Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Have Your Futile Arguments About Evolution Right Here!

(Don't miss the newsflash at the end of this post!)

Arguments about evolution are almost always a waste of time. For starters, they are often unfocused, with one person talking about common ancestry and the other talking about evolutionary mechanisms. Then there's the problem that opponents in such debates usually have fundamentally different epistemologies. Furthermore, for virtually all anti-evolutionists, it's not really a scientific matter - their fundamental motivations are due to religious sentiments or societal identification.

But how people love to argue about it! The previous post was about classical views on the origins of domestic animals, yet people kept on trying to have arguments about evolution. I had to prevent a lot of comments from being posted, because I don't like it when comment threads spiral off-topic. But I felt bad, because people so clearly wanted to argue about evolution. And so this is a special blog post, on which you can submit comments with arguments for or against evolution, to your heart's delight! Have fun!

NEWSFLASH: I'm on my way to Los Angeles and New York, for two weeks of lecturing and fundraising for various projects. It will be difficult for me to post anything, and so I've recruited someone who will be filling in for me at Rationalist Judaism, publishing a fascinating and important series of posts. Incidentally, if anyone is able to give me a ride from Lawrence to Manhattan on Sunday morning of Jan. 26th (and you can attend a multimedia presentation on dinosaurs at LSS), or from Lawrence to Teaneck (or somewhere close) on the morning of Tuesday Jan. 28th, please be in touch!

191 comments:

  1. As a card carrying PhD trained scientist who is also a religious Jew and is Shomer Mitzvot, I have never had a problem with evolution. In fact, the theory of evolution (and the Big Bang), if true, (although there's certainly plenty of data that at the very least suggests Darwin was on the right track) and Torah both declare the following powerful idea: that every thing and every being that one can touch, smell, see, taste, or detect in any number of ways stems from a single source, a "one-ness" that connects all that is "being" in this reality. That to me...is awesome!

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    1. What you said sounds a lot like Rabbi SR Hirsh. However, SRH simply didn't believe that there was evidence compelling such an idea.
      In my opinion it is hard to refute the mounds of evidence that exist today. It is even harder to reconcile evolution with parshas Bereishis. I understand Natan's approach, but I have difficulty reconciling it with a perfect text. This is why I personally try to avoid the topic. But what works for me doesnt work for everyone.

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    2. "I have difficulty reconciling it with a perfect text"

      Why would a complete reconciliation even need to be made? Torah is not a book of science! Torah is a book of Truth, that goes beyond physical reality. There is the truth we physically perceive (science) and the Truth we cannot possibly perceive physically (Bereshit) but both communicate fundamental aspects of "being" in this reality.

      Maybe another way of saying it is like this: science is akin to our physical "body" and Torah is (so to speak) our "soul" or "neshama" These two parts of our being interconnect but they are forever different parts of who we are as created beings and therefore a complete reconciliation between the two is ultimately nonsensical.

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    3. I understand what you are saying. But for Torah to be truth it must be true. According to the various reconciliations that I heard, the words of Torah have to be twisted so much that G-d would have had no reason to word it that way.
      Why would an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent describe his actions in a manner that doesn't fit with theories people rightfully believe to be true? It would be a test of faith that people would have no reason to pass.The questions are so much better than the answers.
      Surely if it was a Talmudic math, and not a matter of dogma, the answers would be considered a dichukim.

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  2. Ha ha ha! A wise measure, Rabbi! Fill the troughs for the hungry beasts, clang the zoo doors shut and run for the New World. A pleasant, safe and and fruitful journey!

    Evolution dabates, though are not necessarily futile, not in the fluid mechanics of the multifaceted Orthodox world of today. From one's observations, many traditionalist Jews cannot digest the literalist creationist dogma, but felt as strangers, being given the false choice of creationist = good Jew / evolutionist = kofer. One personally knows many good folks for whom your Challenge of Creation was like a breath of fresh air. The next step, one hopes, will be for them to stiffen their spines, bring it out from their bedroom book shelf with Barbara Streisand biography and collection of Tom Clancy techno-thrillers and proudly place it among their sforim in the parlour. Overly ornate ArtScroll type of fonts in gold leaf on the spine for the future editions might work as camouflage and help to ease-in the process.

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  3. "Futile" is so inviting!
    Seriously, why bother?

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  4. It's not "people"; your last blog post, and a few earlier ones, was hijacked by one commenter who has the obnoxious habit of referring to himself in the third person. It's turning the regulars away.

    G.Pickles

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  5. stems from a single source, a "one-ness" that connects all that is "being" in this reality. That to me...is awesome

    How do you understand the six days of creation

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  6. Zensci,

    I have to say I have an issue with you saying "if true". What is your basis for questioning it any more than any other scientific theory?

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    1. I don't question the hypothesis of evolution as being the best explanation of currently available data. Practically, I do treat it as "fact" but I also have to balance that out with the recognition that Darwin's theory can never "proven" unless someone invents a time machine. So I only said "if true" in recognition of that fact not because I have any strong evidence that suggests the theory of evolution is wrong.

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  7. No argument from me about evolution, but just a criticism of the term 'anti-evolutionist'. It's an unfair term to use on someone who believes in micro and not macro. (I'm not even talking about myself here, for I'm simply a skeptic of everything.) Save the term for those who believe in neither.
    And Temujin, before you say, again, that it's just cheap semiotic tomfoolery on the part of "anti-evolutionists", please read: Douglas Erwin's "Macroevolution is more than repeated rounds of microevolution." -- Erwin is a respected paleobiologist, not a creationist.
    And before you say "not as evolution as we commonly understand the term", please consider that your "we" is not as monolithic as you wish it were.

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  8. I posted some posted some arguments on a blog a few years ago...


    http://youngearthfaq.blogspot.co.il/

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  9. Zenci: I agree that it's really cool that all species including humans come from a "single source." I have no problem accepting that you are a religious Jew who is Shomer Mitzvot. However, I don't understand how you could have no problem reconciling the words of the Torah which you follow, with evolution.

    Inasmuch as the Theory of Evolution posits that the coming into being of all species is the result of a series of random and fortuitous gene mutations enabling survival and propagation, the problems with evolution from a Torah perspective are several fold. Off the top of my head:

    1. It contradicts the plain meaning of the Torah's creation narrative (vis-a-vis the species)as it has been understood by our greatest Torah Sages over the past several thousand years.
    2. It contradicts the idea contained in the Torah that the species homo sapiens is a special, purposeful creation of God.
    3. The time-frames involved contradict the plain reading of the Torah, as it has been understood and interpreted by our greatest sages for thousands of years.

    Further, although I agree that it's really cool that all species come from a "single source," there's a world of difference between that "single source" being a self-replicating, randomly mutating cell, and that "single source" being God.

    In short, I wouldn't be so quick to "poo-poo" the problem.

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    1. "single source" the way you define as a cell undergoing random mutation is NOT at all what that means! For where did the cell come from? And the atoms that make that cell? And particles that make the atoms? Etc. etc. In the end the further you dig the closer science and Torah come but in the end never fully physically, perceptively connect.

      If your hung up on the simple meaning, p'shat of the text there's really nothing I can say further to you. I really don't think it was ever HKBH's intention to make science and the p'shat of Toah be one in the same. To me that sounds a little bit too close to the theology of the Catholic Church (no offense to Catholicism). If you want to read how I feel on this matter see my reply to EML above.

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    2. "contradicts....homo sapiens is a special, purposeful creation of God"

      How does Darwin's theory do that?

      Darwin only attempts to explain why physical reality is the way it is. It never makes a claim as to WHY creation is! Or to what purpose creation is!

      Evolution is just a theory about HOW HKBH brought physical reality into existence. Certainly not why. And as far as random mutation etc goes. From our perspective it may indeed appear random, but from a religious, spiritual perspective do you really know that for sure? You don't and you never will in this world.

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  10. While I believe that all life evolved from a single source, it is absolutely not the case that "macroevolution" is just a whole lot of accumulated microevolutionary events. For starters, all microevolution that we are able to observe involve genetic mutations only, while in the case of macroevolution, epigenetics is necessarily a crucial part of the process. Scientific understanding of how epigenetic mutation might take place is very limited at this point. It doesn't mean it doesn't, but it's not really understood.

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  11. Zensci,
    I am also a Torah-observant Ph.D. scientist.
    I invite you to join the Orthodox Jewish Scientists Facebook group.
    There are less and less of us each day as secular studies become more shunned, so it is nice to have a way to stick together!

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    1. I do have a Facebook page but rarely login. I'll try to do so.

      I wonder what's going on with the association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists? (AOJS)

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  12. I am a frum Jew, and I believe in evolution. I am not sure how to reconcile it with the Chumash. Are the people mentioned before Avraham fiction? There is no scientific evidence for the flood. Is it fiction? What about the Tower of Babel and the dispersion? Why are these stories in the Chumash when they are fiction.

    Forget about the dinosaurs. Somebody tell me why the Tower of Babel is in the Chumash! And how do you relate to it?

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    1. Look, there is much evidence on why the genesis is wrong. It's wrong in MANY MANY ways. I'm not gonna back here so if you guys wanna argue with me, I won't be here to see it. If this big flood really did happen, then all the fossils should be mixed in each layer of rock. Like a human might be found with a dino. HOWEVER, in evolution, each layer of rock has its own timeline. The deeper the rock, the older the fossil. And guess what? Evolution wins in that point. Also, if Noah sotcked up about 2 of each species on the arch, he would have to take into vessel, classify and store 480 species per second. Also, if a flood occurred, there should be a gap in other cultures, Like China. There should be Chinese artifacts, no life at all, then isrealite culture. BUt it worked normally when this flood whas suppsoed to happen. (Sorry for my typos) Fish that live in different conditions wouldnt be able to survive in a case where everything dissapeared, and it should take a millenium to reproduce them. Plu scertain animals need certain living arrangements. They wouldnt be able to survive as they travelled to the Arch. Again, sorry for my typos. Need I go on? Go to this link for all the info

      http://www.religioustolerance.org/ev_proof1.htm

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  13. "I really don't think it was ever HKBH's intention to make science and the p'shat of Toah be one in the same."

    Well then, Parshas Bereishis is written in a pretty misleading way. So misleading, in fact, that it fooled all of the sages from pre-evolution times!

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    1. It didn't "fool" the Rambam! (and many others for that matter) it's not misleading if you know how to read it beyond the simple meaning. I invite you to consider all the levels of meaning the Torah has to offer and not only the surface layer of the text. And maybe if you do, you'll also come to realize that there never was or is much of any conflict between science and Torah that should greatly disturb one's emunah.

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  14. "For where did the cell come from? And the atoms that make that cell? And particles that make the atoms? Etc. etc."

    None of this has anything to do with evolution.

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    1. What?

      You obviously have know idea what you are talking about. I advise you enroll in all available science classes immediately!!

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    2. Sorry I write these too hastily!!

      Achumnay, I meant you have NO idead what you are talking about. My apologies but you need to go learn about the fundamentals of reality as they have been detected by collected evidence by the various fields of scientific endeavor including biology, chemistry, and physics. ALL of these are highly relevant to Darwin's theory of evolution. Thus, I'm sorry to be the bearer of bad news but you have NO idea what you are talking about.

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  15. Rabbi Slifkin, will you be speaking in Los Angeles? I have not seen any announcements of forthcoming lectures in the usual locations.

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  16. Achumnay, to elaborate a bit on Zensci's comments. Even the traditional view of the Bereishit narrative takes into account the 'sod' aspect. As that midrash cited by both Rashi and the Ramban states, "to recount the power of the creation deeds to those of flesh and blood is impossible, therefore the verse states simply, 'Bereishit bara...'". In other words, there is much more to the story than a simple translation (peshat) would provide. While the peshat was the only way to convey the proper religious message to earlier generations, that need not constrict us today. I would differ with Zensci, however, in that I believe the verses do hint at elements of the real physical creation - if properly understood.

    As to evolution theory and religion, I see no necessary conflict. GOD could work through such a random-seeming mechanism. Nor is it necessary, in my view, to assume that the entire process is divinely guided; only that what survived corresponds to what was divinely declared to be 'good'. Even secular evolutionists must contend with the paleontological evidence adduced by Gould and Eldridge to the effect that over the geological record, little evolutionary change is noted over many millions of years, interspersed by periods of marked rapid change in species.

    The issue with Adam's (and Chava's) seemingly direct creation is something that can be restricted to those individuals. In other words, the homo sapien species may have, indeed, evolved in a 'normal' fashion, but certain individuals were set aside by their formation for direct interaction with the divine.

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    1. How dare you besmirch the dodo bird!

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  17. My personal view is that if one wants to say G-d created animals from scratch, fine. Animals from each other, also fine. But if one believes that by taking mud, pressurizing, heating, sparking and waiting 15 billion years, a 747 jumbo-jet will emerge by random chance, that is scientifically impossible. It also is irreconciliable with Judaism, and defies common sense. Note, this is not a straw-man argument, it is what every atheist actually believes.

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  18. Gravel, there were objections raised before over the term "creationist," and you object to "anti-evolutionist." This would make an evolution debate quite difficult. Douglas Erwin's article you recommend is behind a pay wall; could you summarize it in an "elevator speech"?

    One's reference to the difference between micro and macro evolution being mostly a rationale used by...really, there isn't another term one can think of..."creationists" to challenge evolution theory. One's argument was a summary, an "elevator speech" which was a product of nearly a day's perusal of sites and books by mainstream evolutionists. Temujin is not a scientist, but it appears at least two scientists have popped up here and it would be interesting to see what they have to say on this topic.

    Mr Pickles, perhaps this will help: I I I I I I I I I I I ....(typ.). Please put some these I's in a toothpick container by your computer and stick them on every "Temujin," "one" or "this man" as needed. Feel free to ask for more.

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  19. Michael Benav said...
    "Futile" is so inviting!
    Seriously, why bother?


    Precisely!

