Thursday, July 7, 2011

Turning Things On Their Head

Cyberspace moves quickly, but the comment moderation at Cross-Currents doesn't always keep up; my comment to Rabbi Adlerstein's article took a week to appear. So, since Rabbi Menken just wrote a post in response to my response to Rabbi Shafran, I am going to post my response here (slightly expanded) rather than to wait for it show up in the comments.

Rabbi Shafran said that many scientists are, like all people, subject to bias. He suggests that nowhere is this so evident as it is with evolution, which, to some, has been elevated to the status of an unquestionable article of faith. Try as Rabbi Slifkin might, it’s hard to dispute either of those relatively obvious contentions.

This is a strawman. I didn't try to dispute either of those. That wasn't the point of my article. The point was that it is hypocritical to talk about this, when religious people are just as motivated by bias, if not more so.

Nonetheless, and contrary to Rabbi Slifkin’s assertions, it is true that a theist is capable of an impartial view of evolution, while anyone unwilling to entertain the idea of a Creator is incapable of the same.

That is not contrary to my assertions. In fact, it is entirely consistent with what I wrote. But theists who truly have an impartial view of evolution all accept that the evidence supports it! My assertion was that, in general, bias is just as powerful in the religious community as in the scientific community.

Rabbi Slifkin takes an obvious indicator of bias and turns it on its head: “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… but amongst those who declare evolution to be false, you will only find religious people.” Bias is found in the beholder, not the concept, and thus the same facts should rightly be said as follows: “you can find devoutly religious people who do or do not believe in evolution, but to a one, atheists profess belief in evolution.”

With all due respect, I think that you are the one turning things on their head. To be sure, atheists must believe in evolution; I never claimed otherwise. But since even those without any atheist bias believe in evolution, this indicates that the evidence supports it. Which means that those who deny it are motivated by bias and are mistaken, whereas atheists, even if sometimes having the wrong motivations, are nevertheless ultimately correct vis-a-vis evolution.

Bias against evolution does not only exist with those who formally consider it to be heresy. It also exists with those who consider it to be part of a general value system which they entirely reject - Obama, global warming, etc., and who very much see the world in terms of "us" versus "them." Is there any major issue about which you are comfortable with saying, "The Gedolei Torah/ charedi community were wrong, and the liberal secular left are correct"? Of course not. In general, all the articles by you and Rabbi Shafran are about how "we" are right and "they" are wrong. You might not formally consider evolution to be theologically unacceptable (though I'd be interested to hear your detailed explanation of how it is acceptable), but you are certainly uncomfortable with "them" being right and "us" being wrong.

By the way, if you have evaluated the evidence for evolution and found it lacking, then I assume this means that you considered the question of why marsupials are concentrated in Australia, why whales are not able to breath underwater like fish, and why every species that is discovered, live and extinct, can be neatly fitted into a nested hierarchal family-tree taxonomy - (for example, there are numerous species with characteristics of dinosaurs and birds, but no intermediates between birds and mammals). Can you share with me the answers that you came up with?

I find it particular interesting that you mention Intelligent Design. Those who subscribe to it do not suffer from the atheist bias, right? And yet those scientists who do subscribe to ID all accept that all life evolved from a common ancestor. What does that tell you about the evidence for common ancestry - and about those who deny it?

Yes, we believe the world is 5771 years old, however this may be defined (there are multiple schools of thought on this point). Yet I am unaware of even one Orthodox person with an education in the hard sciences who believes that, from a scientific perspective, the world appears to be 5771 years old rather than roughly 15 billion.

Agreed. Now I challenge you to write an article for Mishpachah or Ami or Dialogue elaborating on this - that the scientific evidence itself clearly shows the world to be billions of years old, and that nobody with an education in the hard sciences would reasonably say otherwise. (And you can add your detailed explanation of why evolution, although being scientifically unfounded, is not at all theologically problematic.) Then we'll see if the Orthodox community is really okay with this. But in any case, the fact that someone accepts the more undeniable evidence for one thing does not mean that they are honestly evaluating the evidence for something else.

As to your claim that evolutionists react to their opponents "with ad hominems, hysteria and ridicule in lieu of rationale" - as with Rabbi Shafran's article, the irony is remarkable. Do you really, truly think that this is more true of evolutionists than of Orthodox Jews who oppose evolution?

