two extremes are those who consider them as subspecies or semispecies (e.g. Urbanelli et al., 1981; Bullini, 1982)."

    Perhaps R' Shafran allows for subspecies or semispecies to be formed?

    ReplyDelete
  45. "All that they dispute is the mechanism responsible for this evolution."

    For Menachem Lipkin and Baruch Pelta, check out how Jerry Coyne reacts to a prominent biologist who disputes the mechanism responsible for evolution:

    http://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2011/04/12/lynn-margulis-disses-evolution-in-discover-magazine-embarrasses-both-herself-and-the-field/

    ReplyDelete
  46. "Special Creation is not falsifiable"

    Uh, is any Creation yesh m'ayin falsifiable?

    ReplyDelete
  47. ..."there are other genuine core beliefs that really are challenged by modern science"

    And they deserve to be evaluated on their merits.

    How can anyone stand pretending to "believe" the ridiculous rantings of demagogues [like those presented by Shafran]?

    I truly feel sorry for the many people who think that they have to throw their brains in a trash can in order to be Jewish. It is a real shame.

    Gary Goldwater

    ReplyDelete
  48. "How can anyone stand pretending to "believe" the ridiculous rantings of demagogues [like those presented by Shafran]?"

    A rather aggressive choice of rhetorical style for discussing demagogues.

    ReplyDelete
  49. Pliny, I'm not sure what your point is? First of all, I'm not a Coyne "groupie". I simply recommended his book because it clearly lays out the issue in a way that's easily understandable for lay people.

    There's nothing unusual about "prominent scientists" disagreeing with each other. Though I'm not a scientist, it appears to me that Coyne seems to do a very decent job of debunking Margulis in that article.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Menachem Lipkin -- I didn't mean to imply you're a groupie, only to acknowledge that you're interested in his works. I wanted to point out that his essay was called, "lynn-margulis-disses-evolution..." yet Margulis did not diss evolution, but merely "disputed the mechanism responsible for evolution."

    ReplyDelete
  51. Referring to creationist challenges to the TOE as "apologetics", and creationists referring to Punctuated Equilibrium and all other explanations for the almost complete lack of intermediate species fossils as "apologetics," is really just lots of noise to me. It's really difficult to carry on a reasoned and calm analysis of questions regarding the TOE (and creationism) when each side acts as if they have all the answers. Personally, I would prefer to have the issues clarified to see which questions have good answers and which do not (yet).

    Here is one area that I have difficulty wrapping my head around. Y. Ahron mentions gene mutation/activation as the first cause of evolution. Thereafter, for speciation to occur many, many other factors would have to come into play.

    In a broad sense, the TOE requires a sudden change - gene mutation/activation - in one organism, which turns out to be positive for survival (an astronomically unlikely occurrence, which, as Shafran points out, has never been witnessed on a macro scale); coupled with some sort of (environmental?) "catastrophe" which wipes out the parent species but not the mutant and its progeny.

    These astronomically unlikely occurrences have to have happened for each species (extant and extinct - there are well over one million extant species, and many many more extinct species), including every species of fish, bird, primate, vegetable, bacteria, etc. that ever existed.

    I haven’t enumerated the occurrences that would have had to happen (nor can I) for the development of a lung, or skin, or tree bark. If you ponder the likelihood of an eye or wing (in different branches of the Tree of Life!), or system of photosynthesis occurring through gene mutation or activation, evolution through mutation seem like crazy talk (to me).

    And this ties in directly with R. Shafran's article:

    I honestly do respect the scientific community. Yet I cannot understand how any sane person can accept the TOE in light of these seemingly insurmountable improbabilities. (This is my current avenue of exploration.) R. Shafran concludes that it is due to extreme bias in the scientific community. I have a very hard time buying that, and am exploring further. Thank you to those of you who have pointed me to books about evolution. The last one I read did NOT offer a satisfactory answer to this very basic question.

    Thank you R. Slifkin for offering this forum. I know you don't like to have this website degenerate into a debate on evolution, so I appreciate you letting it go on for as long as it has. I assure you I am in no way anti rationalist. My comments do not come from a place of dogma.

    ReplyDelete
  52. Nachum - please remember to distinguish between common ancestry and evolutionary mechanisms. The questions that you pose are on the latter; they do not affect the former.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Nachum - for a good book about the evolution of complex structures like the eye, take a look at Climbing Mount Improbable. In short, TOE does not require sudden change at all, but only the action of selection over a set of organisms that are slightly different from one another.

    Another fallacy to beware of is what I call the After The Fact fallacy. If I deal myself a 5 card poker hand and look at it, the chances of my having picked exactly those 5 cards and no others was 649,740 : 1 against. Surely that could not have been a result of chance? Of course, the answer to the fallacy was that the chance of your getting the cards you drew was 100% after you had drawn them. So when someone talks about how improbable it was that any particular creature (or protein) should exist, remember that they are looking at the cards after they have been drawn.