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  20. I have developed an appreciation for some of the concepts associated with evolution. Last week in Tiveria where a marathon race was scheduled to take place (I was running in the associated 10-K race), the lead runners who lined up in front of the pack were mainly from Kenya or Ethiopia. These were some of the fastest people in the world, men who could complete a 26 mile course in a little over 2 hours, running at a 5 minute/mile pace. Looking at these amazing runners, I’m thinking: what a special gene pool, where over a period of time an adaptive mutation or mutations have enabled these men to outrun everyone else on the planet…and it’s happening before my eyes; this is evolution, literally in motion.

    After the race, on the bus ride back to Nahariya, I got to thinking about my own gene pool and that of my fellow Jews. I’ve learned that all human beings carry a couple of dozen or more mutant genes, and that the chances of a mutation expressing itself in an offspring is one in four when you mate with an individual who also carries that same mutant gene.
    I remembered that our ancestors married close relatives: Abraham married his niece Sarah; Isaac married his cousin Rebecca, as did Jacob marry his cousins Rachel and Leah. Even Moses’ father Avram married Jocheved his aunt. It is not a wild speculation that throughout our history, we married if not a close relative, then within our tribes or our villages or with a fellow Jew. This is probably not unusual even today. I remember reading a case in law school where it mentioned that in the 1950’s, although the State of Rhode Island does not permit marriages between close relatives, it made an exception for Jewish people who in their religion, marriage to a close relative was permitted.

    Supposively, most mutations, unlike that for the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners, are not favorable. This is borne out if you look at the quantity genetic diseases that adversely affect Jewish families. I went to the website of the Jewish Genetic Disease Consortium and saw listed many, many serious diseases that are more prevalent in either Ashkenazi or Sephardic populations than in the general population at large.

    At the risk being called a racist, you have to ask: if it is true that we carry some bad genetic material, is it possible that we also carry some especially “good” genetic material. I believe the answer is unequivocally YES, and it was demonstrated from the get-go. Anthropologists believe that one of the hallmarks for advanced human advancement is the ability to engage in abstract reasoning. Thirty three hundred years ago at Har Sinai, we as a people accepted the sovereignty of a single supreme deity, who was invisible, incorporeal. If that concept is not an abstract one, I don’t what is.

    Throughout our history, whether in Israel or in the Diaspora, as a people we have been at the forefront of humanity in area as diverse at the physical and social sciences, business, entertainment, politics and religion. Call it the “smart gene” or whatever; we have something good going for us. For what it is worth, I prefer to call it Hashem’s gift or grace to his favored people. If this is something evolutionary, then let’s embrace it.

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  21. If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys around?

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  22. I have written several short posts at my blog spot why evolution and cosmology conflict with Genesis.

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  23. In my opinion, no one should get into a debate about evolution before reading -- maybe even twice -- the following exchange. It's indeed long, but that's what it takes. I'd guess that at least 30% of the debate isn't even about evolution; it's about refuting the other man's representation of what the first man said. I hope that by showing many examples of such misrepresentation, we can avoid doing the same and avoid fruitless arguing.

    http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/ [Douglas Theobald, Ph.D., provides a detailed recitation of evidence for macroevolution, including potential falsifications.]

    http://www.trueorigin.org/theobald1a.asp [Ashby Camp's critiques]

    http://talkorigins.org/faqs/comdesc/camp.html [Douglass Theobald's response to the critiques]

    http://www.trueorigin.org/ca_ac_01.asp [Ashby Camp's response to the response]

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  24. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I believe in evolution, but recently I have had trouble knowing what to think when I read davening and say kiddush. I am not trying to trap you. I honestly believe in evolution and a 15 billion-year-old universe, and I honestly sometimes feel like I'm proclaiming a lie when saying kiddush. The words of kiddush don't really seem to lend themselves to metaphorical explanations.

    I was wondering what you think when you these words.

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  25. Mr Mick Jaron, there is a world of difference between the body and the brain. Given the mega-brains we lug around for no good reason most of the time and the sheer redundancy of brain cells, it's doubtful there are measurable cognitive ability differences, especially fluffy stuff like abstract thinking, between types of peoples. It's assumed that measurement bias and cultural idiocyncracies which are hard to qualify and quantify account for perceived differences. Besides, those who toss around that politically hot potato of racial intelligence, like Jensen or Lynn, place East Asians at the top of the smarties list.... the kind of folk who once burst out of the steppes to terrify and rule most of the known world with their superb war craft, instant adaptation to new situations and breathtaking organizational skills...the united Mongol tribes, especially the tümens of the Batu Khan...ehem, Temujin's ancestors!!! ;D

    Joshwaxman: If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys around? Ha ha! How about because they're too smart to get themselves into the trouble we've been getting ourselves into?

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  26. Yehudah - you know that I wrote a book on this, right?

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  27. Josh Waxman:
    Think of evolution as a branching process where one species can give rise to two or more species. For example, chimps and humans share a common ancestor. Then around 6 million years ago that common ancestor gave rise to what we now see as chimps and human beings. The common ancestor has a name; it is probably (but not certainly) the extinct creature called Proconsul. It is important to know that the chimp we see today has itself been constantly evolving (changing) for six million years. Likewise, the human being that we see today has also gone its separate way from chimps, and has been evolving from that split of six million years ago. The most significant change that differentiated the ancestor of the chimp from the ancestor of human being is that our ancestor began to walk on two feet.

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  28. Josh,

    The continued existence of monkeys is a divine test of your faith in evolution.

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  29. I understand what you are saying. But for Torah to be truth it must be true. According to the various reconciliations that I heard, the words of Torah have to be twisted so much that G-d would have had no reason to word it that way.
    Why would an omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent describe his actions in a manner that doesn't fit with theories people rightfully believe to be true? It would be a test of faith that people would have no reason to pass.The questions are so much better than the answers.
    Surely if it was a Talmudic math, and not a matter of dogma, the answers would be considered a dichukim.

    EML - no one is twisting any words. If you're not ready to consider all the depths of "Truth" of Torah then you're not ready to understand why there never was or is a conflict between science and Torah...good luck!

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  30. Mick Jaron, I'm not trying to refute you; I'm just presenting a different opinion:
    "Orangutans May Be Closest Human Relatives, Not Chimps"
    From: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/06/090623-humans-chimps-related.html
    And Josh, "#7: 'If we evolved from apes, apes shouldn’t exist today.'" That's from AnswersInGenesis, a Young Earth Creationist website link that lists arguments that Creationists should not use.

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  31. My two cents, that are worth about that:

    According to a discussion I saw in the Torah Shleimah and is discussed by Gil Student here (http://www.aishdas.org/toratemet/en_torah.html) the parts of Breishis were written by Adam, Noah, Avraham, etc and were later edited by Moshe with G-D's help.

    I know, this is a pretty crazy idea, good thing I didn't make it up myself.

    With this in mind we can get rid of any notion that the creation of the world found in Breishis is trying to teach us any type of real fact that is scientifically accurate. It was just the understanding of men at that time. IT was, after all, written by man and edited by G-D on a later date(The parts found in Breishis and the beginning of shemos).

    It is a fascinating idea that I was shocked to have read, but makes a lot of sense. I hope to write a blog post about it and explain it in more detail.

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    1. E-man,
      Trying to understand your point but failing. According to this view, God as dishonest Editor is more comfortable than God as dishonest Author?

      Delete
  32. These comments are for Achumnay (the mobile version of the comment stream shows the replies to each individual):

    Achumnay said:
    "Well then, Parshas Bereishis is written in a pretty misleading way. So misleading, in fact, that it fooled all of the sages from pre-evolution times!"

    It didn't "fool" the Rambam! (and many others for that matter) it's not misleading if you know how to read it beyond the simple meaning. I invite you to consider all the levels of meaning the Torah has to offer and not only the surface layer of the text. And maybe if you do, you'll also come to realize that there never was or is much of any conflict between science and Torah that should greatly disturb one's emunah.


    "Achumnay said...
    "For where did the cell come from? And the atoms that make that cell? And particles that make the atoms? Etc. etc."

    None of this has anything to do with evolution."

    What?

    You obviously have know idea what you are talking about. I advise you enroll in all available science classes immediately!!

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  33. Temujin:
    Ha ha! How about because they're too smart to get themselves into the trouble we've been getting ourselves into?

    But if evolution were true, how come there are humans still around? Shouldn't they all have evolved into monkeys?

    Mick Jaron:
    Think of evolution as a branching process where one species can give rise to two or more species. For example, chimps and humans share a common ancestor.
    Not true. I have Daas Torah that evolution is a ladder, not a branching tree. Please see here.

    http://parsha.blogspot.com/2009/06/should-we-reject-evolution-because-of.html

    Gravel:
    Thanks. Baruch Shekivanti!

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  34. Another point against evolution. It is mathematically impossible for macro-evolution to have happened in such a short time frame.

    I mean, 5774 years by itself would MAYBE be enough time to go from bacterium to eggplant. But eggplants were already in existence on day 3! That is only 72 hours. How many mutations would have to happen per SECOND to get to that point?

    Scientists obviously have no idea what they are talking about.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  35. joshwaxman said...
    If evolution is true, why are there still monkeys around?


    R. Waxman, you had me puzzled for a minute there :).

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  36. Josh Waxman But if evolution were true, how come there are humans still around? Shouldn't they all have evolved into monkeys?

    Pfft! Bwa-hah-ha! Such things you do to a busy man on a Friday! One read your line a few times and would have missed its, um, depths, if it weren't for David Ohsie's comment. Even then, it took a while.

    But you made up for your leg-pulling with the paradigm-ripping thesis on the eggplant. From the archaea to the Solanum melongena proportionally faster in cosmic terms than it takes to convert a bag of eggplants into eggplant dip for the Shabbat table.


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  37. Zensci:

    >>>For where did the cell come from? And the atoms that make that cell? And particles that make the atoms? Etc. etc. <<<

    This is an argument based on First Cause. It is a philosophical, not scientific, argument. (To the extent it is scientific, it has nothing specifically to do with evolution, as you initially set forth in your opening comment.)

    >>>as far as random mutation etc goes. From our perspective it may indeed appear random . . . <<<

    That's my point exactly. It appears random. Therefore, from evolution it appears that the species homo sapiens is NOT a special, purposeful creation of God.

    Your belief that God is directing evolution is not based on any evidence from evolution itself. Hence, your original statement that evolution declares that everything stems from God, is simply not true.

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    1. Achumnay,

      Please go back and read again...where did I ever say evolution declares that everything stems from God?

      I ONLY said that Torah and evolution share a common idea: "one-ness"

      That to me is a very cool, seemingly mysterious and almost eery common aspect of both Torah and evolution. But that does NOT in any way shape or form prove evolution by way of the Torah or prove the Torah by way of evolution!

      There is no way, IMHO, that God can ever be proven by experiment or physical evidence. My commitment to emunah in Hashem, Halakha, and the Jewish Tradition does not stem because I have tangible "proof". It stems from the Truth (capital T here) that I have come to "know" after many years of spiritual struggle. I can't show you that struggle with "proofs" or pesukim from Tanach, Torah codes or experimental data! You have to struggle with existence, "being" and Hashem yourself and discover it by way of the particular spiritual and experiential journey you happen to be living. Your life is the experiment and you have the choice what experimental questions you want to ask of yourself within the reality that Hashem has given you. I suggest you choose carefully and all the best in your struggle! Shabbat Shalom

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    2. "Therefore, from evolution it appears that the species homo sapiens is NOT a special, purposeful creation of God."

      Achumnay....appearances can be deceiving!

      The most evolution can say is that from our human perspective it APPEARS random. And indeed on a practical level I have to treat evolution as a random process, but Torah would argue that there is another perspective: Hashem's. and that "perspective" can in no way shape or form be proved by any human being. Happy spiritual struggling!

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  38. Sorry I missed your joke, Josh.
    For Temujin, here's a blurb from Erwin: "Arguments over macroevolution versus microevolution have waxed and waned through most of the twentieth century. Initially, paleontologists and other evolutionary biologists advanced a variety of non-Darwinian evolutionary processes as explanations for patterns found in the fossil record, emphasizing macroevolution as a source of morphologic novelty. Later, paleontologists, from Simpson to Gould, Stanley, and others, accepted the primacy of natural selection but argued that rapid speciation produced a discontinuity between micro- and macroevolution. This second phase emphasizes the sorting of innovations between species. Other discontinuities appear in the persistence of trends (differential success of species within clades), including species sorting, in the differential success between clades and in the origination and establishment of evolutionary novelties. These discontinuities impose a hierarchical structure to evolution and discredit any smooth extrapolation from allelic substitution to large-scale evolutionary patterns. Recent developments in comparative developmental biology suggest a need to reconsider the possibility that some macroevolutionary discontinuities may be associated with the origination of evolutionary innovation. The attractiveness of macroevolution reflects the exhaustive documentation of large-scale patterns which reveal a richness to evolution unexplained by microevolution. If the goal of evolutionary biology is to understand the history of life, rather than simply document experimental analysis of evolution, studies from paleontology, phylogenetics, developmental biology, and other fields demand the deeper view provided by macroevolution."

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  39. A point to consider is that in complex animals (eukaryotes), it is not enough for a mutation to come along and cause a new function. There is an entire control circuitry of gene regulation, which we presently know very little about. The right genes must come on at the right times in only the right cells. We have sequenced the human genome for 10 years. already, yet have not cured a single disease, as a result. It is estimated humans have 21,000 genes. That is not very many, considering the vast array of functions specialized cells require. It is the combinatoric logic that is the great puzzle.

    I will have more confidence in the pronouncements of molecular biologists about the biochemistry of 1 billion years ago, when they can tell me about the molecular biology of today. What I want to know is how the cell works right now. How do we cure blindness, cancer, etc. Let us have a little humility about how little we really know.

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  40. will have more confidence in the pronouncements of molecular biologists about the biochemistry of 1 billion years ago, when they can tell me about the molecular biology of today. What I want to know is how the cell works right now. How do we cure blindness, cancer, etc. Let us have a little humility about how little we really know.

    This kind of reasoning is appealing intuitively, but often wrong. It is often possible that understanding general principles is much simpler than understanding any particular practical example. Here is an example from Professor Robert Adair on the physics of baseball:

    Almost all of fluid dynamics follows from a differential equation called the Navier-Stokes equation. But this general equation has not, in practice, led to solutions of real problems of any complexity. In this sense, the curve of a baseball is not understood; the Navier-Stokes equation applied to a base ball has not been solved.