54 comments:

  1. The last point is really the strongest. R. Menken may readily concede on cross-currents that the world is not 5771 years, but he would never say that, say, in front of an Agudah convention. Because contra to what RM asserts, charedim DO reject the age of the universe.

    Agav - I'm not sure if RM understands just how weak the 5771 number is. There are dozens of alternative calculations, including many diffrent opinions found in rabbinic literature. The 5771 is just one calculation out of many, and if you study it closely, you see that the figure is based on numerous assumptions and inconsistincies. VIACOM"L.

    ReplyDelete
  2. "What does that tell you about the evidence for common ancestry - and about those who deny it?"

    I think I found one evolutionary microbiologist who does not subscribe to the Universal Common Ancestor idea. Or, perhaps he subscribes to a "more-or-less" Universal Common Ancestor idea.

    Carl Woese is his name. Woese is famous for defining the Archaea (a new domain or kingdom of life) in 1977 by phylogenetic taxonomy of 16S ribosomal RNA, a technique pioneered by Woese and which is now standard practice.He was also the originator of the RNA world hypothesis in 1977, although not by that name.

    In an interview with him
    (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2006-01-08/features/0601080429_1_atoms-intelligent-design-emergent/2 ),
    the interviewer wrote: "Woese next went after a big stumbling block in classical evolution. Darwin's doctrine postulated that all living things eventually could be traced back to a single founding cell. But the odds against that happening are astronomically large. It would require all the building blocks of life to come together in one place at the same time to form the first founding parent.

    Instead, Woese announced in 2002 that life did not start just once, as had long been taught, but possibly millions of times. "

    ReplyDelete
  3. I've never heard of him, but I highly doubt that he denies that whales, dogs, frogs and fish all evolved from a common ancestor.

    ReplyDelete
  4. If anything the religious are more biased. Science has mechanisms built in to change beliefs. There may be resistance, but eventually the power of theory or the weight of observation sways even the die-hard.

    Continental drift, punc eq, the Inverse Square Law, circulation of blood, the Bohr atom, mechanism (as opposed to vitalism), atomic theory, the germ theory of disease, Darwinian (as opposed to Lamarckian) evolution, heliocentrism and the expanding universe were all subjects of great controversy at one time. Within a fairly short time the detractors changed their minds. It's assumed there will be changes. In time everything will be disproved, expanded, subsumed or improved. The idea of change is not traumatic.

    In religion, especially revealed religion, faith is important. It is a positive virtue to maintain the revealed truths in spite of seeming evidence to the contrary. It is a fault to let one's faith be swayed by anything except a further revelation. The search for truth is conservative, preserving and further revealing the initial Truth.

    Furthermore, in the three Abrahamic faiths obedience to the heirs of prophetic authority is very important. Correcting their views is problematic at best, blasphemy at worst. Under such conditions innovation and change are difficult.

    The tendency towards bias is not only baked in, it is strictly enforced. If the bias is towards something which happens to be true that is good. If it towards something which is in error it can be bad.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Pliny, find a copy of Stephen J. Gould's (ztl) Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. In it there's a wonderful article called "Playing the Tape" which elaborates on the sensitivity of the history of life to initial conditions and external events. A chance event could have wiped out the lungfish. We never would have been. The KT event might have been avoided. Cephalopods could have had longer lives and greater intelligence. Any specific history is very improbable because of all the things that could have happened differently.

    Toss a coin a thousand times. The chances against you getting the particular sequence of heads and tails is about one in 10^301. Astronomical doesn't even begin to cover it. The universe is only 10^22 light years across and contains only 10^80 atoms. But the chance of getting some sequence of 1000 heads a tails is near unity unless the coin lands on edge or rolls away under the table.