    ReplyDelete
  54. R. Slifkin:

    That’s a good way for you to avoid dirtying your hands in trying to work out how evolution could have occurred. You simply look at the fact that several fundamental criteria characterize all life, the various nonfunctional or rudimentary vestigial characters, etc., and be comfortable in your conclusion of common ancestry. You address any questions of how this could have occurred with a teiku. At least that’s honest.

    Larry:

    I haven’t read the book, so I cannot do it justice in a response to you. My impression from your one sentence synopsis is that it merely kicks the problem further into history, and perhaps raises the probabilities a bit. (However, I’m also sure that your one sentence synopsis does not do the book justice.)

    With regard to the probabilities: True, the chances of picking any given set of 5 cards is 649,740:1against. But you are allowing for “junk” hands, which is not at all comparable to evolutionary development.

    Imagine what it would take for a creature without any facility for sight whatsoever to slowly, over time, develop the system of sight. I think a better analogy would be the likelihood of picking one card out of a deck, then another, then another, and all of them being in sequential order. You have to pick 100 cards in a row, and every time you pick a card out of order you have to start over.

    Then, from this sequential deck, since we’re speaking of the evolutionary development of entire systems within systems (of sight, or of hearing, or of sweating, etc.) via random mutation, you have to pick a good hand 100 times in a row.

    In gene mutation, the overwhelmingly vast majority of bad hands or any out of sequence card results in a stillbirth. The one specimen that hits the jackpot hundreds of times in a row is the only one that gets to evolve. And this is how each of the millions of species have come into existence.

    For an eye to develop would require hundreds, thousands, millions of changes to occur, each one building on the other.
    Same thing for wings, gills, skin, lungs, feathers, etc.

    I’m sure my analogy has its own flaws. But my point is that the chances of even one new species developing is extremely highly unlikely. The claim that millions of species developed this way seems crazy.

    I know that I’ve raised the issue of “irreducible complexity,” which the scientific community purports to have refuted. There’s more for me to learn. But if you have a response that can do this justice, with the r'shus of the Baal H'Blog I would be much obliged.

    ReplyDelete
  55. I want to ask two basic questions about the theory of evolution.

    First -- concerning common descent. How do you define common descent and what do you think is the best evidence that it is true?


    Second -- by which mechanism do you think that life evolved - i.e., what is the process by which one form of life evolves into another?


    Thanks and be well,

    Moshe

    ReplyDelete
  56. TruthBeTold writes: 'The documentary "Expelled: No intelligence allowed" contains a great expose of the totalitarian group think among the university evolution fundamentalists. It also exposes the connection between evolutionary theories and Nazi genocide.'

    Not so sure about that. The cases of alleged academic persecution that appeared in Expelled were not what they appeared to be. In some cases the "victims" did not actually hold the positions they claimed to have. In others they were denied tenure with cause (no publications, etc.) or simply finished a contract position and moved on.

    There are also major ethical issues surrounding Expelled. They quote-mined in a big way and deliberately mislead their interviewees about the topic of the movie. They used copyrighted material without permission. They cut-and-pasted lines from one of Darwin's books to make it imply the exact opposite of the original text. Some of the interviewees signed up for the pre-screenings of the movie and where 'expelled' by security when they showed up.

    The movie did well in small screenings and DVD releases (some were held up due to copyright infringement suits) but the company that made it has since gone bankrupt.

    ReplyDelete
  57. Nachum Boehm, you are conflating a number of issues and using overly strong language in criticizing evolution theory (How is this different than attacking?).

    First of all, the reference to "astronomical" improbability of organ changes is incorrect. We really don't yet understand what exactly is involved so that such statements aren't fact based. Such language was used in the past by religious critics, whose training was in other sciences, on the basis of the long chain of point DNA mutations that were presumed to be required for organ or species changes. In fact, there are other, far more efficient mechanisms to induce such changes. I had mentioned gene activation as such an avenue. The propagation of such changes to the point of speciation would normally require geographic isolation of such abnormal individuals in order to establish the change and to make it locally dominant. The localization of such change in an isolated island is one example.

    The best studied catastrophic event in the geological record is the giant asteroidal impact in the Carribean 65 million years ago. That impact coincided with and precipitated the extinction of the dominant species of the earlier age, the dinosaurs. They were a highly successful class who had dominated life for some 135 million years. In turn, they were succeeded by mammals. Not that dinosaurs somehow turned into mammals. It's just that small mammals had existed previously as a minor class. Their burrowing lifestyle, however, allowed them to survive when dinosaurs could not. Once their predators died out and the conditions became more normal, they could proliferate. As I noted earlier, speciation of these newly dominant lifeforms could have been accelerated by the destruction of the UV protective ozone layer due to the enormous amount of fine particles and mists lifted up to the stratosphere by the impact. The new conditions would also favor the rise of larger mammals.