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  41. I am a frum Jew, and I believe in evolution. I am not sure how to reconcile it with the Chumash. Are the people mentioned before Avraham fiction? There is no scientific evidence for the flood. Is it fiction? What about the Tower of Babel and the dispersion? Why are these stories in the Chumash when they are fiction.
    By extending yourself (Poshet) to learn the Sod. Without the Sod, you cannot know the Pshat, which in fact equals the Sod. You ask many questions. Let me answer you in the form of a question. You seem to take for granted that Avraham, Yitzchak, Ya'akov, etc, are not fiction. Why is that?

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  42. Weather also appears random, and we understand that it is an incredibly complex process.

    Does that get in the way of us believing that G-d controls it? Does it make it impossible to say "Mashiv HaRuach u'Morid HaGashem"?

    In Chazal's time, they had to struggle with determinism, and we have to struggle with randomness. My personal opinion is that the latter is a lot easier to handle.

    And, to echo Zensci - after millenia of philosophers and scientists claiming that the universe was eternal, to have scientific consensus that there was a point of Creation is huge... everything else is detail.

    And anyone who claims to understand "pashut peshat" in Breishit clearly did not read the first sentence. Or the Rashi that tries to parse it. If the very first sentence is missing key grammatical structures, it is safe to say that what follows is not going to tell you everything you want to know. Deliberately.

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  43. Gravel, thanks for Erwin's abstract. Whew! Let's see, seems like he argues that macroevolution as a recognized classification scheme will reveal a "richness" in the evolutionary process that focus on microevolution alone won't show. In other words, step back far enough and at that scale you will see, one guesses, distinctions between transition rates in speciation, e.g., Gould's rapid-change hypothesis. That's a fair methodological approach, an argument that the micro/macro is more that an artificial distinction most claim it to be and so, should be acknowledge and formalized.

    Still, it's not a refutation of species emergence or transitions as some would have it. Temujin's initial critique was that creationists imagine that macroevolution doesn't show transitions into new species because of the supposed gaps in the fossil record and that microevolution only shows what they’ve determined to be minor changes within species. In other words, they can still stick to their idea of "kinds" by dismissing the macro, the really big picture, which involves the understandably spotty fossil record we have. In their case, the way they abuse the science, the distinction is clearly artificial, a ruse to disprove not only species-jumping, but the very long time scales we are dealing with.

    But you’re pushing the boundaries of Temujin's competence with this stuff, as he's much more comfortable with the comparatively teensy-weensy time scales and interpretive fluff in cultural anthropology, preferably starting with Cro-Magnon cultures and ending with...for example, casual comparisons of social clusters at Kiddush in one's shul's social hall with vaguely remembered high school cafeteria clique dynamics. And that field too shows evolutionary patterns (one adamantly believes), but they are cultural and behavioural in nature, involving subsistence strategies and emerging technologies.

    Now, if you're still awake after all this, what this began with are the theological implications and those, one would still argue, are that evolution is merely (merely, ha!) a process which still cannot prove or disprove, either way, God's existence and His involvement in the making of humankind. We're still at square one and continue to rely on belief for the Primal Cause or God's continued guidance of the Universe.

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  44. Quoted by David Ohsie:

    Almost all of fluid dynamics follows from a differential equation called the Navier-Stokes equation. But this general equation has not, in practice, led to solutions of real problems of any complexity. In this sense, the curve of a baseball is not understood; the Navier-Stokes equation applied to a base ball has not been solved.

    How on earth...anyway, Mr Ohsie, here's a paper on the issue by Joey Huang: http://joeyhuangnyc.webs.com/curveball.html

    The abstract links to a video and his paper, "Trajectory of a moving curveball in Viscid Flow." Shouldn't miss that one.

    One wonders whether the new Cray array they are harnessing at the NOAA to twiddle with hopelessly GIGO-mangled climate models might better be employed to begin factoring-in the inherent complexities of an irregularly spherical ball with crude stitching and surface layer deposits of spittle, shvitz and chewing-'baccy, all of which undoubtedly wreak havoc in simple fluid dynamics models.

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  45. "...ruse to disprove not only species-jumping, but the very long time scales we are dealing with."
    Actually, the burden is on Temujin to show that even these "very long time scales" were long enough for all the millions of tiny changes needed. It can't just be assumed.

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  46. Gravel, you cited a source, Douglas Erwin, which means, among normal people, that you presumably understand and agree with at least the basics of what he wrote. Why would you load Temujin with the "burden of proof"? Ever hear of mutations, species radiation, biotic recovery as in rapid changes with new eco niches after mass extinctions, more precise dating techniques with high resolution geochronology, multiple sources of evidence, etc? Those are the areas the fellow you cited works in at the Smithsonian Institute. So why not read past the abstract and hunt down his other work. But it was the first name you saw under "macroevolution," and you copied and pasted an abstract without having the foggiest of what it's all about, right?

    And what about R. Slivkin's Science of Creation? Or, ever try Wikipedia on evolution? What exactly do you disagree with? The burden is on you to prove that you actually understand any of it before asking for explanations.

    Alright, Rav Slifkin, fine, it's all in the post's title, so go on, go ahead, get it out of your system, Temujin can handle it, just say it to us one more time: It's futile! I told you so!

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  47. Dear David, while I appreciate your taking the time to analyze my point, I don't agree. Incidentally, my understanding is that there is a $1 million Cray prize on 3-D analytic solutions to Navier-Stokes, so I don't know if that affects our understanding of baseball. But I always thought it was elementary. When you spin ball on a vertical axis as it travels toward home plate, one side of ball will drag air towards batter, while other drags toward pitcher. When you add these vectors to the forward velocity, the relative airspeed differs on both sides of ball. Higher airspeed = lower pressure, lower airspeed = higher pressure from college physics (Bernoulli eq?). Hence ball veers. Same as slicing or topspin in pingpong.

    But getting back to subject at hand, an engineer by definition knows more than a repairman. If one can't repair, al achas kama vkama he can't engineer. Hence, our knowledge of cellular engineering is sorely deficient. Therefore, all theories on the origin and function of cellular machinery are totally speculative at this point.

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  48. Another point to recognize is that the general public is under the misconception that a gene is some magical entity that creates a new capability. But in fact, it is simply a sequence of amino acids. We don't know today how to predict what shape that will fold into. The shape of a protein influences where the active site may be, in terms of what other protein it will preferentially bind to. But that is only part of the story. Every amino acid may play a role in determining the chemical reactivity of the protein as a whole, not just a few located physically near the active site. This is a fact which is sometimes glossed over, in seeking to reduce the odds that random mutations can give rise to a functional protein. And even if we can predict the the binding of two proteins, it still doesn't explain what is happening. We basically have a jumble of atoms thrown together in a tangled string or ball. As you mention, the complexity is staggering. Molecular dynamics is a field in its infancy, and uses all kinds of approximations to try to make the problem minimally tractable. We don't fully know how to solve the 4-body problem in physics. (I.e., 4 planets in an initial configuration with initial velocities, what will be their future positions and speeds, as they interact gravitationally with each other. And for this we have a well-defined system of differential equations.) But every atom has many protons, neutrons and electrons. And every molecule has many atoms. And every cell has countless molecules. and each part is being acted on by forces which are themselves not fully understood, to the best of my knowledge. So how does one even attempt to solve this? It is a miracle that we know as much as we know. But it is only a drop in the ocean of what we need to know. So I remain a total skeptic about people who tell me about what happened a million years ago, or a million years from now. (The sun will run out of fuel, I should start worrying.) I only care about what is in front of my face, and that is where I place my efforts.

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  49. "But it was the first name you saw under "macroevolution," and you copied and pasted an abstract without having the foggiest of what it's all about, right?" -- Wrong. I read through those four links I provided above. I hope you do, too.

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  50. (Whoops, I changed from "Serene" to "Gravel". Oh well.)

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  51. I am sorry for belaboring the point, and I have read much of Rabbi Slifkin's work and valiant attempts to reconcile Torah and Science, which should be commended. Yes, if G-d created higher animals from lower animals, I have no problem, as I mentioned before. He could also have created higher animals from scratch. As Zensci mentioned, the Torah is not a science book, and is to teach us proper behavior. As Kira mentioned, even Rashi says we get no info on the mechanisms or order of creation from the verses. This is probably because it is irrelevant to the Torah's main message, which is ethics. Why should we care how G-d made us? 6 days or 15 billion years; directly or from monkeys, who cares? As long as we realize there is a Creator, we are fine. But here is what I don't get. The secular scientific approach is that it all happened randomly. Does Rabbi Slifkin believe that the fact we have one nose and not three noses was intended by G-d, or is just a random accident? Did G-d engineer everything in our bodies, or he just sat back and closed his eyes and let things come together as they happened.

    Perhaps one will say (and I believe this is mentioned in Rabbi Slifkin's book) that all G-d did was create the scientific laws, and everything followed from there. In other words, there really was only one possible solution to the Grand Differential Equation which controls everything; and our world and our form is it. G-d knew from the beginning that our bodies would turn out exactly the way they did. But if this is the reconciliation between Torah and Science, would the scientists agree? This basically presupposes a deterministic universe, totally predictable from the initial conditions. But I believe current scientific thought is heavily into stochastic models. In addition, how does our free will fit into this? How do we make choices, if the outcome has been pre-ordained by the Grand Differential Equation? Where does personal responsibility enter, if I really have no choice what my brain will decide to do? Not my fault that I am a bank robber, any more than it is a rock's fault that an avalanche occurred which destroyed a village.

    The questions are very difficult, and simplistically jumping onto popular bandwagons and throwing around whatever current terminology happens to be in vogue does not do this topic justice.

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  52. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I read "The Challenge of Creation" and liked it very much. I also remember that you suggest reading Bereishis as a metaphor (based on the Rambam and others). I don't remember you addressing the words of Kiddush directly, though, or the general reason for observing Shabbos on the seventh day due to Hashem resting on this day after six days of creation (as we say in Kiddush and davening).

    All that said, I will go home tonight and look at the book again. Sorry if I forgot it.

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  53. It wasn't in the first edition; I think only starting from the second edition.

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  54. Barry, your cynicism about the ability of the human mind to comprehend nature and to venture predictions about the future and past is misplaced. Humans have made remarkable progress in this area over the last number of centuries - much more progress than has been made in any other field of endeavor - including religion. Some apparent errors in your exposition leads me to believe that you don't write from intimate knowledge. Genes aren't particular sequences of amino acids, they are the instructions coded in the base sequences of DNA and RNA polymers that determine the amino acid sequence in the protein product. Then, too, the issue with there not being an analytical solution to the many-body problem in dynamics is already manifested in 3 bodies (not the 4 that you mentioned). Nonetheless, numeric solutions to the many-body problem is available to any required accuracy. The only limitation is the existence of chaotic behavior which effects long-term (millions of years) predictions.

    Yes, the secular scientific mindset is that everything developed unplanned but under laws that were somehow set from the beginning. A religious scientist could believe, however, that there was a divine plan, but that its details were left to natural development, i.e., under the divinely ordained laws. If you wish, consider creation a divine experiment with various stages intended to lead to a desired result. One example of a non-random event was the formation of Adam and Eve as 2 sentient individuals with whom GOD wished to interact.

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  55. Okay, thank you. I'll see if I can get a hold of a later edition as I, indeed, have the first one. Thanks again.

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  56. Dear Y. Aharon, my use of the word gene should perhaps have been more precisely stated as gene product. In the literature, gene and gene product are both often written with the same symbols, except that one may be italicized, and the other not, or one may be in upper case, with the other in lower case. My point was that while a gene may be ambiguous, as there are introns and exons, and sometimes the same sequence of DNA will lead to different gene products because of alternative splicing or other processing; however, gene products are much less ambiguous. So my argument is that even given an unambiguous sequence of amino acids, we still don't know what it will do or what its shape will be, in most cases.

    Same for n-body problem. In the 3-body problem, there are certain cases where analytic solutions have been found. So I chose 4-body problem which is less well understood. True, numeric solutions can be found, as you pointed out, but this is not true of molecular dynamics at this point, as the number of interacting bodies is infinitely greater, and our knowledge of the force laws is not as accurate. Look at the literature, and you will see that even how to deal with the surrounding solvents is not clear. We are not good at predicting 3-D structure right now, and much of our knowledge comes from x-ray diffraction imaging and reconstructing structure from the reciprocal-space data that is produced. But even when we have solved the structure of a protein, it generally had to have been crystallized beforehand. so we are seeing a picture of a single static moment in time. However, molecules are constantly on the move and changing their conformations, so what we really need is a 3-D movie to better understand what is happening. Proteins are actually little machines. Hopefully in the not-too-distant future we will have the ability to do this kind of imaging.

    My point is that the view from the trenches is far different than what is perceived by the public. Yes, we have made remarkable progress, but there is a long, long way to go. I believe it is premature to speculate on events in the distant past until we better understand the workings of the cells of our days.

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  57. My point is that the view from the trenches is far different than what is perceived by the public. Yes, we have made remarkable progress, but there is a long, long way to go. I believe it is premature to speculate on events in the distant past until we better understand the workings of the cells of our days.

    Do you doubt that biological processes conserve energy? Should I avoid flying in airplanes until protein folding is well understood? Why should uncertainty in one area at one scale affect our knowledge in other areas? Shouldn't that be based on the evidence about what we actually know rather than what we might be expected to know based on our understanding of some other area of investigation?

    If there is one thing more uncertain than then the details of biology that you are discussing, it is the relationship between our levels of knowledge in different areas of investigation. I know of no well-developed theory that could explain this.

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  58. Gravel, the four links you claim to have read and want me to read are, to put it mildly, swill. They are barely concealed Christian Evangelical sites tarted-up to look like science sites to the educationally malnourished and it takes under five minutes to see that the content is quackery, run-of-the-mill science-sounding gobbledygook.