    This also neatly sidesteps Woese's purported argument. The evidence that all the Eukaryota or even Eukaryota and Prokaryota share a common ancestry is well established. That doesn't mean life might not have arisen, possibly many times. There may be examples of these other lineages still unseen or right out in front of us. It would be mildly surprising for them to come to light. It would not in any way rock evolutionary theory to its foundations.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Argh. I meant "materialism", not "mechanism"

    ReplyDelete
  7. Todd writes, "Science has mechanisms built in to change beliefs. There may be resistance, but eventually the power of theory or the weight of observation sways even the die-hard. "

    I wish that were true throughout science. It was none other than our friend Jerry Coyne who wrote:

    "It is also worth pondering why there has been general and unquestioned acceptance of Kettlewell's work. Perhaps such powerful stories discourage close scrutiny. Moreover, in evolutionary biology there is little payoff in repeating other people's experiments, and, unlike molecular biology, our field is not self-correcting because few studies depend on the accuracy of earlier ones. Finally, teachers such as myself often neglect original papers in favour of shorter textbook summaries, which bleach the blemishes from complicated experiments." (Coyne J.A., "Not black and white," review of Majerus M.E.N., "Melanism: Evolution in Action," Oxford University Press, 1998, in Nature Vol. 396, No. 6706, 5 November 1998, pp.35-36, p.36).

    ReplyDelete
  8. The scientific community freely declares that it was wrong on many occasions. The Haredi rabbinic community refuses to say that it was ever wrong.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Coyne's criticism is that of an insider bemoaning the lack of opportunity to do all the good research which might be done. It is also not broadly correct.

    First, the same data in important troves like the Burgess Shale have been gone over many times and yielded many changes in theory.

    Second, there is not a clear distinction between fields like evolutionary biology and molecular biology. Much of the interesting work in the first is in the application and development of the second.

    Third, you have to remember that much of the material is inaccessible, fragmentary or depends on where the researcher got out of his car and started taking samples. It will perforce be difficult to repeat exactly the same work. Field work is expensive and very time consuming, often involving travel to inconvenient locations no more than once every couple years. Molecular biology can be done in the comfort of a lab with huge numbers of carefully controlled samples. It has undeniable advantages; you do the best you can with what you have. If Coyne thinks a better job could be done he may well be right. It's a matter of grants, grad students and FTEs.

    But even with all that the scientific status of evolutionary biology is infinitely superior to religious fundamentalist pseudo-science by whatever name it's travelling under at the moment. One admits to error and changes however imperfectly with new thought and information. The other is constitutionally incapable of changing any of its important beliefs and is proud of the fact.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Pliny, tell me how many Lysenkoists, strict adaptationists, pure gradualists and Three Kingdom taxonomists are out there.

    The answers are
    1) Nary a one outside of mental institutions
    2) It's now considered a character defect
    3) None
    4) Nope

    The field has demonstrably self-corrected. Maybe not as much as we'd like, but it has undeniably happened.

    Besides, you're moving the goal posts, creating a false dichotomy and avoiding the question with a big helping of special pleading. Evolutionary biology must be wrong because it's not perfect. Religious Fundamentalism must be right because it says it is, and you have perfect faith that it's inerrant. (Heck, let's add begging the question. The shoe fits.)

    The issue is the essential difference between the approaches. It isn't whether or not there's room for improvement in the practice of Science. It's the utter intellectual bankruptcy of fundamentalism in addressing the issues at all. That is why you're reduced to sniping away with minor quibbles between people who are in firm agreement about the essentials. Even if that were absolutely true it wouldn't be a shred of evidence for a literal reading of Genesis.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Todd, what question was I avoiding? I may have not addressed something you expected me to address, but not because I was avoiding anything.

    I would like to object to one thing you imputed to me: "Evolutionary biology must be wrong because it's not perfect." In no way do I hold that silly belief. And imputing "Religious Fundamentalism must be right because it says it is" to me is also silly. Finally, not everything that looks like special pleading is special pleading.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Most people have a bias. Even if people don't have a bias with regards to a certain topic, this doesn't mean they're right. Honesty and intelligence are two distinct qualities. Furthermore, even if you have no biases and are the most intelligent person in the world, you could still be wrong.

    The majority doesn't have a say either when it comes to truth. Two wrongs don't make a right. Avraham was the only (or one of the only) monotheist in the world. The world thought he was crazy, but he was right. He's an Ivri. He stands one side of the Yarden and the rest of the world on the other.

    Having said all this, I do believe the world to be 14 billion years old and I'm not convinced evolution is true, but I'm definitely not convinced it's false either.