    A more easily comprehended evolutionary scenario appears to have occurred with dinosaurs. We find fossil remains of dinosaurs from the earlier age with feathers, and some dinosaurs that could fly. Such a flying dinosaur species with feathers which resided in an island could have been the progenitor of birds. It is well-known that islands can give rise to smaller versions of known species (due, presumably, to the limited food supply available).

    In any case, as Larry Lennhoff has pointed out, you don't do statistics after the fact. It matters not how improbable the origin of the current species, particularly humans, may be. We're here and are able to ask such questions and wonder about origins.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Thank you Y. Aharon.

    You speak of 3 distinct issues. Let’s analyze them one at a time.

    1. Organ changes. You state that we don’t really understand what exactly is involved, but conjecture that it could have been caused by “gene activation” coupled with speciation.

    Warning: If I state anything that exposes me as an ignoramus, it’s because I am an ignoramus.

    Please correct me if I'm misunderstanding the concept of gene activation. Here's an example of gene activation: There was a “digestive system” gene (actually, multiple types of digestive system genes) contained in the very first living organism, which inactive gene got passed down through all its progeny until this gene became "activated". When this occurred, we had the first organism containing this type of digestive system. Ditto for the various types of respiratory, circulatory, photosynthesis, sight, audibility, nervous, etc. systems.

    Presumably, this inactive gene should still exist in other species that have not (yet) has their, say, tooth-growing gene activated. Tomorrow we may witness a bird, or a fish, with teeth. (Of course, we wouldn't have a new species, because tat would require speciation.)

    How was the first species with a digestive system able to contain this digestive system (with the liver, kidneys, intestines, stomach, etc.), without a body to contain this system? More importantly, what use would a kidney have been to an organism that heretofore was kidneyless? It should have died as soon as the gene was activated?

    Ditto for the various types of respiratory, circulatory, photosynthesis, sight, audibility, brain, etc. systems.

    Can you point to any known instances of gene activation, and the results of such activation? Has a macroscopic change, positive or negative (for survival) ever been witnessed as a result of gene activation? I truly know nothing about the topic, but I suspect that no (positive) macro changes (e.g. the growth of a new appendage, organ, or, kal v’chomer, an entire interdependent system) resulting from gene activation have ever been witnessed. If I’m wrong then please tell me so. Even if it’s theoretically possible, does is not strike you as astronomically unlikely to occur?

    Even if it is possible, under this theory this would have happened in the instance of each of the millions of species that have ever existed. For it to happen once strikes me (at first blush) as extremely unlikely. That this would have occurred millions of times strikes me as millions of times less likely.

    2. The giant asteroidal impact in the Carribean. This is easily digestible. But I don’t see how this would address the issues that I raised.

    3. Dinosaurs evolving into birds. I understand that there are a few morphological similarities between dinosaurs and birds. But the issue raised in point 1 above still stands.

    So it seems to me that the key to this right now is for me to understand gene activation, and to become convinced that this is a viable explanation for the existence of the millions of species that have existed.

    Again, if I’ve said anything that exposes me as an ignoramus, it’s because I am an ignoramus.

    As to your comment that you don't do statistics after the fact, you certainly would if you won the lottery ten times in a row.

    Thank you for your patience.

    ReplyDelete
  59. I want to recant something I wrote. I wrote that Nachum in writing that "the fossil evidence contradicts any theory of gradual evolution" was attacking evolution. That was wrong of me, I wasn't paying enough attention, and he was really referring to gradualism.

    It is important to emphasize that the punk eek people are not claiming that there are no transitional species -- there are some -- and they of course realize there are many transitional fossils when it comes to groups. Punk Eek was indeed party based on the view that if gradualism was the genral emes as Darwin thought, the fossil record would be different. So what they did was say like Huxley, that Darwin was too married to gradualism. They then pointed to aspects of evolution which supported their own idea to generally replace gradualism.

    What do I know? I say Eilu vi-eilu :)

    But I do see creationist rhetoric as apologetics. I can't claim to take that stuff seriously, so why should I pretend that I do, that there's "another side" to some fabricated "controversy"?

    ReplyDelete
  60. To Y. Aharon:

    Biological organisms are efficient, functioning creatures. They do things and they do them in particular ways. The question is how do you take one creature who does something in a particular way and 'evolve' him into another creature which does something different in a different way. There needs to be a process, a means by which that occurs.