    So, one is curious as three possibilities immediately present themselves. First, that this may hint at the source material Orthodox creationists rely on and are incorporating into Jewish thought. Christian hashkafa. That's a bit disconcerting, no? Like, it's one thing to adopt a few fashions and some common ethical points, and another to be so unschooled as to get suckered-in by the first cool presentation one finds and to interpret the mysteries of Creation through the eyes of...Christian bible college "doctors" of divinity! Yikes!

    Secondly, that you are a Messianic Jew, or a Jews for Jesus...Yidn-fur-Yoshke...tool. Very typical tactic this, to lead Jews onto neutral-seeming, common-cause topics and incrementally lead them deeper towards theological content. Temujin intends to ask Rav Skobac of Jews for Judaism if he knows anything about the maze of organizations behind these sites.

    Thirdly, that you are so ignorant of the subject matter, that you can't properly sift through and evaluate the literature and got bamboozled by Evangelist "kiruv." Being a good egg, one who tries to see only the best in people, Temujin thinks/hopes it's the latter.

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  59. Dear David, if we knew as much about airplane manufacturing as we knew about cell biology, I would strongly advise you not to fly in a plane. Imagine an engine is very rusted. Pilot asks for repair. Ground crew tells him, sorry, we don't know how to make or replace engines. There are only two options: A) We can pour a caustic chemical on the engine which may dissolve the rust, but it is also known to damage healthy metal, and could make problem worse. B) We can cut off the engine, which will prevent rust from further spreading, but you will only be flying on 3 engines from now on. Would you fly on an airline with such a ground crew, or buy planes from such a maintenance or manufacturing concern?

    Continuing with your airplane reasoning, imagine if a new Chief Engineer of Boeing is appointed, who doesn't understand planes too well. He looks inside one and says, hmmm, the floor and walls have these useless and ugly circular bumps. Let's eliminate this, and we can also save money on extra metal. He makes a plane without them, but discovers that those are the rivets which hold the layers together, and now the plane is no longer airworthy.

    This happens in molecular biology, as well. It has been known that more than 95% of DNA is noncoding. "Experts" were so confident it was left-over evolutionary remnants, that they called it junk DNA. Now, the ENCODE consortium has confirmed that at least half of it plays a regulatory role. It is likely to be software which runs the gene control logic. Well that drastically changes the odds, doesn't it? Before, if only 5% of the DNA sequence was critical, and the rest were "don't cares", it lowers the probability that the right sequences would be randomly generated. But if half or all the DNA is critical, then the odds go way up. Same for the coding region, as well. To lower odds, it was assumed that many amino acids are don't cares, and have no effect, only those near the active site. But if that is found to be false, it drastically changes the math.

    Furthermore, if the noncoding DNA is software, can you kindly tell me the odds that machine code to do a bubble sort on some computing platform can be written by a random number generator?

    So for the life of me, I can't fathom how one can talk about the history of manufacturing of an object that one doesn't understand. If we understood cells, there would be no blind, deaf, paralyzed or cancer-stricken individuals.

    If you think we do understand cellular engineering, here is a challenge: Make me a 1 foot tall animal with red fur that is hard-wired to eat chulent, sort red cans from blue, put each color in a separate bin, and recite the Declaration of Independence. Please use original DNA. If too hard, I will allow reuse of 49% of existing DNA from other sources (with attribution). You have one year to design and gestate this being.

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  60. Temujin, I am surprised at you. You say you looked at the sites, yet you claim they're all Evangelical. The fact is that the four pieces are written by two different authors. One is a Christian skeptic (Camp) and one is an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry,
    and Evolution (Theobald - probably an agnostic). And there's no Christian "hashkafa" in Camp's pieces. It's only in your imagination.
    I am not even saying who has the better argument. They both misconstrue the other's words at times (mostly accidentally), but they both have some good points, too. I was hoping you would learn the lesson and not misconstrue my words.

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  61. Barry, I apologize for appearing to slight your knowledge of biochemistry and physics. I see that you do have familiarity with these subjects. I continue to object, however, to your cynical attitude towards the ability of science to project into the distant past. It's not an all or nothing situation. While we certainly don't know everything, what we do know is adequate to provide a picture of the distant past. It's a matter of having an absolute measure of past times in the geological record and correlating that with fossilized organisms found in the same strata. The complexity of cells and organisms is irrelevant to the observed progression in body plans with geological time.

    As to evidence for evolutionary theory, there is ample indication for the common origin aspect of evolution. For example, all living things that we know of have the same triplet base coding for amino acids (with a minor change for the RNA genes in some virii); all have the L configuratin of amino acids and the D configuration of saccharides.

    The survival of the fittest mechanism of evolutionary change is commonly seen in lower organisms such as bacteria. While the point defect model of mutations would appear to be too slow to account for the immense variety of organisms on earth, the more recent findings on gene control promises new avenues to accelerate evolutionary change - particularly under a drastic change in environmental conditions.

    I also fail to understand your disparagement of our current knowledge of molecular dynamics. We do understand the forces involved. That's basic physics (electrostatics) using quantum mechanics. I also note that Prof. Martin Karplus of Harvard has recently won a Nobel Prize in chemistry for just such pioneering molecular dynamic calculations.

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  62. Gravel, well, alright, then. One referred to the irrelevant Christian links, not the responses...the reading list you presented was dismissed, with prejudice, as corrupt. Bad Temujin, but like most people, and as he has explained before, he can't evaluate the details of the dispute, nor does he have to in order to side with one position versus another. This is a competition between credibility of sources and communities, and the credibility in this case belongs to the science community. And this is not only because of the vastly superior, century-old, multi-sourced and open, peer-reviewed process itself, but because the creationists' attempts to pretend that they are arguing science, rather than Christological theology is an obnoxious tactic that is fundamentally mendacious and deceitful.

    You say Temujin misconstrues your words. Quite likely so and will continue in that direction for as long as one is left with guessing; you have not stated your position clearly, nor have you explained reasons for the content and kind of sources you list. What is the point of latching onto the macro-micro debate? Of saying that species change didn't have enough time to take places, whatever you mean by that? Don't give us little kvetchings about this and that along with mysterious reading assignments, like the tiresome Evangelical creationists; show us instead that your have a position you understand and that you can articulate it as a non-scientist to non-scientists.

    One still would like to understand your reasons for posting links to Christian views on creationism without an explanation as to why and how they relate to authentic Judaism. Creationism is a minority position even among most Christians and their denominations and is projected as a missionary activity by a limited number of organizations and churches through an industry which churns out pseudoscientific junk such as scholarly-looking papers, glossy textbooks, academic courses, all media and even a few circuses such as "natural history" museums. That material is tailored either to their members or as part of missionary outreach to other Christians and general society...including Jews. But most of their "scientists" are not scientists in the relevant fields and have not conducted empirical, falsifiable research. Their challenges are weak and their "zingers" are of no value to anyone but themselves.

    Let's simplify things. This is a rationalist Judaism site where Rabbi Slifkin has thrown the glove down with a rather revolutionary thesis on Creation. It's to be found in his book, Challenge of Creation, and in a number of his posts here. Do you disagree? Fine. Do you wish to plop down an antithesis and offer to submit a synthesis, pardon the Marxian terminology? Do you object to Rav Slifkin's science, his understanding of hashkafa or interpretation of halacha? Temujin is very curious about such things, as he takes the harsher, if not extremist, position that those who attempt to import foreign material such as Christian creationist models, without a clear declaration of their sources and an invitation to an open, Torah-based discussion, are importing pure, malodourous kefira. So, there.

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  63. Dear Y. Aharon, thanks for your comment. You raise some interesting points. Regarding the single enantiomers found in biological systems, without invoking evolution, there may be a straightforward explanation. Ostensibly, in many mechanical systems it would make no difference whether we used right-handed or left-handed screws. But it is necessary that the nuts that fasten these screws be of the same type. Since we are designed to eat many other types of organisms, if racemic mixtures of amino acids were present, or if certain organisms used D and others used L forms, we could not properly incorporate them into our bodies (without changing shapes of certain molecules). Having all one type insures compatibility. It is pretty amazing, actually, because as you know, enantioselective synthesis is not simple.

    Regarding your point about molecular dynamics, allow me to first raise the following. Despite the constant over-hype, let us honestly look at what practical ramifications evolution has on modern medicine. Suppose you go to your eye doctor for annual exam. He gives you a certain eyeglass prescription. The next day an article is published in a scientific journal that new discoveries have altered the evolutionary tree. Instead of descending from an ape forerunner, it seems we are descended from a squirrel forerunner. You get a frantic call from the doctor's office, come back immediately. we must totally redo your exam. The doctor was thinking ape eyes when he saw you, but must redo on the basis of squirrel eyes.

    Another case: A man is rushed to an emergency room with a ruptured aorta. Before operating, the surgeon is screaming, quick, does anybody know from which animal he is descended? I can't operate properly until I know. So these nonsensical scenarios show that in fact, evolution has almost no bearing at all on medicine. Yet, if you look in many biology books, they say in the intro that the grand unifying principle of all biology, without which the entire subject makes no sense is evolution. In fact, aside from possibly certain areas of epidemiology and antibiotic resistance, evolution has almost no bearing at all on practical treatment, whether true or not true or whatever tree one uses. What matters in fact is what you stated: Quantum mechanics. Here you have hit the nail on the head. If we understood QM better, we would be able to cure many diseases. Rather than disparaging Warshal's remarkable work, I am saying the exact opposite. QM is very difficult and not well-understood. For example, we can't solve Schrodinger's eq analytically even for helium or any higher element. All kinds of approximations are used, such as the nucleus doesn't move, etc. In order to further Warshal's work, biologists and (physicists) must learn more math. If evolution were left out of the curriculum, and 4 years of QM were inserted, instead, we would probably be much further along in curing disease. So the unifying principle of biology is physics, not evolution, which has almost no practical bearing. I will finish this post in a second part, soon, IYH.

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    1. However, until QM is used atleast to the extent evolution is used, it can't be considered a unifying principle for medicine. You may be right, but what you are saying is speculation at best.
      Additionally, I am not aware of a 4 year curriculum on evolution to be replaced by QM. Evolution is discussed in biology, but it doesn't get as much floor time as you suggest

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  64. Part 2. In previous post I tried to argue that evolution sheds very little light on practical courses of treatment and our understanding of the workings of the human body. Here, I would like to extend this argument, that it is actually detrimental. While Rabbi Slifkin is valiantly attempting to reconcile or kasher evolution so that it fits with the Torah, it is not the smoothest fit. The reason is that at its core, evolution explains the world on the basis of a random accident. It is a continuation of the big bang, which although interesting in the sense that it posits a finite beginning to the world, however, secular scientists do not view this as agreeing with Breishis, a deliberately crafted creation, but rather as a puposeless accident, with all pieces flying around randomly.

    Once, I was at a restaurant in Brookline with my family, and my wife overheard on the next table some conversation which she felt was not typical restaurant banter. She told me these are scientists. I started talking to them. It turns out they were from the Harvard astrophysics department. One was so well-known, he had a town square named after him. At least one was Jewish, but said he was an atheist. I told him, believers can do deeper science than atheists. When you study a new star, you ask, how far is it, how hot is it, what type of radiation does it emit, etc. But it is an accident. When I hear of a new star, I want to know, what does it do to enable human life, it must be of direct benefit to us. The Creator put it there for a reason, as medrash says, everything G-d created, nothing was for naught. The astrophysicist screamed, What arrogance! (He was actually a nice fellow and invited me to visit, sometime.)

    Take our nearest neighbor Alpha Centauri. An atheist has no choice but to view it as over-sized space junk. But a believer needs to know that it has some purpose. Maybe it interacts with dark matter in some way that regulates the output of our sun. Even the farthest star in our universe must serve some purpose, perhaps it stabilizes or balances gravitational forces of other heavenly bodies, etc. (Just throwing out ideas off the top of my head.)

    But the bottom line is that to an atheist, there is no purpose to any star. It is just there. To a believer, there is an entire deep mystery that must be solved of exactly what its function is. This question will ultimately lead to greater understanding of science and our universe, as a whole.

    So, while it is tempting to do what Rabbi Slifkin is trying to do, but there are fundamentally two very different world-views at play here, and to reconcile is not at all straightforward. (Still have more to say, and expect another part.)

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  65. Temujin, I have no interest in Christianity except to refute their messianic claims. I felt safe sharing the debate, which included a Christian's critiques of macroevolution, because he didn't do so by appealing to his religion.
    (Temujin) can't evaluate the details of the dispute -- That's OK, me neither, but you can still evaluate the details of the way they argue.
    You say Temujin misconstrues your words. Quite likely so and will continue in that direction for as long as one is left with guessing -- Not if you just argue with what you actually read, not what you read into.
    you have not stated your position clearly It shouldn't matter. I'm a skeptic of both Theobald and Camp. Call me a fence-sitter if you wish.
    This is a competition between credibility of sources and communities, and the credibility in this case belongs to the science community.
    Can we just take this case? Since I felt that both Theobald and Camp quote the scientific literature, I'd say the credibility belongs to the one who picks good sources, doesn't ignore good scientific sources, and handles those most accurately. And to the one who misconstrues
    his opponent's words the least.
    because the creationists' attempts to pretend that they are arguing science, rather than Christological theology -- Yeah, that happens sometimes. I hate it as much as you do. Which is why I tried very hard to find a
    critic of evolutionary theory who didn't resort to that. You can judge for yourself if Camp did that.
    What is the point of latching onto the macro-micro debate? Not so much a "latching." My first comment was a mild protest of the word "anti-evolutionist." That's about it. Why did I present the
    four links? I wanted to present a debate for the reasons I gave. It just so happens that I thought this was a mostly well-argued (though not totally) debate on a topic within evolution, maybe the most important. The topic and the debate itself appealed to me. I'm sure I can find another one on, say, how the Monach butterflies' homing ability evolved.
    Of saying that species change didn't have enough time to take place, whatever you mean by that? -- I didn't say that. Maybe there was enough time. I only said that you (well, not you personally) had to prove it.
    Do you object to Rav Slifkin's science, his understanding of hashkafa or interpretation of halacha? I've been a fan of R' Slifkin's writings for many years. Do I "object" to his positions? Almost never. "Disagree with"? Rarely.