    ReplyDelete
  13. 1) One might also mention that species that were placed by taxonomy as being closely related are also closely related by DNA, when that has been checked. To me this is useful because it is really a prediction rather than an after the fact explanation, since the taxonomic relations were worked out before DNA sequencing was possible and in most cases even before DNA was known.

    2) For a scientific critique of Gould's hypothesis one should see "Crucible of Creation" by Simon Conway Morris, who was one of the paleontologists working with the Burgess Shale specimens. I found it to be an excellent book, with much more detailed science than Gould's book, while remaining understandable to the educated layman. Also has some terrific photos and drawings.

    ReplyDelete
  14. " To me this is useful because it is really a prediction rather than an after the fact explanation, since the taxonomic relations were worked out before DNA sequencing was possible and in most cases even before DNA was known."

    Except for that fact that when the DNA and the Taxonomy disagreed, the Taxonomy was changed to match the DNA. Also, the definition of species was changed so that now, many different "species" interbreed and make viable offspring. Personally, I find that change in the meaning of species very problematic for the whole field, and makes "cooperating evidence" into circular logic. If you were to apply the current species standards to human beings, you would get into a load of political controversy, and people have lost their jobs over it.

    ReplyDelete
  15. now, many different "species" interbreed

    Only within a genus. There ain't no dog-cats or cow-horses.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Where's poshiter yid when you need him?

    ReplyDelete
  17. Poshiter submitted comments for a long time under various monikers. I rejected them all. Eventually he got the hint.

    ReplyDelete
  18. "Mit a na'ar hock zich nisht" Why do you bother with the Menken's of the world?

    ReplyDelete
  19. "Rabbi Shafran said that many scientists are, like all people, subject to bias. He suggests that nowhere is this so evident as it is with evolution, which, to some, has been elevated to the status of an unquestionable article of faith. Try as Rabbi Slifkin might, it’s hard to dispute either of those relatively obvious contentions.

    This is a strawman. I didn't try to dispute either of those."

    Well, you should. It may be an unquestionable article to some in the scientific community that evolution is true, but it has nothing to do with faith. Menken may ramble on about the multitude of problems with evolution, but he will never get into the details, because he has no idea how science works.

    I find it ironic that you are having this discussion with Agudah people. In the era before "The Ban" charedim were scientifically ignorant but could at least pretend to have been open-minded. Now that alternative views concerning the timing and origin of the universe have been certified heretical, how do they even pretend to be impartial? And to argue with you about this, no less. It's unbelievable. He knows this himself, which is why you'll notice he keeps switching back and forth using the words charedi and Othodox.

    "To see the bias of the evolutionists, on the other hand, one merely need observe their reaction to the theory called Intelligent Design. The only difference between Intelligent Design and Evolution is “whether or not the probabilities for the random generation and advancement of life are sufficient to explain our presence.” It is not, in and of itself, a theological statement, and deserves serious consideration within the realm of science. Sir Francis Crick himself (with James Watson, the discoverer of the DNA molecule) found the probabilities for evolution to have occurred by chance so overwhelmingly unlikely that he promoted a theory of Directed Panspermia, genetic seeding from outer space. He later changed his mind, concluding that random advancement was certainly more probable than the idea that we are some sort of galactic farm experiment, a conclusion with which most of us would probably agree."

    Then why not call it, "The Statistical Improbability of Evolution" movement? (I'm familiar with the movement, not the theory. Did they dub their idea a theory?) Or doesn't he recognize that no one would join such a movement because the issue is a religious one, with the idea of INTELLIGENT DESIGN meaning THE INTELLIGENT GOD'S DESIGN? (He should note that the courts agree, but they're biased too no doubt.) I also like how somehow he knows that genetic seeding from space is more improbable than chance development but that both are less probable than God. I really wish he'd let us know how he worked that out.

    "He says that “we would not expect to see such dramatic changes in the few years that we have been watching for such things.” Come now. Tens of millions of dollars are spent in labs at the world’s finest universities, attempting to accelerate the process, and their hands are empty."

    Come now, tens of millions of dollars are spent by religious groups yearly trying to discredit science but they still haven't come up with anything intelligent to say.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Pliny, I'm afraid that's exactly what you've been doing repeatedly. Your evidence for your position is the classic favorite Creationist tactic.