    One proposed process is random mutations with natural selection. You suggested another - gene activation (perhaps in conjunction with random mutations). And there are other suggestions (for instance Natural Genetic Engineering by Professor James Shapiro.

    Whatever the suggestion is, it needs to be demonstrated that it is up to the task at hand. That requires mathematical and/or computer models, laboratory experiments, field observations, etc. It is the solid mathematical equations combined with well-defined laws and solid observation that has enabled physicsists to discover new planets, new particles and Black Holes.

    The question is, does biology have anything nearly as rigorous and worked out vis-a-vis the theory of evolution? It's not enough to suggest an idea that sounds like it could work, it needs to be shown that it actually does work.

    For example - for gene activation to work the right genes would need to be activated at the right time in the right way in the right place, etc. How does that happen? Can it be shown that it does happen (not ever, but in a manner which creates dramatically different lving, functioning organisms)? What triggers gene activation and how is the the process controlled? And finally, where did the original genes come from?

    Until questions like these are answered and the solutions clearly shown why should we take this idea as anything more than educated speculation? Because it is plausible? Plausible can give you a hypothesis, but we want more than that - we want a working mechanism. How do you know that this mechanism works?


    In terms of statistics - of course you need statistics - even after the fact. Statistics let you know what type of problem you are dealing with and give you a solid indication of whether or not your proposed mechanisms are realistic or not. Philosophically speaking, John Leslie (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_A._Leslie) bests explains this in a parable.

    Imagine a prisoner is set to be executed by 50 trained marksmen who miss only 1 in a 1000 times. All of them are firing from close range with their rifles trained right on the condemned prisoners heart. At the moment of the execution all 50 guns go off, but the prisoner (to his surprise) is still alive. He looks around and notices that all 50 bullets are in the wall behind him - none of them hit.

    Would he say - well, nothing special about that -- I'm alive and here and that's all there is to it. I'm not going to ask any questions one what happened, why or how - after all, they must have missed or else I would be dead right now. That's a good enough 'explanation' for me.


    Of course, that is nothing at all like an explanation. An explanation would be an understanding of why they missed. Was it just a wild fluke? Were they paid off? If so, by whom and why? Perhaps the execution was actually a hoax - but if so, why?

    These are the types of questions one asks if they want a real explanation. In science, particularly when dealing with something as intricate, sophisticated and (yes) complicated as life statistics are a crucial element of finding real explanations, one's which actually explain and/or described what happened (or which show us that we do not have the capability of coming up with such an answer).

    Saying that statistics don't matter after the fact is a) not scientific and b) is just a means of having to avoid the issues raised by the statistics.

    Be well,

    Moshe

    ReplyDelete
  61. Moshe, common descent means that all life forms that ever existed stem from a single unicellular (prokaryotic) organism. The evidence is the universal triplet base-pair code used by all DNA organisms to synthesize the proteins vital to life (RNA organisms such as some virii use a very similar code). In addition, all amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) in all species have a 'left -handed' symmetry (arrangement in space), whereas all saccharides (sugars) have a 'right-handed' symmetry. The opposite 'handedness' could be equally viable, but are never found.

    To this can be added the fact that the genomes of all eukaryotic (cells with nuclei and various organelles) organisms are quite similar. There isn't much difference genomically between mouse and man. It appears to be largely a question of what genes are active and inactive.

    Mechanisms for evolution are being currently discussed - stay tuned.

    ReplyDelete
  62. Y Aharon, I think you've got some incomplete information about the Chicxulub crater.

    "New Blow Against Dinosaur-Killing Asteroid Theory, Geologists Find"
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090427010803.htm

    ReplyDelete
  63. Moshe, how much biology have you had? Your rather lengthy response to Y. Aharon indicates that it has been minimal. Otherwise you wouldn't talk about "random mutations" as the mechanism of evolution. You would have some idea about the working definition of the word, the difference between the fact and theory of evolution, what is meant by "common descent" and a large number of other things. You would understand something about gene expression, sexual selection, the importance of recombination and a large number of other concepts which you seem to have misapprehended or skipped entirely.

    In short, it would help if you understood something about the field you are trying to critique. And you would do well not to continue the false dichotomy you have created. It is very common among religious fundamentalists. Let me state it again. It is not a choice between science and the literal truth of the natural history you learned in yeshiva. It is a choice between science and every other possible explanation.

    ReplyDelete
  64. Todd, could you please stop the ad hominem attacks? Don't accuse anyone of being a religious fundamentalist. Also, don't misquote Moshe by saying, "Otherwise you wouldn't talk about "random mutations" as the mechanism of evolution" when he did NOT say that. And don't expect that someone is going to be so complete as to include in their post, "gene expression, sexual selection, the importance of recombination and a large number of other concepts."