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  66. One notes with some alarm that Messrs Aharon and Jacobson have just left our cozy Newtonian Universe in the dust to gallop off bravely into the uncharted wilds of quantum mechanics. Soon we will be treated to idle chatter and knowing winks about wave function eigenvalues and probability densities, after which the discourse will inevitably devolve into the usual bawdy quips about the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen Paradox. A search and rescue mission will need to be organized.

    But seriously, gentlemen, it's a pleasure to read your exchanges. Even if one understands about 3% of the content.

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  67. When I hear of a new star, I want to know, what does it do to enable human life, it must be of direct benefit to us. The Creator put it there for a reason, as medrash says, everything G-d created, nothing was for naught.

    Another PoV http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp149.htm

    We must in continuing the inquiry as to the purpose of the creation at last arrive at the answer, It was the Will of God, or His Wisdom decreed it; and this is the correct answer. The wise men in Israel have, therefore, introduced in our prayers (for Ne‘ilah of the Day of Atonement) the following passage:--"Thou hast distinguished man from the beginning, and chosen him to stand before Thee; who can say unto Thee, What dost Thou? And if he be righteous, what does he give Thee?" They have thus clearly stated that it was not a final cause that determined the existence of all things, but only His will. This being the case, we who believe in the Creation must admit that God could have created the Universe in a different manner as regards the causes and effects contained in it, and this would lead to the absurd conclusion that everything except man existed without any purpose, as the principal object, man, could have been brought into existence without the rest of the creation. I consider therefore the following opinion as most correct according to the teaching of the Bible, and best in accordance with the results of philosophy; namely, that the Universe does not exist for man's sake, but that each being exists for its own sake, and not because of some other thing. Thus we believe in the Creation, and yet need not inquire what purpose is served by each species of the existing things, because we assume that God created all parts of the Universe by His will; some for their own sake, and some for the sake of other beings, that include their own purpose in themselves. In the same manner as it was the will of God that man should exist, so it was His will that the heavens with their stars should exist, that there should be angels, and each of these beings is itself the purpose of its own existence.

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  68. Mr Jacobson said, Take our nearest neighbor Alpha Centauri. An atheist has no choice but to view it as over-sized space junk. But a believer needs to know that it has some purpose. Maybe it interacts with dark matter in some way that regulates the output of our sun. Even the farthest star in our universe must serve some purpose, perhaps it stabilizes or balances gravitational forces of other heavenly bodies, etc. (Just throwing out ideas off the top of my head.)

    Hmmm. A "devil's advocate" response to this would be that apart from the current astronomical language, this view can easily nudge towards astrology if human events are adopted into the model. This is where one looks at quantum mechanics with a jaundiced eye; like all newish sciences, it's difficulty and unanswered questions lend themselves to outlandish interpretations by charlatans and the public.

    As a former atheist, Temujin confirms that atheism need not look at the universe and bits thereof as pointless junk; teleologically an atheist is capable of interest in life, of a sense of awe at the wonders and sublime beauty of the Universe, even a belief in a grand mission, perhaps a futuristic dream of humanity with its accomplishments and ethics spreading among the stars.

    Gravel, one feels that he has been boxing with shadows. Examining several relatively unknown individuals, evolutionists or creationists is an odd approach to the topic, but hey, we all learn in our own fashion. One would comment that searching for a good creationist argument which is not theologically based is probably futile, unless one begins to examine crank theories like panspermia, ancient astronauts, colliding worlds, hollow Earth and whatnot. The size of the scientific community, the multiples of disciplines involved and the length of time the questions have been researched make it unlikely that a novel theory will emerge within the scientific community. Temujin figured you're not promoting Christian arguments and his beef is largely with some literalist orthodox sources which depend on the oddball views of certain charismatics or which have been too lazy to develop a Jewish position and clearly borrow from Christian fundamentalist sources with little but superficial tinkering to give their arguments a Jewish look.

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  69. Splendid points by Mr Ohsie. The flipside to atheism one might add, is the conviction that everything exists for us. Taken to extremes...by children, philosophers, fantasists and psychopaths...a person can arrive at the un-falsifiable conclusion that he is the only one in the world and that all is either a creation of one's God-like powers, perish that silly thought, a self-created illusion or a vast complex holographic game with the subject in the centre of it. The theme throughout al this is, of course, supreme egoism.

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  70. Dear EML and Temujin, thanks for your feedback. Believe me, I know far too little about QM, but let me explain my reasoning. When the average person hears about QM, he imagines big particle accelerators and fancy subatomic particles and exotic paradoxes. But at its core, QM is just the rules of the glue or interactions between small things. In my day we had to learn some elementary principles in high school chemistry just to understand the periodic table. We learned about the shells and subshells, 1s2, 2s2, 2p6, 3s2, 3p6, etc. These told us how many elements were in each row of the periodic table. The ones to the left wanted to lose electrons to get filled shells, while the ones on the right wished to gain electrons. This determines their reactivity and properties, whether a metal or nonmetal, etc. We were taught simple mathematical rules about how many electrons could fit in each shell and how many orbitals in each subshell, etc. But we never learned where those rules came from. In addition, even in the simplest atom there is a mystery about why the negative electron doesn't fall into the nucleus, since negative is attracted to positive. To this day, while everybody accepts it as a postulate, they just don't fall in, we don't really know why. If a genius like Feynman could say that anybody who thinks he understands QM doesn't, what should an insignificant being like myself say? But nevertheless, adding more atoms just makes things more complicated. The cell has zillions of molecules composed of zillions of atoms each made up of the same 3 particles, which are all glued together by QM forces. There is simply no way to get around the topic. The most accurate QM equation we have only works for the first element, hydrogen. Nobody knows how to solve it for any other. The use of those shells and subshells is an approximation for all the rest of the elements. Why are some mercury compounds so poisonous? Mercury has same protons, neutrons and electrons as any other element. Why is NaN3, sodium azide, which is composed of the important and beneficial elements, sodium, used in nerve conduction, and nitrogen, used in all proteins, so dangerous, and used to kill growths in lab reagents. The only difference is in the numbers and arrangements of the very same electrons, protons and neutrons. And the functioning of all proteins, which are very complex molecules, depends on the arrangements of thousands of atoms and their constituents.

    So the problems are twofold: We really don't understand the fundamental forces holding everything together, and how they give them them their properties. We use various approximations. But even if we did, there are so many components interacting that no computer today can possibly handle it, even if we programmed it properly. We use as many simplifying assumptions as we possibly can. I believe some of the work in molecular dynamics tries to rely on classical electromagnetic forces as much as possible to avoid QM which is more complex. It still has some decent successes, but is not the whole story.

    So while I know very little about these things, and am trying to make up for lost time, but I see the road map clearly of where we must go to solve our problems. If we properly understood the electron, proton and neutron and how they get along, we could cure all our diseases.

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  71. Dear David Ohsie and Temujin, Thanks for presenting an alternate point of view. I was surprised that atheists could see such harmony in the universe.

    Getting back to my previous discussion, though, I wanted to bring one more example which is truly horrible, but that I need to fully illustrate my point. Please forgive me. The terrible Zyklon B gas which the Nazis, cursed be their name, used to exterminate the Jews, one would imagine was composed of some terribly dangerous elements. But in fact, it was hydrogen cyanide, HCN, which is simply hydrogen, a component of water, carbon, which is the backbone of all the important organic molecules in our bodies, and nitrogen, as before, which is a component of every amino acid, that makes up all our proteins.In fact, every single amino acid, I believe, contains H, C, and N. So the very same elements can make one of the most dangerous compounds known to man, or one of the most important building blocks of life.

    This is what makes biology and chemistry so confusing. When it comes to nutrition, we always hear from some people, avoid chemical additives, they are dangerous, and some may even cause cancer. But what is perplexing is how do you define a chemical. Our foods themselves are made from the very same elements. Why are they not chemicals? If we choose to define everything that grows naturally as safe, and that is synthetic as dangerous, well, in nature we have poisonous plants, mushrooms, and snakes. And some additives prevent spoilage, which can also be dangerous.

    In addition, when it comes to medicines, if you look at the Physician's Desk Reference, many of the drugs list as mechanism unknown. In other words, they were discovered by trial and error, and validated only by statistical studies which seem to show benefit, but we don't know why. I believe I was told by one researcher that the most popular surgical anesthetic gas, halothane, nobody has any clue why it works or what it does. Many drugs will show benefit for only a small percentage of the population, but enough to be pass the clinical trial. On the other side of the coin, we often hear that a popular drug is suddenly recalled because it is found to have serious side effects.

    So my point again is that the complexity of biological systems is so vast, that we really don't have a firm grasp at this point of the myriad types of substances that are found in each type of cell, and how they will interact with a given man-made compound.

    Finally, another way QM may be useful down the road is that magnetic resonance imaging is basically a quantum mechanical phenomenon, and seems to have promise for imaging small objects, and may eventually allow us to visualize single molecules and their interactions, as technology improves. Research on improving resolution is very important for all imaging modalities.

    My advice to all students at any level is to take as much math and physics as you possibly can. The world is depending on you. Helping those who are suffering is the greatest mitzva possible.

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  72. Gravel, one feels that he has been boxing with shadows. -- Temujin, if you're a shadow, then I'll have to agree completely.

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  73. Barry, I enjoy reading your comments, but am puzzled as to your insistence that one leading scientific theory, i.e., evolution, can't explain the past, and is irrelevant to some important practical matters such as medicine. Another leading theory, however, i.e., quantum mechanics (QM), which is also not much relevant to medicine, you claim must be studied and advanced to achieve such relevance. You place little credence on evolutionary theory and much hope on QM theory. The difference in attitude is apparent. You believe that evolution theory is in conflict with religious teachings, while QM is not. In dealing with scientific theories, however, the concern about possible conflict with religious beliefs should not bias our evaluation. That evaluation should be based on their predictive power, not on agreement with preconceived ideas. Both theories have been very successful in the former case.

    I must say, that Temujin has unfairly joined me with Barry in introducing QM into an evolution discussion. I merely made brief mention of it.

    Getting back to religion and evolution. It is not a basic religious credo to state, as Barry does, that all of creation serves man, which mission is its raison d'etre. A religious alternative is to assume that the divine intent from the beginning was to create a being with some divine-like qualities and to place him in a suitable environment. How that environment arose could have been left to unplanned development under constant laws of divine origin, with occasional divine guidance. That mode of operation is more consistent with what we know of the biblical and post-biblical periods. It is also far easier to defend both on a scientific and moral basis (the issue of suffering in the world). I don't maintain that it is useless to look for purpose in the myriad forms of creation, just too subjective. Einstein phrased it well, "religion without science is blind; science without religion is lame". We must look at the world with open eyes, but also not suppress a sense of wonder and awe at it all.

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  74. Dear Y. Aharon, you make some good points, and ultimately, there may always be some negia in one's thinking that carries over from one domain to another. But my main objections to emphasis on evolution are two:

    1) Even if true, it is primarily a theory of the past that has very little to say about the present or the future of medicine in terms of how to cure any disease. More like a history book.

    2) The idea of complex systems and beings coming out of nowhere is rather bizarre. When you go to your local supermarket, how many items are known to self-assemble? Just about everything you see required a purposeful assembly process. The building, the boxes of food, the products, the cash registers. We never assume a thing was built randomly. Could a violin have been produced by petrified wood washing up on the shore, and the strings by a sudden lightning strike that melted some metal ore into wires which fell on the wood? Certainly possible, but anybody who believes that would be legally insane. A human is infinitely more complex. Why would I believe he could self-assemble?

    As I mentioned before, Rabbi Slifkin's approach is very confusing in that he wants to use the mechanism of evolution which is inherently random and rudderless, but imbue it with with the spirit of religion and a Creator. I am not saying he is wrong, but it is a very strange marriage.

    Your question of suffering is of course a very difficult one, and one of the only approaches that works for me is to define our purpose as trying to help others, so that they don't suffer. In fact, studying medicine or doing research and inventing new cures is high on my list of worthwhile activities, as is inviting in the less-fortunate and offering physical and emotional support. I believe if humans would be more compassionate and diligent, we could largely eliminate suffering, so perhaps instead of blaming G-d, we should blame ourselves.

    As far as QM not being a key part of medicine, that is true as it is currently practiced. But it doesn't change the fact that our bodies and all matter are governed by those laws, so the next level in medicine will have to face this reality. Drug companies now are realizing this and using more and more sophisticated computer modeling tools to study drug design. Change won't happen overnight, but this revolution is bound to occur. One of the founders of modern physics put it this way (could have been Dirac, but can't remember), "All science is either physics or stamp collecting."

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  75. Sorry, last quote was from Ernest Ruthersford. Just found another one:

    "If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment."

    Love it. Has anybody heard if there are any Ruthersford chassidim? Where do they daven?

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  76. Dear David Ohsie and Temujin, Thanks for presenting an alternate point of view. I was surprised that atheists could see such harmony in the universe.

    Dear me. What did I write to prompt such a comment?

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  77. "That evaluation should be based on their predictive power, not on agreement with preconceived ideas. Both theories have been very successful in the former case."

    Can you quantify that "very" in your sentence? If someone argued that "very" should be replaced with "mildly", could you show that that's mistaken?

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  78. Dear David, sorry. I had lumped responses together. First was directed at you for presenting alternate view, in the paragraph you posted about purpose of various components of the briya. Second sentence was directed only at Temujin, as he said he was a former atheist.

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  79. Dear me. What did I write to prompt such a comment? (David O.)

    Nothing you said, David. It's Temujin who confessed: "As a former atheist, Temujin confirms that atheism need not look at the universe and bits thereof as pointless junk; teleologically an atheist is capable of interest in life, of a sense of awe at the wonders and sublime beauty of the Universe, even a belief in a grand mission, perhaps a futuristic dream of humanity with its accomplishments and ethics spreading among the stars."

    You're just an innocent bystander. A passer-by. Collateral damage; in the wrong place at the wrong time. Guilty by association :) Although I'm sure Mr Jacobson didn't mean it that way.