    You find a statement somewhere, no matter how obscure, which seems to cast some doubt on some aspect of modern biology. Or you find an area no matter how obscure where people working in the field disagree with each other. As far as you're concerned that's "proof" that the last couple hundred years of science should be torn down right now. And that means Creationism must be true.

    Of course, you're careful not to actually spell out what you believe and why you believe it. That would require your beliefs to meet the same standard, which they can't. This tactic has been knocked down so many times since the days of Galileo that it's not even worth refuting anymore.

    ReplyDelete
  21. You wrote:

    "To be sure, atheists must believe in evolution..."

    Fred Reed, who I mentioned in a comment to a previous post (not notably religious) wrote:

    "A few things that worry those who are not doctrinaire evolutionists. (Incidentally, it is worth noting that by no means all involved in the life sciences are doctrinaire. A friend of mine, a (Jewish, atheist) biochemist, says 'It doesn’t make sense.' He may be wrong, but a Creationist he isn’t.)"

    See: http://www.fredoneverything.net/EvolutionMonster.shtml

    I have not seen any reason why I should doubt what Mr. Reed writes. That said, I think it is a pretty effective counterexample to your assertion.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Again, you don't seem to appreciate the difference between common ancestry and evolutionary mechanisms. Reed does not doubt that evolution happened. He just doesn't think that scientists have satisfactorily explained HOW it happened. (Also, he seems to be a bit of a nut!)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Regarding ID, not all ID proponents accept an old Earth and common ancestor. A large part of ID has been to try to water down creationism to get it into the American school systems. So for example, Michael Behe accepts an old earth and common descent. Dembski used to accept an old earth and reject common descent, and now claims that the Earth is young: http://pandasthumb.org/archives/2010/10/dembski-coming.html

    ReplyDelete
  24. "Yes, we believe the world is 5771 years old, however this may be defined (there are multiple schools of thought on this point). Yet I am unaware of even one Orthodox person with an education in the hard sciences who believes that, from a scientific perspective, the world appears to be 5771 years old rather than roughly 15 billion."

    Rabbi Avigdor Miller makes it rather clear in his books and in his tape "the hoax of geology" that he beleived that the scientific proof pointed to a young earth.

    ReplyDelete
  25. R' Slifkin,

    Can you please explain to the less educated why you reject the idea that G-D created a fully developed universe other than an answer that I have commonly heard that G-D would not fool people by making it look like it is older than it is.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I have a whole chapter full of reasons in The Challenge Of Creation. Please note that in general I do not post anonymous comments.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Regarding ID, not all ID proponents accept an old Earth and common ancestor.

    That's certainly true - for many, it's just a mask for Biblical creationism. But the scientists associated with it, all accept an old earth and common ancestry.

    ReplyDelete
  28. while i disagree with most of the rest of what pliny was saying, the theory of "more-or-less" Universal Common Ancestor is actually taught in the evolution 101 level (at least at hebrew U) - that theory is based upon the mathematical models suggesting that in the early stages of the phylogenetic tree there was a lot of horizontal RNA (and DNA) transfer, and that combined with phagocytosis elements that completely tangles up the roots.

    the theory basicly meens that you have several pseudo-life origins that combine together to create the most primitive of procaryotes, probably in the same region.

    the tree may have converged later on to create a single common ancestor, but mathematically it is also possible that said ancestor was actually a group (and since we're talking single-cell organisms, that 'small group" can actually be quite large).

    Sh

    ReplyDelete
  29. Anonymous:

    See also
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omphalos_hypothesis

    ReplyDelete
  30. Oh good, its come up in conversation.


    From Yitz's link:

    ""However, careful consideration shows that the false history was most certainly not complete."[12] Would Adam have had memories of his non-existent childhood? Would he have possessed mementos from his non-existent childhood? Likewise, surely not. Would he have scars from non-existent childhood mishaps? Well, since he knew that he never experienced any such mishaps, then he surely would not have possessed scars either. But, by the same token, there is no reason why he should have had a scar from the umbilical cord not being removed...Since it must necessarily have been incomplete, it is difficult to argue that God should have created any false history at all.[12]"


    I must say, that when I first read this in your book, I wanted to find someone so I could point out how much I disagree with this paragraph.


    You make a lot of assumptions about what Adam must have or must not of had or remembered. I am curious if today, you still think that paragraph is a good argument, because it really just begs the question, IMO. How do we know that he didn't know about his childhood? What does a person who has amnesia, or no short term memory do?