    ReplyDelete
  65. Pliny, an ad hominem argument is one which attempts to dismiss a position by attacking the person rather than what he or she says. An example would be "The Declaration of Independence is bogus because Thomas Jefferson was a ginger, and everyone knows they don't have souls."

    What I have done is attack the argument by addressing its basis. In the case of Moshe it is pretty clear that he does not have a good background in biology. I listed a number of things which demonstrate this. His position are weak because he does not understand the material which he is arguing. That is an attack on the argument itself, not the man, just the opposite of the ad hominem.

    In your case I've identified the arguments which you use. You're very consistent about it even though you change the particulars you use as evidence every post or two. They are a classic fundamentalist tactic. Anyone who has gone around on this subject has seen it a thousand times. The rhetorical style is unmistakable. The logical fallacies are well-known.

    Once again, it's not an attack ad hominem. It's a critique of the substance and logical underpinnings of what you are saying, not who you are.

    ReplyDelete
  66. Pliny, you also excoriate me for saying that Moshe talked about "random mutations" as the proposed mechanism for evolution. Read what he wrote again. He uses exactly those words in the first few lines.

    ReplyDelete
  67. To Y. Aharon:

    Thanks for your clear and precise answer. Here is my response.

    If one assumes a totally naturalistic beginning to and development of life then the facts that you mentioned can be interpreted as evidence for common descent. It seems to me that what this requires to actually be true is that the cell is in some way programmed to develop into all of the various forms of life that have ever lived on earth -- something akin to Professor Shapiro's Natural Genetic Engineer and some Evo-Devo ideas.

    The question that needs to be asked is whether or not this is true. It sounds promising, but does it actually work. Or, more fundamentally - could it even theoretically work. Perhaps this is not technically possible - perhaps once we understand better the workings of the cell and various forms of life we will see physical or biological constraints which do not allow for such a program of life. In other words, it has to be demonstrated. Right now it is only proposed and suggested.

    There is, though, a more fundamental question that needs to be addressed and that concerns the creation of life and its early development from a single cell to the creatures that we find in the Cambrian Explosion (and shortly before). We don't know if cellular life can start naturally - there are all sorts of theories trying to figure out how this could be possible, but supposedly they are all going nowhere fast (and we have made it even harder with our super-programmed cell).

    If life cannot start naturally and necessitates G-d's intervention then who is to say that He intervened only once? If G-d can create cellular life then why can't He actively direct and get involved in its devolopment in a non-naturalistic fashion? In other words, once we are able to entertain the idea that G-d overrode the natural order in order to create the first living cell(s) then the option is conceptually open for Him to do it again. We no longer need that original cell to be the program of ALL life. Only if one assumes that the creation and development of life has to be 100% naturalistic is one forced to make such a conclusion.

    For example, I think it a perfectly reasonable option that G-d created the first cell(s) and again created all the phyla at the Cambrian Explosion and also created man (and I don't think it's a G-d of the gaps argument, but more on that another time) . In between there could be natural forces at play in the development and diversification of life with other forms of active Divine intervention guiding the process at select moments.


    In other words, why do I have to assume a TOTALLY naturalisitc development of life, particularly when modern science has either nothing to say or only extremely speculative suggestions concerning various stages of the creation and development of life. The creation of the first cell is an utter mystery. The Cambrian Explosion is a major mystery. The process by which evolution is suppose to take place is far from clear. And how exactly human beings are suppose to fit into this theory is even less clear -- our intelligence far exceeds the needs or requirements of natural selection.

    What I want from science is not just a story of how things could have happened, I want a rigorous reason to believe that they did happen that way. What I see is an assumption that the entire process was 100% naturalistic with G-d relegated (at best) to the Big Bang and the quantum level.

    Finally - here are some interesting related resources:

    The Cambrian Explosion http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/console/p003k9bg (program details here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p003k9bg].

    Ediacaran Fauna: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RZcvbxlf9yk | http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zo49Pyhii-k


    Professor Shapiro's lecture: http://vimeo.com/17592530 (lecture slides: http://shapiro.bsd.uchicago.edu/2010.WorksOfTheMind.pdf)

    ReplyDelete
  68. To Todd

    Please see my response below:


    Moshe, how much biology have you had? Your rather lengthy response to Y. Aharon indicates that it has been minimal. Otherwise you wouldn't talk about "random mutations" as the mechanism of evolution.


    Here is what I wrote:

    One proposed process is random mutations with natural selection. You suggested another - gene activation (perhaps in conjunction with random mutations). And there are other suggestions (for instance Natural Genetic Engineering by Professor James Shapiro.


    Evidently you think that this is no longer a proposed process - do you have a source for that contention? I have seen it mentioned and referred to recently by biologists in the field.