    Y. Aharon said, "I must say, that Temujin has unfairly joined me with Barry in introducing QM into an evolution discussion. I merely made brief mention of it."

    Indeed so, Mr Aharon. Thus, Temujin withdraws the erroneous joining , allowing the blame to fall squarely on poor Mr Jacobson for leading all the innocents here into the QM quagmire...in addition to his being already in the pickle for linking Mr Ohsie to atheism...which is just as well, as he'll then take the heat off Temujin, who in turn unfairly accused Gravel of spreading Yid'n-fur-Yoshke propaganda. This evolution forum is a veritable slaughterhouse setting brother against brother!

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  80. The idea of complex systems and beings coming out of nowhere is rather bizarre.

    1. The idea of inertia is bizarre. Obviously things just slow down; try it yourself at the local supermarket. Even the scientists admit this; they just cover their tracks with this "friction" idea, and they they tell us that there is *always* some friction. So they've never seen inertia in their lives, and yet they claim it is fundamental!

    Don't even get me started on this moving earth nonsense!

    When you go to your local supermarket, how many items are known to self-assemble?

    2. Actually at my local supermarket, they sell lots of self-assembled items in the produce section. In fact, most everything else there is assembled by man out of self-assembled ingredients. Does your supermarket carry only water and salt in stone containers?

    [Please excuse my tone. It is all meant in a lighthearted way.]

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  81. Dear David, your example of produce is bending the rules. The produce came from seeds which came from produce, which came from seeds, etc. Whether either of those self-assembled is the topic we are debating. You need to show me something complex and useful which we can all see has self-assembled from scratch. I will have more to say about self-assembly in 2 posts from now.

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  82. Barry, as you know, I disagree with your arguments and conclusions while appreciating your efforts at understanding matters.
    I note several problems with your thesis about evolution and QM theory. Your latest statement about the supposed irrelevance of evolution theory follows:
    "Even if true (evolution - YA), it is primarily a theory of the past that has very little to say about the present or the future of medicine in terms of how to cure any disease. More like a history book." - BJ

    First of all, modern medicine includes such things as anti-biotics which are becoming increasingly ineffective due to misuse, and the ability of harmful microbes to overcome chemical attack. The latter ability of microbes is due to the experimentally verified classical evolutionary mechanisms of spontaneous mutations in the bacteria, and a survival of the fittest (mutants). Secondly, this argument would make religion largely irrelevant to modern life in that it, too, has little to contribute to combatting disease.
    Human knowledge is a far greater enterprise than your restriction to curing disease would imply.

    I hate to bring up QM again after Temujin's objections, but your latest quote from Ernest Rutherford in the early years of the 20th century is at odds with your endorsement of 'modern' QM theory:

    "If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment." - Lord Rutherford

    That theory in the form of the basic Shrodinger wave function, and some of the experimental work forming the basis of the theory
    is best interpreted in terms of the probability of finding an atomic electron at a given point relative to the nucleus. Moreover some basic experimental results confirm the probabilistic nature of the phenomena and relevant wave functions.

    Shabbat shalom

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  83. I want to expand on one point to protect myself. I have often found that people will seek to catch you on any inaccuracy, and then dismiss your entire argument by disqualifying your background, abilities, qualifications, etc.

    In one long post I mentioned for brevity that there is a mystery about why the negatively charged electron does not fall into the positively charged nucleus. The truth is a bit more complicated. The Bohr atom postulated that the electrostatic attraction between the positive nucleus and negative electron -kq1q2/r^2 was perhaps equal to the centripetal force holding a circulating electron in orbit, mv^2/r, and that perhaps permissible orbits were restricted to integral multiples of a certain minimum angular momentum, mvr=nh/2pi. (This is from memory, please excuse any mistakes, as I type from my phone, and will lose post if I look up.) Based on this, he was able to predict the energy values of allowed orbits, and the transitions between them corresponded to the known spectral lines of hydrogen. While this was great, the problems were two. First, it only worked for hydrogen, and second, any object moving in a circle is by definition accelerating, as vectors contain both magnitude and direction. It was well-established that accelerating charges radiate electromagnetic energy (which itself is a fascinating topic, as to exactly why). Hence, the orbiting electrons must lose kinetic energy. Eventually they must fall into nucleus. But it doesn't happen. The newer theories don't explain this much better, other than to argue that the uncertainty principle would not allow us to know both position and momentum simultaneously, which would be the case if it were stuck immobile in a known place. Hence it cannot be located there. For all practical purposes, this is still a mystery (at least I don't consider it a satisfactory explanation), and one can sink his teeth into it, if one wants a good challenge.

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  84. Dear David, your example of produce is bending the rules.

    This was your argument:

    The idea of complex systems and beings coming out of nowhere is rather bizarre. When you go to your local supermarket, how many items are known to self-assemble?

    It turns out to be a bad one. We actually find self-assembling machines in nature all over the place (at least on Earth).

    You seem to have changed to the argument into: I didn't see the formation of the first self-replicating life form so I don't believe it ever happened or something like that.

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  85. modern medicine includes such things as anti-biotics which are becoming increasingly ineffective due to misuse, and the ability of harmful microbes to overcome chemical attack. The latter ability of microbes is due to the experimentally verified classical evolutionary mechanisms of spontaneous mutations in the bacteria, and a survival of the fittest (mutants).
    Here's a great example of those who fail to distinguish between micro-evolution (which few skeptics have a problem with, and which provides insights into medicine) and macro-evolution (which provides next to none.)

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  86. Shavua tov, everyone.

    Y. Aharon said, "I hate to bring up QM again after Temujin's objections..." Wait a minute, those weren't objections! Just joshing about the "down the rabbit hole" turn of the discussion but the quantum-talk is enjoyable, especially when expounded by people like Messrs. Aharon and Jacobson who know their stuff and seem to have their heads on right. It's just that Temujin doesn't really get it...very advanced physics, too many paradoxes and anti-intuitive stuff for one's Newtonian-wired brain and what's most disconcerting is not being able to distinguish, without a lot of cross-checking, the quantum science from the quantum quackery of which there is aplenty out there.

    Gravel said, "Here's a great example of those who fail to distinguish between micro-evolution (which few skeptics have a problem with, and which provides insights into medicine) and macro-evolution (which provides next to none.)"

    As subtle as flatulence in a bathysphere. Good grief, man, you've latched onto the throat of that one and it's still alive apparently. "Macroevolution" is a term a few researchers coined in the 70s just to specifying an area in evolution sciences. It focuses on stuff above the species level, among the higher taxa and the ecologically separate gene pools and at longer time periods. That's it. It's just as evidence-based as "microevolution" and it does so have a bearing on medical research...assuming you accept the study of viruses, microbes and bacteria as part of medicine.

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  87. Brief now, because one post was lost due to poor reception. Plenty more still to come on topic. (Mods, please don't delete or close thread without giving ample warning so I can copy my posts.)

    Y, Aharon, I agree with Gravel's point about micro vs. macro. In engineering, we distinguish between open-loop and closed-loop design. In designing an amplifier circuit, one NEVER relies on the stated gain of the op-amp (open-loop). A good design is flexible enough to take into account various inaccuracies in manufacturing, or in the environment, and still function well. This is accomplished by closed-loop design, which means using feedback, so if something is off, it can self-correct or compensate. Same with designing a rocket shield like Iron Dome. One can be sure that they didn't simply calculate the expected trajectory of the threat, and aim there. They must allow flexibility to account for all kinds of additional factors, and adjust in real-time as the missile is in flight.There is no reason a Creator would not use same strategy in designing life-forms so they can adapt and still function and survive in varying environments. This does not mean they self-assembled out of nowhere.

    As far as your second point regarding Ruthersford's comment about statisitics, it is somewhat paradoxical that although quantum mechanics may have a statistical interpretation (about which there has been discussion whether this is inherent, or caused by other hidden variables), nevertheless, we routinely design devices based on QM which work 100% reliably. An example is the laser, which I believe has no classical explanation. This must be contrasted with the state of certain current medical treatments which need to be carefully evaluated as to whether they are any more effective than pure chance. This does not say much for their efficacy.

    David, we are indeed debating the odds that living beings can self-assemble. If you have good examples from nature, please share. Note that I don't consider the EZ Pop popup sukkah to be a valid example of self-assembly, since it had a designer. I plan a long post on self-assembly soon. Also, a post about the way evolution is viewed as the main theme of all of biology, which I confirmed in a well-known textbook.

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  88. Just wanted to point out another thing with regard to Y. Aharon's comment about the commonly accepted interpretation of the solutions to Schrodinger's equation which is that they represent statistical probabilities of finding an object somewhere. However, in fact, our bodies, our possessions, and the world at large do not simply vaporize according to the vagaries of some ill-defined game of chance which holds everything together, and can change on a whim. Clearly, in the aggregate, the laws are well-specified and reliable. This only underscores my original point way back that at the present time we really do not fully understand the nature of the forces holding atoms together, and there is more research to do on this, and also on how to apply those laws to large systems which are at present beyond our computing capability.

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  89. Just wanted to point out another thing with regard to Y. Aharon's comment about the commonly accepted interpretation of the solutions to Schrodinger's equation which is that they represent statistical probabilities of finding an object somewhere. However, in fact, our bodies, our possessions, and the world at large do not simply vaporize according to the vagaries of some ill-defined game of chance which holds everything together, and can change on a whim. Clearly, in the aggregate, the laws are well-specified and reliable. This only underscores my original point way back that at the present time we really do not fully understand the nature of the forces holding atoms together, and there is more research to do on this, and also on how to apply those laws to large systems which are at present beyond our computing capability.

    I am not an expert on physics, but I believe this paragraph to be completely wrong. The classical laws, within experimental error, are fully predicted by QM/QED. When you take a large enough number of particles, the aggregate will appear to be deterministic. Here is Feynman's wonderful explanation:

    "Of course, one might suspect that the first laws that would be discovered by human beings would be those that would reproduce themselves on a larger scale. Why? Because the actual scale of the fundamental gears and wheels of the universe are of atomic dimensions, which are so much finer than our observations that we are nowhere near that scale in our ordinary observations. So the first things that we would discover must be true for objects of no special size relative to an atomic scale. If the laws for small particles did not reproduce themselves on a larger scale, we would not discover those laws very easily. What about the reverse problem? Must the laws on a small scale be the same as those on a larger scale? Of course it is not necessarily so in nature, that at an atomic level the laws have to be the same as on a large scale. Suppose that the true laws of motion of atoms were given by some strange equation which does not have the property that when we go to a larger scale we reproduce the same law, but instead has the property that if we go to a larger scale, we can approximate it by a certain expression such that, if we extend that expression up and up, it keeps reproducing itself on a larger and larger scale. That is possible, and in fact that is the way it works. Newton’s laws are the “tail end” of the atomic laws, extrapolated to a very large size. The actual laws of motion of particles on a fine scale are very peculiar, but if we take large numbers of them and compound them, they approximate, but only approximate, Newton’s laws. Newton’s laws then permit us to go on to a higher and higher scale, and it still seems to be the same law. In fact, it becomes more and more accurate as the scale gets larger and larger. This self-reproducing factor of Newton’s laws is thus really not a fundamental feature of nature, but is an important historical feature. We would never discover the fundamental laws of the atomic particles at first observation because the first observations are much too crude. In fact, it turns out that the fundamental atomic laws, which we call quantum mechanics, are quite different from Newton’s laws, and are difficult to understand because all our direct experiences are with large-scale objects and the small-scale atoms behave like nothing we see on a large scale. So we cannot say, “An atom is just like a planet going around the sun,” or anything like that. It is like nothing we are familiar with because there is nothing like it. As we apply quantum mechanics to larger and larger things, the laws about the behavior of many atoms together do not reproduce themselves, but produce new laws, which are Newton’s laws, which then continue to reproduce themselves from, say, micro-microgram size, which still is billions and billions of atoms, on up to the size of the earth, and above."

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  90. Gravel, I was just replying to Barry's assertion that evolution has no role in medicine. I had not intended to get into the micro vs macro-evolution (really, the quasi-static nature of the 'higher' species) argument. However, if you insist, then there are some observations of species change in modern, much less, historical time. The extent depends on a definition of species. If outward appearance is the key, then even Darwin's finches serve as an example. If inability to produce fertile offspring from the mating of the putative cross-species pair is the criterion, then the number of examples shrinks considerably.
    However, the same mechanisms that govern micro-evolutionary changes,i.e., mutations and competitive success in a given environment, can also produce species changes - although the process is ordinarily much slower in the higher organisms. Such change would, presumably, involve changes in gene control such that unused genes are switched on, while others, turned off. Such genetic changes have been recognized only relatively recently together with the influence of environment on such changes (epigenetic).

    Now, all of this could be considered a matter of design. After all why would mice have the built-in (DNA based) theoretical capability of becoming men where the difference appears to lie largely in what genes are switched on and off? These 'lower' organisms would be naively expected to have fewer genes than the more 'advanced', i.e., intelligent species - usually predators. Yet they don't. We have much in common on a DNA level with much simpler organisms. The question is the conditions and mechanism for such change in genetic control. One mechanism involves adding methyl groups (CH3), but the conditions driving such activity have not, to my knowledge, been established.

    The point of my discussion is that stating that some phenomena are a product of divine design without further elaboration and investigation is not science, but mere argumentation. Enlightenment comes when evidence for conditions and pathways become clarified through scientific investigation. Need I cite that Einsteinian aphorism again?

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  91. Dear David, yes it is true that QM reduces to Newton at large number of particles, as does relativity at small speeds. However, I still contend we don't know exactly how to handle complex molecular-scale entities with QM, as we need in to do order to understand proteins. I could be wrong, that it is just a matter of building a big enough computer, but my sense is it's more than that. I am in process of trying to learn QM (which has a lot of prereqs, first), although I am a beginner. But I feel my roadmap is correct. Here are some interesting viewpoints about QM: (Will try to cite proper site shortly.)

    * Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real. Niels Bohr.
    * Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory cannot possibly have understood it. Niels Bohr.
    * If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you do not understand it. John Wheeler.
    * If [quantum theory] is correct, it signifies the end of physics as a science. Albert Einstein.
    * I do not like [quantum mechanics], and I am sorry I ever had anything to do with it. Erwin Schrödinger.
    * Quantum mechanics makes absolutely no sense. Roger Penrose.
    * It is safe to say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.Richard Feynman.

    And, in a little more detail, from Richard Feynman:

    I am going to tell you what nature behaves like. If you will simply admit that maybe she does behave like this, you will find her a delightful, entrancing thing. Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, ‘but how can it be like that?’ because you will get ‘down the drain,’ into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that.

    Richard Feynman: Quantum Electrodynamics (QED)

    I think it is safe to say that no one understands Quantum Mechanics. (Richard Feynman)
    One does not, by knowing all the physical laws as we know them today, immediately obtain an understanding of anything much. (Richard Feynman, Quantum Mechanics)
    The more you see how strangely Nature behaves, the harder it is to make a model that explains how even the simplest phenomena actually work. So theoretical physics has given up on that. (Richard Feynman, Quantum Mechanics)

    The next question was - what makes planets go around the sun? At the time of Kepler some people answered this problem by saying that there were angels behind them beating their wings and pushing the planets around an orbit. As you will see, the answer is not very far from the truth. The only difference is that the angels sit in a different direction and their wings push inward. (Richard Feynman, Character Of Physical Law)

    What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school... It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don't understand it. You see my physics students don't understand it. ... That is because I don't understand it. Nobody does.
    (Feynman, Richard P. Nobel Lecture, 1966, 1918-1988, QED, The Strange Theory of Light and Matter

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  92. More quotes which didn't fit into size limit of last post:

    (I still have few more aspects of evolution I have not gotten to yet, for future posts. Please bear with me, and I ask mods to please keep thread open.)

    Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers in the preceeding generation . . . Learn from science that you must doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way: Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts. 
    (Richard Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out (1999) p. 186-187.)

    If, in some cataclysm, all scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms - little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence you will see an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied. (The Feynman Lectures on Physics)

    Sources:

    http://www.colorado.edu/physics/phys3220/phys3220_fa08/quotes.html

    http://www.spaceandmotion.com/quantum-mechanics-richard-feynman-quotes.htm

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  93. Temujin, you are totally misunderstanding why I'm making the distinction of macro vs micro. All I can ask is that you read more carefully this time. First, Barry wrote, "Even if (evolution is) true, it is primarily a theory of the past that has very little to say about the present or the future of medicine in terms of how to cure any disease. More like a history book." Then, Y. Aharon tried to show how relevant evolution was to modern medicine by giving an example of antibiotics and microbes, examples of -- according to the definition you implied -- microevolution. Now, I suspect that Barry did not mean to include this aspect of
    evolution in his claim of irrelevance. Surely he knows about bacterial resistance and the like. He should have been clearer. I, and I'm sure he, supports studies in this area of evolutionary theory as much as you do. But show us how relevant macroevolution -- according to your definition, a definition I accept -- is to modern medicine. Strange, and I mean really strange, that you would give the examples of viruses, microbes and bacteria.
    (A minor point I want to touch on quickly and then drop: "It's just as evidence-based as "microevolution" -- I'll agree it's evidence-based, but not as evidence-based as microevolution. But this is irrelevant to the reason for my post.)

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  94. Just getting a practically irrelevant point out of the way: Temujin wrote: "Macroevolution" is a term a few researchers coined in the 70s just to specifying an area in evolution sciences." -- OK. And it was used in a 1989 McGraw Hill textbook, Macroevolutionary Dynamics. And also in Macroevolution: Pattern and Process (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998 version.)
    Now for the more important stuff:
    Y Aharon wrote: "However, the same mechanisms that govern micro-evolutionary changes,i.e., mutations and competitive success in a given environment, can also produce species changes - although the process is ordinarily much slower in the higher organisms." -- I've got no problem with that. You and Temujin may have assumed that I had a problem with that, but I don't.
    "Such change would, presumably, involve changes in gene control such that unused genes are switched on, while others, turned off. Such genetic changes have been recognized only relatively recently together with the influence of environment on such changes (epigenetic)." -- I definitely see epigenetics as a fruitful area of study with respect to modern medicine. The point of my discussion is that stating that some phenomena are a product of divine design without further elaboration and investigation is not science, but mere argumentation. -- Dear me. What did I write to prompt such a comment? (Yes, I stole your line.)
    Barry, I love the Feynman quote about infallibility.

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  95. And thus Gravel ploweth on: "A minor point I want to touch on quickly and then drop: "It's just as evidence-based as "microevolution" -- I'll agree it's evidence-based, but not as evidence-based as microevolution. But this is irrelevant to the reason for my post."

    A minor point? Bwa ha ha ha! O, go on, Gravel. But one understand why you'd want to drop it real fast. Not as evidence-based? You mean that in your understanding of scientific methodology, quantity of data determines the quality of a theory? Actually, all you need is one example or one exception. Alas, we have more than one example in the fossil records which rather nicely display transitions, such as ones from paired fins to paired limbs and then, allow Temujin to present you with the marvelous platypus, a figurative chimera of distinct species in one; a mammal that lays eggs and has fur, which sports a "duck bill" with which it detects prey by sensing its electric field and produces venom from the spurs of its hind legs.

    But one continues to be amused at your coyness about what your hypothesis is. You do have one, don't you? The inquiring tabula rasa mind shtick won't wash with Temujin. And now, groping about, you think you’ve found a life-raft in the Aharon-Jacobson discussion which you exploit...yes, that is the word one intended... to promote your imagined paradigm-busting proposal that "macroevolution" may not be useful or relevant to modern medicine! What a hilarious red herring! Let us then continue to ignore Lenski’s E. Coli study of about 40,000 generations which show that what we have come to classify as “macroevolution” can indeed occur in nature through series of random “microevolutions” which produce an entirely new set of traits which “shouldn’t” have occurred. This leaves you with tinkering with the definition of “macroevotution,” or with the usual raising of the evidence bar by perhaps asking Temujin to create a human from hydrogen molecules within a fortnight in a high school laboratory.

    What still remains, Gravel, after all these pleasant meanderings through pedantries, is that you are still dutifully following the playbook of the "sophisticated" Christian creationist who, given the deluge of evidence for evolution, qiuckly latches onto the academic micro-macro classification scheme to hopefully allow him to claim that all life could not have emerged from a common ancestor and ergo, humankind did not evolve from a common ape ancestor. That’s the bottom-line again, the endgame, right? The "flatulence in the bathysphere" one quipped about in a previous post. And the banal methodology behind this deception is the pretense of genuine scientific curiosity and dispassionate analysis, the tell-tale cherry-picking of scientific evidence, a broad strategy of obscurantism by presenting intra-disciplinary disagreements as evidence of ignorance or failure of a theory, the raising of the bar of evidence after each defeat and never, ever, revealing one’s hypothesis, or more precisely, one’s faith. Ho-hum.

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  96. "qiuckly latches onto the academic micro-macro classification scheme to hopefully allow him to claim that all life could not have emerged from a common ancestor and ergo, humankind did not evolve from a common ape ancestor. That’s the bottom-line again, the endgame, right?"
    Wrong. You are jumping to conclusions. I repeat: just comment on what you read, not what you read into.

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  97. Temujin, which platypus did you feel was a great piece of evidence for transition, the one before the fall of 2013, or the one after?
    http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/11/131104-giant-platypus-evolution-science-animals-paleontology/
    "The team had just shaken up platypus evolution." -- Feh, you don't even care what the family tree of life looks like. The fact that the animal exists is proof enough for you.

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  98. [With patient resignation, eyes gazing beyond the smoke-stained ceiling hole of one's yurt at the beauty of the azure firmament above.]

    Gravel, one did see this article a while back either at Nat Geo or elsewhere, which explains the platypus example given. But who cares "which" platypus? The extinction of mega-fauna was a world-wide phenomenon and is an entirely different topic, more related to historical climatology. So what?

    Temujin calls your bluff: Explain what this latest article dump of yours means in relation to the discussion, especially in relation to "what the family tree of life looks like."

    Then, "You are jumping to conclusions. I repeat: just comment on what you read, not what you read into. It's one and the same, Gravel. What one reads, as clear as an un-muddied lake...to steal a quote from Alex of A Clockwork Orange... is that you are unable/unwilling to formulate an argument or a clear statement and all you can apparently do is to turn key terms in the discussion into search words and then post a reading list of articles which appear at the top of your Google searches. Or, to mine other people's discussions, like the "macroevolution and medicine" one and cite them out of context. Again, humour us: what is it that you're trying to say, Gravel?

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  99. All these quotes from leading physicists, all of whom were leading practioners of quantum mechanic and quantum electrodynamic theory, about the strangeness of that theory is misleading. Obviously, they believed that the theory worked and had very impressive predictive value - even if not understood. It's more a question of the success of the underlying mathematics vs. physical modeling. It's only the latter that may violate 'common sense'. If anything, the strangeness aspect may point to the need for a new paradigm which will incoporate the results of QM without the associated strangeness. It is most certainly not a call to disparage and dismiss a leading 20th century achievement.

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  100. Mr Aharon, perhaps the frustration felt by these physicists was similar to the frustration felt by most laymen when attempting to tackle QM even on a light philosophical level. Discoveries and claims which precede a developed and accepted outline of the fundamentals and the limits of the theory that covers them are spooky, especially when they are counter-intuitive, go against beliefs, violate common sense, Newtonian science and even the already difficult Relativity Theory.

    Another thorny issue is measurement in QM and the technology and accuracy behind it. On that Wikipedia devotes an article which is way above Temujin's head: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Measurement_in_quantum_mechanics. It has...formulas, yikes! For the hoi polloi, though, the observer paradox which implies that we can somehow measure an event without observing it is another confusion. Detection implies observation...for most of us. Is the implication that consciousness influences the behavior of quantum particles? If it is, one would expect a pretty good theoretical model to explain it. Simple errors, such as the failure to synchronize clocks among sensors in particle accelerators caused excitement that some (forget which) travel faster than light and into the future. Or that particles can influence each other across huge spaces instantaneously, without an apparent mechanism how this can be so. Certainly the quacks have taken off with such exotica and are spinning fascinating fables. Which is the other problem; because the field is so relatively new and difficult to understand, scientists must devote at least some time in addressing the pseudoscience, which they don't, primarily because there are no funds and there is no fame in deconstructing every fantastic bubemeise that pops up on the 'Net, and perhaps because the fundamentals and limits are still unknown. Contrast this with evolution science, which is nearly two centuries old and has developed a tight, systematic procedures and approaches for verifying its claims, even if the verification can only be theoretical. And, ehem, it's not like evolution science doesn't have it's own headaches with its challengers.

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  101. Mr Aharon, perhaps the frustration felt by these physicists was similar to the frustration felt by most laymen when attempting to tackle QM even on a light philosophical level. Discoveries and claims which precede a developed and accepted outline of the fundamentals and the limits of the theory that covers them are spooky, especially when they are counter-intuitive, go against beliefs, violate common sense, Newtonian science and even the already difficult Relativity Theory.

    Another thorny issue is measurement in QM and the technology and accuracy behind it. On that Wikipedia devotes an article which is way above Temujin's head: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Measurement_in_quantum_mechanics. It has...formulas, yikes! For the hoi polloi, though, the observer paradox which implies that we can somehow measure an event without observing it is another confusion. Detection implies observation...for most of us. Is the implication that consciousness influences the behavior of quantum particles? If it is, one would expect a pretty good theoretical model to explain it. Simple errors, such as the failure to synchronize clocks among sensors in particle accelerators caused excitement that some (forget which) travel faster than light and into the future. Or that particles can influence each other across huge spaces instantaneously, without an apparent mechanism how this can be so. Certainly the quacks have taken off with such exotica and are spinning fascinating fables. Which is the other problem; because the field is so relatively new and difficult to understand, scientists must devote at least some time in addressing the pseudoscience, which they don't, primarily because there are no funds and there is no fame in deconstructing every fantastic bubemeise that pops up on the 'Net, and perhaps because the fundamentals and limits are still unknown. Contrast this with evolution science, which is nearly two centuries old and has developed a tight, systematic procedures and approaches for verifying its claims, even if the verification can only be theoretical. And, ehem, it's not like evolution science doesn't have it's own headaches with its challengers.

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  102. An interesting quote from Einstein, which I have seen in other forms, but this seems to be best. "Nowadays, every Tom, Dick, and Harry thinks he understands what a photon is. I have been trying my entire life to understand them, and I still don't."

    On another topic, I wanted to discuss self-assembly. I use that word deliberately, since I am sure we all know that natural selection is only a filter, but not a mechanism for creating new functions. In evolution, especially atheistic versions of the theory, the functions and beings self-assemble out of inanimate materials over the course of time.

    To illustrate the difficulty of self-assembly, I challenge people here to attach magnets to Lincoln Logs or Tinker Toys or your favorite construction kit, and arrange them in such a way that when you shake them up, the magnets pull the pieces into the shape of a house.

    It would be nice if one could arrange to suspend a log in mid-air between two vertical magnets, while another horizontal magnet pulls the log into its place in the wall of the house. However, there is a complication caused by Earnshaw's theorem which states that no charge can be maintained in stable equilibrium by means of a finite number of other static charges. The same seems to hold true of static magnets. He proved this about a century and a half ago, I believe, on the basis of Gauss's law. What this means is that the middle magnet will either click up to the top, or fall down to the bottom, but cannot be suspended. This poses a problem for such a self-assembly scheme. It is interesting that Prof. James Roberge has built a gadget which uses an optical sensor to vary the power of the upper magnet, so that when the ball starts to fall, it increases in strength, and when starts to rise, it decreases. He thus is able to suspend the ball in mid-air by means of feedback stabilization. (Prof. Alan Oppenheim does a similar thing with a vertical pendulum on an electronically-controlled cart, upon which he places a cup of coffee, and the cup stays upright. This is like balancing a broom on one's nose, where the cart moves in the direction the pendulum is tilting, to keep it upright.)

    The point is that getting parts to come together by themselves is much harder than it appears.