    ReplyDelete
  31. I don't understand your question.

    ReplyDelete
  32. I came across this article in Skeptic that indicates the anti-evolution bias is alive and well even in YU...
    http://www.skeptic.com/reading_room/orthodox-jews-and-science/. Interestingly, the article notes that students majoring in the sciences have a stronger anti-empirical bias to evolution thatn non-science majors.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I don't think it is true that all the scientists associated with ID accept an old Earth.

    Finding counterexamples is difficult because so many of the major ID proponents are not scientists. Behe is a scientist (and and as mentioned earlier is ok with an old earth and common descent). The only other people who are prominent "ID" propnents who are scientists are Mims and maybe Ross. And neither is that big a deal.

    Forrest Mims might be a counterexample, but he's a weird combination of engineer and scientist. He's in the past described himself as a creationist and at other times described himself as an ID supporter.

    Then you have a few other weird cases like Marcus Ross who has done good work in paleontology which apparently rests on an old Earth but seems to believe in something like omphalism. I don't know what category to put him in.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Todd writes, "As far as you're concerned that's "proof" that the last couple hundred years of science should be torn down right now. "

    You have quite the imagination, Todd.

    The statements I find are obscure to you, because you're not familiar with them. Your preferred reading material maybe isn't as extensive as it should be.

    "Of course, you're careful not to actually spell out what you believe and why you believe it."

    That's because I'm not sure what I believe (concerning evolution). Arguments on both sides of the Evolution-Creation debate are good, and arguments on both sides of the debate stink.

    ReplyDelete
  35. " But the odds against that happening are astronomically large. "

    The odds against any one thing happening are completely irrelevant from a scientific perspective. What matters are the RELATIVE odds of two possibilities given the data. All scientific inference is based on that. Unfortunately many scientists are too caught up in deterministic thinking to realize that; kal v'chomer how should we expect lay people to understand :(.

    ReplyDelete
  36. "The scientific community freely declares that it was wrong on many occasions."

    Some recent examples where the consensus of scientists was wrong:

    The consensus was wrong when it pushed hormone therapy on postmenopausal women. (The evidence was never as strong as people believed.)

    The consensus was wrong when we taught that adult humans can't regenerate nerve cells.

    The consensus was wrong when we taught that infections had nothing to do with stomach ulcers.

    ReplyDelete
  37. 'many different "species" interbreed'

    "Species" is not a clearly defined scientific term.

    ReplyDelete
  38. " he beleived that the scientific proof pointed to a young earth."

    If he did believe that, he did not understand the science.

    This is actually something for which part of the Orthodox community has been shamefully hypocritical. Some of us love to point out that the scientific evidence for the Big Bang theory is now uncontested. But the very same observation that proved the existence of the Big Bang -- Penzias and Wilson's discovery of the cosmic microwave background radiation -- also gives a good estimate of the date of the Bang. And it is not 5771 years ago. It is intellectually dishonest to say that science proves creation ex nihilo while insisting that creation occurred less than 6000 years ago.

    ReplyDelete
  39. "anti-evolution bias is alive and well even in YU"

    The survey is flawed. The evidence does not show that humans evolved from apes; the supposition is that humans and apes share a common ancestor. But even that is a bit shaky as the fossil record of apes is really scant.

    There are numerous other misrepresentations in the article; for example there is no requirement for lifelong talmud study!

    Note that the essay was published not in a peer-reviewed scientific journal but in a popular magazine. That says something about the quality of the research.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Oh, yes. There's the ever-popular moving of the goalposts. "Well, yes, it seems to work for this. But until it does that I couldn't possibly accept it. It does that? Well, it still hasn't conclusively proved the other thing, so it's just a few lucky guesses..."

    Repeat forever, because there's nothing that would actually convince such people they're wrong. When you answer all their objections and present mountains of evidence, predictive power and strongly explanatory theory they abandon the pretense that they're "skeptical" or "scientific" or "unconvinced by your shoddy evidence". They dump the Omphalos Hypothesis on you.

    This is not a hypothesis in the sense that an honest scientist would create one. It's a statement that God made the world so it would appear as if they were wrong. But it isn't. Really. It's just a test of our Faith. Or Satan snuck in all that nasty evidence to shake our Faith.