    --


    You would have some idea about the working definition of the word, the difference between the fact and theory of evolution, what is meant by "common descent" and a large number of other things.


    I asked for a definition not because I didn't know one, but because when discussing an issue with someone else it is helpful to make sure you are on the same page. In terms of the difference between the fact of evolution and the theory of evolution. Please direct me to something that I wrote that indicates that I do not know that difference? More importantly, please let me know why this distinction is important to what I was asking for, which is a rigorous scientific demonstration?

    --


    You would understand something about gene expression, sexual selection, the importance of recombination and a large number of other concepts which you seem to have misapprehended or skipped entirely.


    Can you please explain how these elements are sufficient to account for what is required of the theory of evolution? I never said that scientists have not suggested mechanisms that can work, I'm saying that the extrapolations are great. Please show me that I am wrong - I'm happy to see the evidence, I just want the evidence to be rigorous and well-worked out, not suggestive and promising. Or, if it is suggestive and promising then I want it to be presented as such.

    --


    In short, it would help if you understood something about the field you are trying to critique. And you would do well not to continue the false dichotomy you have created. It is very common among religious fundamentalists. Let me state it again. It is not a choice between science and the literal truth of the natural history you learned in yeshiva. It is a choice between science and every other possible explanation.


    Please point to a dichotomy that I created? I asked for rigorous evidence - that is a dichtomy? Did I mention an alternative in that comment (in a subsequent comment that I published AFTER you wrote this one I mentioned an alternative (or variation), but not in that comment). What makes you think I learned natural history in Yeshiva? I'm not sure where you are getting all of this from.


    With that said, let's start over. Please feel free to critique what I write and make sure that what I say is accurate. All I ask is two things. One - that you carefully read and consider what I write first (and respond to what I say, not to what you imagine I am thinking). Two - you respond in a more respectful tone.

    I look forward to discussing this with you.

    All the best,

    Moshe

    ReplyDelete
  69. I put together some resources on the opinions of David Berlinski on the Theory of Evolution. I think it's worth hearing what he has to say: http://www.morethinking.com/2011/evolution/david-berlinskis-views-on-the-theory-of-evolution/

    ReplyDelete
  70. The irony of Rabbi Menken's follow-up on Cross-Currents is that now people can comment on that blog about Rabbi Shafran's article....

    ReplyDelete
  71. Pliny, I'm aware of Gerta Keller's long opposition to the KT impact scenario. She has had precious little support for her interpretations from the geological and paleontological community after the discovery of the vast Chixulub crater, and the 'identical' dating of the crater to the world-wide KT boundary layer.

    ReplyDelete
  72. Todd writes: "Pliny, you also excoriate me for saying that Moshe talked about "random mutations" as the proposed mechanism for evolution. Read what he wrote again. He uses exactly those words in the first few lines."

    Oh how you twisted my words! You never said Todd stam "talked about" random mutations. You said that Todd talked about "random mutations as the mechanism of evolution". But read his entire sentence this time:

    "One proposed process is random mutations with natural selection. You suggested another - gene activation (perhaps in conjunction with random mutations)."

    (Hmmm, I wrote the above before I saw Moshe's much more polite refutation.)

    Also, calling someone a religious fundamentalist is an ad hominem attack. Don't hide behind "Oh, I just attacked his positions" when in fact you went beyond that.

    ReplyDelete
  73. Nachum Boehm, I never meant to imply that the ancestral life form possessed all the genes later displayed by all its descendants. That would be totally inconsistent with the very simple, primitive single cell that is envisaged as the original life form. I was referring, instead, to a possible avenue for the evolutionary development of organisms from a much later stage of life on earth.

    The idea I proposed stems from the great similarity in the genes found in very diverse organisms. This is coupled to the more recent finding of mechanisms for the activation and deactivation of genes and their protein products by 'small' RNA molecules. Then, too, there is the consideration that the non-coding parts of the genome are far more susceptible to mutations. That combination of factors makes it appear reasonable that mutations can have profound effects on the properties of organisms. As far as I know deliberate introduction of 'small' or 'micro' RNAs into some animals have lead to such things as ordinary pancreatic cells being transformed into insulin producing ones. More dramatic changes normally require an entire set of dedicated genes - a more difficult task for an experimenter.

    The above should serve as an attempt to rationalize the evolutionary process - or at least one aspect. I can't give too many specifics since that is not my field of expertise, nor would I care to bore the readers with such detail. I'm a physical chemist rather than a biochemist. I have attempted to follow some leading journals dealing with such issues (primarily Science and Nature), but have not had access to these journals for several years now once they were eliminated from our library at work. I have also had an interest in the origin of life question. Given that the environment and composition of the putative ancestral cell is hotly debated, and no one has yet demonstrated such a cell, it would be premature to discuss its possible evolutionary behavior.

    ReplyDelete
  74. Moshe, we're not proposing that GOD had no role to play in how life originated and developed on earth. Just what role was required is still unknown since we don't yet know if even the most primitive form of life and the great variety of subsequent life forms could have developed 'naturally'.

    The objection to the special creation of all the myriad species that have appeared on earth is the lack of economy thereby displayed. Why would a Creator bother to fashion all those species and then kill them off? The argument that those creatures never actually lived; that only bones were implanted in rock makes a mockery of the idea of a trustworthy deity.

    ReplyDelete
  75. Just to conclude the note on the Omphalos Hypothesis. It quickly gives rise to Last Thursdayism. Heretical scum that I am, I was first introduced to it as Last Wednesdayism.

    Suppose the universe really was created 5771 years ago with the appearance of being about 15 billion years old. It makes just as much sense to say it was created last Thursday. We only think the world is older than that because we were created with a lifetime's worth of false memories.

    In short order you end up with none of us actually existing except as equations in an incredibly advanced simulation drinking out of Russell's Teapot

    ReplyDelete
  76. To Y. Aharon:

    You wrote:

    Then, too, there is the consideration that the non-coding parts of the genome are far more susceptible to mutations.


    This is very fascinating - could you please point me to some literature on this. After watching a documentary based on some books by Professor Sean Carroll I imagined that in order for his theory in conjunction with random mutations then the random mutations would need to be isolated in those areas that control the protein building and/or gene activating genes (he imagines at least three levels - genes that code for proteins, genes that activate or deactivate proteins and genes which control that process of activation/deactivation.

    The reason I imagined this is because you need to preserve the genes that build protein while allowing for variations in when and how those genes are used. Of course, there may be much more than random processes going on here, but if used skillfully, a random variable is theoretically doable.

    Just to note, though, the process would not really be a random process - rather randomness would be used as a tool to generate variety depending on other factors.

    But this is all conjecture on my part - as such, could you please send me the source so I can look more into this. Thanks

    ReplyDelete
  77. To Y. Aharon:


    Moshe, we're not proposing that GOD had no role to play in how life originated and developed on earth. Just what role was required is still unknown since we don't yet know if even the most primitive form of life and the great variety of subsequent life forms could have developed 'naturally'.

    Agreed - I would actually argue, though, that the nature of DNA and the cell argue against a naturalistic beginning (although obviously one is free to try and discover a naturalistic mechanism - how much one should invest in that, though, I don't know. I heard that Harvard is building a 100 million dollar origin of life institute, that seems like a lot of money, not sure it's the best use of it, but that's another point).

    Also, my point is that once you let G-d directly in (as opposed to through natural processes) at one point you can consider letting Him directly in at other points.


    The objection to the special creation of all the myriad species that have appeared on earth is the lack of economy thereby displayed. Why would a Creator bother to fashion all those species and then kill them off? The argument that those creatures never actually lived; that only bones were implanted in rock makes a mockery of the idea of a trustworthy deity.


    I'm not a big fan of the they were planted there idea - I saw it in an article by the late Chabad Rebbi in Challenge. I thought the rest of the article had a lot to say. I think one could defend it theologically, but I see no need to as I don't really subscribe to it.


    In terms of special creation - I don't know much about it, I'm not trying to defend it. Based on of Bereishis there were three acts of creation - the heavens and the earth, the living creatures on day 5 and man. The animals created on day 6 is not creation, it is manipulation.

    In terms of how the fossil record looks today - the Cambrian Explosion seems a good candidate for day 5. Life from then on would have built into it certain properties of development, diversification, etc. The idea of creatures evolving one from the other vis-a-vis some built-in mechanism is an obvious choice, the one I would investigate.

    I imagine some sort of algorithm built into the cell which create living experiments that advance life (there are scientists who suggest this idea also).

    With that said, I also imagine (and this is based on my reading of Bereishis) that certain advancements in that development would need Divine manipulation such as getting fish onto land. The land would then bring out new forms of life.

    Finally, I see the intellect and (of course) soul of man as outside of this framework. In particular, I imagine that the combination of walking upright, having opposable thumbs, the ability to speak and the human intellect as a fundamental element of our being created b'tzelem elokim - it gives us physical and intellectual control over the world that G-d created.

    ReplyDelete
  78. Moshe, you asked for references that claim a much greater incidence of mutations in non-coding parts of DNA molecules (it is stated that 98% of those huge molecules don't code for proteins). This is a rapidly advancing field of study, and I am a bit behind the times. The one relevant reference in my files is an article in the Scientific American from August 2006. It discuss 'pseudogenes' (stretches of DNA that are similar to working genes, but are inactive or relics). The same argument they make about the organism's mechanisms for maintaining the integrity of the genes vital to the organism (section entitled Family Histories) and lack thereof for 'non-threatening' mutations can be applied to all non-coding parts of the genome.