    It can't be tested. It can't be falsified. It can't be verified. It predicts nothing. It prevents you from ever asking a question or having an unauthorized thought. It is the equivalent of stuffing your fingers into your ears and screaming LA! LA! LA! LA! LA! I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!!"

    In short, it is a sign of the worst sort of dishonesty and is unworthy of grownups.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Todd writes, "It can't be falsified. It predicts nothing"

    Didn't Richard Lewontin write pretty much the same thing about the theory of evolution by natural selection?

    I'm sure you've seen the quote, so I won't reprint it.

    ReplyDelete
  42. "I don't understand your question."

    Do you still think your logic in that paragraph is sound?

    You ask a lot of rhetorical questions, but I think different people would answer those questions differently.


    ""Species" is not a clearly defined scientific term."

    Exactly, but it used to be! I'm not sure why they had to change the definition of a term that had very strict and rigid meaning. It seems like it was only done for the sake of MacroEvolution.

    ReplyDelete
  43. "This is not a hypothesis in the sense that an honest scientist would create one. It's a statement that God made the world so it would appear as if they were wrong. "

    Curious... that isn't what the hypothesis says at all.

    What the hypothesis says, is that when something is "created" (in a magical, or really high technologial sense) it has physical evidence of a past.


    When you hear the story about Jack and beanstalk, and there is a giant bean stalk going up to the sky, if you cut down that beanstalk, would you see growth rings? The hypothesis says, yes, yes you would.

    With modern technology that hypothesis might actually be able to be tested.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Pliny - No. He didn't. He has come out strongly against the idea that the organism alone is the unit of selection and the outdated notion that organisms do not affect their environment. Your distortions left "tedious" a while back and are well into "ludicrous".

    Ameteur - Science changes and improves. The concept of species has done so. The oldest definition we have is from Aristotle. It is no longer useful.

    ReplyDelete
  45. "Ameteur - Science changes and improves. The concept of species has done so. The oldest definition we have is from Aristotle. It is no longer useful."

    I'm sorry you think so.
    Please explain how the definition of word changing is an improvement in science. Please also demonstrate how having an ill defined definition is more useful. Because of the vague nature of the definition of species, the range given for species in existence is 2 - 100 million. A factor of 50. That doesn't sound so useful to me.

    Lastly, bringing up aristotle is a red herring. Aristotle's use of the word Atom is not what we use to call atoms today. However, the discovery of new particles, has not cause anyone to change the definition of an atom.

    ReplyDelete
  46. "the Omphalos Hypothesis"

    That hypothesis has its origin in the mind of a 19th century Christian. It does not appear in Chazal, Gaonim, or Rishonim. (And even the Christians basically laughed at it.)

    We don't get our hashkafah from 19th century Christians but from Chazal and Rishonim.

    ReplyDelete
  47. "With modern technology that hypothesis might actually be able to be tested."

    Suggest a test.

    ReplyDelete
  48. "That doesn't sound so useful to me."

    You are correct. That is why it is much more important to the advocates of Special Creation than it is to scientists. We understand that the differentiation of life forms is a continuum, and that the definition of what makes a life form unique is arbitrary.

    ReplyDelete
  49. "but it used to be! I'm not sure why they had to change the definition of a term that had very strict and rigid meaning. It seems like it was only done for the sake of MacroEvolution."

    It never had a strict and rigid meaning that could be applied universally. Similarly, the difference between MacroEvolution and MicroEvolution is important mainly to the Special Creationists; for scientists, there is just evolution.

    I often think that a lot of the Special Creation advocates only know science from bad junior high school textbooks from decades ago.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Todd writes: "Pliny - No. He didn't. (Referring my claim that Lewontin criticized natural selection as being unfalsifiable and that it doesn't explain anything. -- Obviously, though, he is still a firm believer in evolution.) He has come out strongly against the idea that the organism alone is the unit of selection and the outdated notion that organisms do not affect their environment."