    ReplyDelete
  79. To Y. Aharon,

    Thanks for the reference.

    ReplyDelete
  80. "Biological organisms are efficient, functioning creatures. They do things and they do them in particular ways. The question is how do you take one creature who does something in a particular way and 'evolve' him into another creature which does something different in a different way. There needs to be a process, a means by which that occurs. "

    Definition of the theory of evolution according to Moshe:

    When one creature that does something a certain way changes into another creature that does something different in a different way.

    Moshe, you've got a lot to learn.

    ReplyDelete
  81. Lastyear, it looks to me like Moshe is simply writing briefly. You are rejecting what amounts to your interpretation of what he wrote. I suspect that if you really interpreted it the way he meant it, you'd have to agree with him.

    ReplyDelete
  82. I'm curious if people on this thread are familiar with the work of Prof. Jeffrey H. Schwartz of the Univ. of Pittsburgh. He does not subscribe to the Darwinian model of evolution at all & makes a most compelling case for an alternative view that postulates structural shifts that are supported by the fossil record. He clearly presents evolution as true & the explanation for creation, but a non-Darwinian approach is far less problematic. When R. Slifkin promotes the notion that evolution is a "believe it or not" proposition is he referring to ANY theory of evolution? The work of Prof. Schwartz challenges the concept of gradual evolution, one of the more difficult aspects of the theory for its opponents.

    ReplyDelete
  83. "But amongst those who declare evolution to be false, you will only find religious people."

    Berlinski and Reed are exceptions. So is science writer Robert Milton, author of "Shattering the Myth of Darwinism." In the second edition of that book, pp 268-269, he recounts being accused by R. Dawkins of being a "secret creationist". Milton responds that he has no religious beliefs at all.

    (In case anyone is interested, i posted a copy of Milton's account of being persecuted by Dawkins and others, side by side with similarities of how Rabbi Slifkin was persecuted by the Kannaim, on my blog.)

    ReplyDelete
  84. I'm sorry, Robert, but since Jeffrey Schwartz has signed the Discovery Institute's A Scientific Dissent from Darwinism, he has already lost all credibility.

    Or at least, that's what you'll be told.

    ReplyDelete
  85. Robert Lebovitz,

    Schwartz is a fine forensic anthropologist, but when he stepped outside his area of competence and tried to "debunk" modern evolutionary theory he got his head handed to him. First of all, he was unable to explain the myriad examples of gradual evolution or to find any effective way that his hypotheses could be differentiated from the already existing examples of punctuated equilibrium.

    Then he stuck a toe into the waters of molecular biology and genetics and got it bitten off by everyone in the field. His hypothesis that we are more closely related to orangutans than chimps was quite simply laughably wrong. And it gets worse from there. That's why, looking at scientific citations, it seems that he stopped publishing this stuff four or five years back.

    Sorry, but like all the Creationist hopes for a quick "Oops, evolution is wrong. Darwin was a twit. That means Genesis must be absolutely right" moment this one sank without a trace.

    ReplyDelete
  86. If you read Schwartz it's clear that there ARE other perspectives on evolution besides Darwin & many theorists in the early 20th century argued against Darwinian concepts.

    ReplyDelete
  87. "His hypothesis that we are more closely related to orangutans than chimps was quite simply laughably wrong."

    Speaking about laughable, here's the (heavily edited, and humorously so) debate between the two anthropology professors, Jeffrey Schwartz and Todd (you?) Disotell.

    http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-august-5-2009/human-s-closest-relative

    Since I tend to favor scientists with mohawks, I root for Disotell.

    ReplyDelete
  88. But amongst those who declare evolution to be false, you will only find religious people

    Such a gross oversimplification is manifestly false--it is the equivalent of Richard Dawkins insisting on calling anyone who opposes his view a Creationist

    For example, there is Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing a collection of essays edited by William A. Dembski

    Included among those who oppose the theory of relativity in that book are atheists and scientists.

    ReplyDelete
  89. I should have been more specific. I was referring to common ancestry - the fact of evolution rather than the mechanism. Only devout Christians/ Moslems/ Jews oppose it.

    ReplyDelete
  90. I still stand by what I said, though there is a distinction between micro-evolution, ie bacteria building immunity and the general theory.

    In other words, the people I refer to who wrote articles in the book write about Intelligent Design, though not necessarily a Creator per se.

    ReplyDelete

Comments for this blog are moderated. Please see this post about the comments policy for details. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NOT BE POSTED - please use either your real name or a pseudonym.