    I'm not sure what Todd's second sentence has to do with the first. It appears that he didn't read the quote, so I'll reproduce it:

    "Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection in particular is hopelessly metaphysical, according to the rules of etiquette laid down in the Logic of Scientific Inquiry and widely believed in by practicing scientists who bother to think about the problem. The first rule for any scientific hypothesis ought to be that it is at least possible to conceive of an observation that would contradict the theory. For what good is a theory that is guaranteed by its internal logical structure to agree with all conceivable observations, irrespective of the real structure of the world? (Pliny's note: I'm sure Lewontin was quite familiar with the Haldane's Rabbit idea.) If scientists are going to use logically unbeatable theories about the world, they might as well give up natural science and take up religion. Yet is that not exactly the situation with regard to Darwinism? The theory of evolution by natural selection states that changes in the inherited characters of species occur, giving rise to differentiation in space and time, because different genetical types leave different numbers of offspring in different environments... Such a theory can never be falsified, for it asserts that some environmental difference created the conditions for natural selection of a new character. It is existentially quantified so that the failure to find the environmental factor proves nothing, except that one has not looked hard enough. Can one really imagine observations about nature that would disprove natural selection as a cause of the difference in bill size? The theory of natural selection is then revealed as metaphysical rather than scientific. Natural selection explains nothing because it explains everything. “Testing the Theory of Natural Selection” Nature March 24, 1972 p.181

    (I searched the talkorigins site, the mother of all quotemining exposés, to see if this quote was taken out of context, but didn't find it mentioned there.)

    ReplyDelete
  51. Charlie Hall writes: "Similarly, the difference between MacroEvolution and MicroEvolution is important mainly to the Special Creationists; for scientists, there is just evolution."

    That's incorrect. That might be true to most scientists, but not all.

    In 2000 Douglas Erin wrote a paper for the journal Evolution and Development entitled "Macroevolution is more than repeated rounds of microevolution". You can google for the rest of the quote.

    And then there's Roger Lewin: "The central question of the Chicago conference was whether the mechanisms underlying microevolution can be extrapolated to explain the phenomena of macroevolution. At the risk of doing violence to the positions of some of the people at the meeting, the answer can be given as a clear, No."

    (I'm curious if R' Slifkin has seen these quotes before.)

    ReplyDelete
  52. I replied about the Omphalos Hypothesis in the wrong post's comments. It's a lot like solipsism - impossible to refute, impossible to support, completely useless for any practical purpose and useful only as a touchstone to see whether someone's ready to sit at the table with the grownups.

    The first problem is that it quickly reduces itself to absurdity. If the universe looks like it's billions of years old but was really a clever fake created 5700 years back there's no reason to limit yourself to Biblical numbers. It makes just as much sense to guess it was created Last Thursday. Your memories? They were created then to make it appear as if you'd lived a lifetime. Divine frauds, every one of them.

    Of course you then have to consider the possibility that the world was created pre-aged an instant ago or that it's all a big RPG run by a Grey Alien named Fred.

    You end up drinking out of Russell's Teapot in very short order.

    ReplyDelete
  53. "You are correct. That is why it is much more important to the advocates of Special Creation than it is to scientists. "

    Charlie, it would be helpful if you would stop making such asinine comments. Firstly, you can not suggest that there is a new life form without first defining the differences between lifeforms. This is done by the definition of species. There isn't a single sane person out there, who pretends that all living creatures are just some variation of a single species. Secondly, if your statement were at all true, the entire field of Taxonomy would be solely populated by special creationists... but its not.

    Any search on the internet, will show that outside of the debate of evolution, there is a single definition of species used. That definition is useful, and constant. It also raises some questions about outlying scenarios which seem to cause confusion among sub-species. However, because of a commitment to a specific DNA, mutated gene, narrative of evolution, that conversation does not take place. Instead species has been defined by anything which is given a species name. Only politics and circumstance gives us debate on if a specific creature belongs to a species or sub-species. Which is why, depending on who you ask, there are between 2 million and 100 million different species in the world.

    ReplyDelete
  54. "Suggest a test."

    Grow/print a heart (or any other organ) for an adult in 9 months or less.
    Do a biopsy on the heart.
    Does the heart exhibit characteristics of a new heart (as found in a newborn) or does it look like any other healthy adult human heart.

    Such an experiment would be a valid test on the hypothesis. My guess, is that the heart would like like any other healthy heart which one might get from an adult.

    If you understood the hypothesis, I am sure you would have thought of such an experiment on your own.

    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.