    Incidentally, Earnshaw's theorem seems to be a clear proof that the forces that hold atoms together cannot be classical, but are based on QM. Otherwise, if they were mere electrostatic forces (negative electrons attracted to positive nucleus), the atom would not be stable, and materials would disintegrate into a jumble of electrons, protons and neutrons, because electrostatic forces are unable to maintain charges in a fixed position, as before.

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  103. A further problem in the assumption that bioological molecules should conveniently come together out of atoms is as mentioned before, that every amino acid contains H, C and N. The simplest is Glycine, C2H5NO2. But the probability of those 10 atoms meeting up is less than the probability of just 3 of them meeting up, H, C, and N, which as we saw before, is hydrogen cyanide which is deadly toxic.

    Similarly, there was another tragic story in Israel last week about a family whose children were exposed to dangerous phosphine gas, PH3. As before, the individual components, phosphorous and hydrogen, are important parts of the main energy storage molecule in the cell used as currency to power many crucial reactions, adenosine triposhpate (ATP). But the formula for ATP is C10 H16 N5 O13 P3. So if we assume that ATP can self-assemble which requires the meeting up of 47 atoms, why shouldn't we assume the much simpler molecule PH3 can self-assemble which requires only 4 atoms to meet up, and that would then wipe out any life? I believe these questions are glossed over in any discussion of evolution, or simply ignored, and we just take it as a given that the molecules we need conveniently had no problem self-assembling.

    I saw in Campbell Biology 8th ed. that even if one mixes all necessary molecules for photosynthesis in a test-tube, it still won't occur unless the proper structure of membrane scaffolding is present. This is another example of how complex and unlikely it would be for necessary reactions and cellular structures to occur at random.

    Tomorrow, I would like to look at actual numbers to quantify some of these probabilities.

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  104. Let me explain one last time why I distinguish between macro and micro. It's not for the reason you suspect. It's not because I reject macro-evolution in principle. I pointed this out earlier, and you obviously need to be reminded. It's because I'm literally forced to distinguish between them. The reason is because some careless writers (ahem) think that by showing that microbes and viruses and bacteria evolve (all viewed in lab conditions, as opposed to where, to quote yourself, "verification can only be theoretical"), they feel they have just given evidence to the whole kit and kaboodle theory of Evolution (or just attribute importance to the whole ToE with respect to modern medicine). That's called sloppy thinking. And it misleads others.

    Since you brought up the topic, it's also careless to take the position that just because something looks like a transitional creature, it is indeed a true transitional creature, especially when an expert says "the finding reinforces that 'we don't really know' a lot about the evolution of platypuses and echidna." You accuse me over-Googling, but maybe you ought to try it once or twice.

    I will paste what Barry said earlier about evolution (obviously not referring to the observable type that that is helpful to medicine [kindly take note, Y Aharon]): "Even if true, it is primarily a theory of the past that has very little to say about the present or the future of medicine in terms of how to cure any disease."
    If you think you can refute this, go right ahead. Whenever you're ready to climb out of your bathysphere...

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  105. Gravel, you are repeating yourself. One is not at all convinced that you understand the issues or that you hold a neutral love-of-science position which "forces" you to valiantly counter "sloppy thinking" which "misleads others." The linked articles and desperate quote-mining from others here and attempts to re-direct attention to them instead of you make this clear.

    But perhaps one misunderstands you and your fascinating and deep thoughts, so again, can you in your own words... in a sentence, a paragraph, a post, an essay or a book-length treatise... describe your position? In general or specific terms, but clearly enough to be comprehensible and without a reading list? Mark that neither quick searches on Google, nor unrelated National Geographic articles, nor Barry, nor Y. Yehuda can do that for you. Let's make this even easier, so, how's about this: Since you are supposedly not opposed to macro-evolution, "in principle," can you cite an actual example of such? If you feel that there are no such examples (surprise, surprise), can you explain where the vast majority of evolution scientists have failed you and can you specify what would constitute evidence of such for you?

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  106. Do not have books in front of me, will look up later, at dentists office now. But let's do one quick, back-of the envelope calculation. Taking an average length protein of 100 amino-acid residues. There are 20 choices for each position. 20^100 = 1.27 x10^130 combinations. If we assume 1 mutation per second. Then for one cell in 15 billion years we have 60x60x24x365x15x10^9=4.73x10^17 mutations. How many cells are undergoing mutations? For evolution, I believe only the germ cells are significant, but pick any reasonable number of cells present at any time. A trillion trillion? 10^24 cells on earth at any one time? We are up to 10^17x10^24=10^41 mutations per second. Let's assume a cell can do 1 billion mutations every second (ridiculously high, but am giving benefit of doubt). All the worlds cells have then done 10^50 mutations in 15 billion years. We are still off by 10^80 for getting one protein right. To put in perspective, the Powerball lottery has a 1 in 175 million chance of winning=1.75x10^8. If we need 2 proteins, we have 10^130x10^130=10^260! (Continued)

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  107. Hope previous post went through, where we showed that all the world's cells could probably produce 10^50 mutations in 15B years, while the number of combinations for a single protein of 100 AA residues is 10^130. I believe I saw in Campbell, Biology 8th ed, that in a single cell of a fruit fly, they have mapped 4,000 proteins in a network. (Will check later.) Humans have about 20,000 genes, which roughly means at least 20,000 proteins. (10^130)^20,000=10^2,600,000, a 1 followed by 2,600,000 zeros.

    You can clearly see why evolutionists place such a premium on declaring as many amino acids and DNA base-pairs as don't cares, as they possibly can. But clearly the numbers are ridiculous.

    So here is my question: If evolution is a genuine science, what are the probability limits of those who espouse it? How much is the highest exponent you will tolerate, and still consider it a valid hypothesis. My calculations of how to arrive at the exponents may be wrong, but nevertheless, before doing any calculations, you must have your own red line. If you are willing to write a blank check for any number, no matter how ridiculous, then I claim it is no longer science, but a belief system. So please tell me the absolute highest you would be willing to go. We can then play with the numbers to see if we can get within those limits.

    You see, an objective scientist would have to balance two possibilities. A) the probability of creating all those proteins randomly, and B) the small, but nonzero possibility that we don't know how to date events in the distant past accurately. Whichever is greatest should be the path to choose. If we can't assess, then we must leave both on an equal footing. So I ask what is the limit?

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  108. Bravo, Mr Jacobson. Theories of eventological distribution are not the usual kinds of things one thinks and writes about whilst waiting to be drilled at the dentist's. Most of us shvitz, squiggle, pick up this magazine and that one and try to read the news loops on the waiting room screen. You are a true warrior; Temujin salutes you.

    A Devil's Advocate position, by your leave.

    If you are willing to write a blank check for any number, no matter how ridiculous, then I claim it is no longer science, but a belief system....So I ask what is the limit?

    Presuming a condition of a limitless universe, or a limitless number of universes, with limitless number of Big Bangs and Big Crunches strobe-lighting across limitless spans of time and space, any of the improbable events you mention become logically possible, probable, perhaps even inevitable (in the sense that something, even if not this would have had to happen). This is where the atheist evolutionist can dig his heels in, not budge and write any amount on the check you mention.

    Of course, where this collapses is at the question many have asked, including Rav Slifkin, (with apologies if one misrepresents, as book not at hand), the question of why does anything have to exist and why there has to be Natural Law to make any of the above possible, be it wildly unlikely and genuinely random events leading to the emergence of matter and life or a designed, created and continuously maintained and directed deterministic universe. If the latter, as one dares presume most of us here assume, any unlikely or improbable evolutionary events, micro or macro, "fortuitous" or miraculous mutations or whatever are the mechanics of the process of Creation and only appear random within our time, space and perception/cognition-limited existence. But within these limits there is no reason our Creator could not have set up conditions, such as physical realities, Natural Law with in-built pseudo-randomness (absolute randomness being impossible under such limits) to facilitate chains of events which began as interactions of hydrogen atoms and led to us being in the here and now.

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  109. Barry, sorry to disillusion you, but your comments about the vast improbability for the self-assembly of the components of the simplest cell, or even just proteins, is standard fare among the anti-evolutionists. It suffers from the assumption of assembly being of a random nature.

    Let me give a common counter-example - albeit of a simpler nature. Surfactants (e.g. detergents and soaps) are present in water as single molecules at very low concentrations. These molecules consist of an ionic or polar 'head' and a long hydrocarbon 'tail' or chain. Sodium stearate, CH3(CH2)16CO2Na, is an example. The CO2 is negatively charged and the positive sodium ion is the charge balancing counterion. The ionic part has a high affinity for water, the hydrocarbon part has little or no such affinity (but neighboring hydrocarbon chains do have an affinity for each other). At some critical concentration they aggregate to form submicron spheres (micelles) with the polar or ionic groups facing the water medium and the hydrocarbon part in the interior. At higher concentrations cylinders are formed with the ionic groups still facing out. Under other conditions bilayers are formed with the ionic groups facing out and the interior packed with the hydrocarbon part of the molecules. Under still other conditions, larger spheres incorporating water (liposomes),lined with such bilayers, are suspended in the same or different aqueous medium. The latter phenomenon superficially resembles a very primitive cell. These are formed spontaneously, being driven by a minimum energy configuration mechanism, i.e., the molecules in solution, undergoing random motion, will sort themselves into a stable minimum energy configuration. Your analogy to the problem with sorting metal legos by magnets, in contrast, is hardly relevant since it contains no natural driving force for assembly.

    Of course, even the most primitive cell is far more complicated than my example. However liposomes are a good analogy for a primitive cell membrane. We don't know yet how the more complicated parts of a primitive self-reproducing cell can be assembled from simple components. I believe that more progress in this area will provide enlightenment into the question of spontaneous self-assembly vs. divine intervention.

    Besides, what if the formation of the first primitive cell was vastly improbable. We need only accept that it occurred and that life followed by better understood mechanisms. We are here due to that highly improbable event (in a secular scientific approach). Had the event not occurred, we wouldn't be around to speculate about the matter, i.e., you don't do statistics after the fact (a paraphrase from both Einstein and Feynman whom you have cited repeatedly).

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  110. Being the generous fellow that I am, I used conservative estimates for my numbers, which under-reported the true statistics, except possibly for my estimate of the number of mutating cells, at a given time, which I threw out as 10^24, but perhaps that needs to be raised by a few orders of magnitude.

    Be it as it may, the site http://www.quora.com/Protein-nutrition-1/Whats-the-average-size-of-a-human-protein-in-kDa says the avg length of a human protein may be as high as 480, not 100 AA residues. And there may be as many as 37,391 proteins. Rerunning the calculations, yields 10^23,000,000, not 10^2,600,000. A one followed by 23 million zeros, not 2.6 million zeros. (And I will take off 50,000 zeros or even 100,000, or as many as 500,000, because of spontaneous mutation rates. I am now giving you 10^500,000 instead of 10^24 originally.)

    We still have over 20 million zeros. Really, can anybody process or digest these types of numbers? (Remember, a lottery is 1 followed by 8 or nine zeros.) In addition, we assumed that machinery exists to assemble proteins from amino acids, and there is a ready supply of amino acids. But in reality, this machinery is itself composed of proteins which read, unwind, transcribe and translate DNA. These require instructions and machinery to make them in order to even get started. To get around this, you sometimes hear of an RNA world, which used RNA machinery to get off the ground (which may have catalytic capability), and then things switched over to our DNA/protein world.

    Why don't some of the defenders of evolutionary theory step in and crunch some numbers for us, and show us what assumptions are needed to reduce the astronomical odds I calculated. Let's carefully examine these assumptions. (I.e., non-functioning or semi-functioning proteins can still provide some evolutionary advantage.) Please elaborate and demonstrate.

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  111. Dear Temujin, when I read the words of a literary master such as yourself, one of two things happen. Either I have no idea what I am reading, as the vocabulary is far above my head, or I get lulled into a sense of security and serendipity which causes me to accept unquestionably whatever you are saying. In this case, while a blank check would be nice, but still, if you want to use the argument of a large universe, not just our single planet, I still think some math is in order to estimate the total number of planets, and the number of cells that could fit on their combined surfaces. The something had to happen argument is soothing, but that something may have been nothing but a disordered wreck, or insignificant being. But we humans are blessed with the capability to design 747 airplanes, and radios and TV's and household plumbing and even air conditioners. This incredible intelligence just "had" to happen?

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  112. Dear Y. Aharon, yes, minimum energy is the key to understanding many things in biology, including protein folding, (although the problem of not getting stuck in a local minimum, rather than a global minimum still needs to be dealt with. This may be analogous to the protein getting tangled up in some knot, rather than its correct shape.) But you would need to demonstrate that the raw materials available had minimum energy when combined into biologically useful molecules, rather than other alternative configurations. I believe delta G and heats of formation and entropies would be important to know for all possible combinations of atoms into molecules, but I am not an expert on thermodynamics. For my own curiosity, I wonder if computer programs exist to predict these based on structural formulas, or is our knowledge of chem, physics and QM insufficient, such that we can only determine empirically. I am not necessarily talking about complex molecules like proteins, but just run of the mill molecules that would be discussed in organic chem class.

    Your discussion of hydrophilic and hydrophobic parts of molecules are relevant for proteins, as well, as some amino acids are of one type, and some of another, and that definitely plays a role in folding, as do interactions with the surrounding solvents.

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  113. By the way, Y. Aharon, your comment that we don't do statistics after the fact, would seem to negate Bayesian statistics. Bayes rule tries to analyze when something happened, which of two alternatives was likely true, based on conditional probabilities applied retroactively. We don't just say, one possibility was very remote, but look, it could have happened, and its after the fact, now. Instead, we try to determine which alternative was more likely to have been true.

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  114. Temujin, If I'm "repeating" myself, it's only because you have made no acknowledgement of my point. In fact, your first paragraph indicates you don't even want to deal with it.

    I don't know what a "neutral love-of-science position" means. I know I love science, when it's done right and interpreted right. I do know what a love-of-good-argumentation means.

    "One is not at all convinced" -- Just because you are unconvinceable does not mean that "one" isn't convinced. Stop your projecting. It's makes you look like you're manufacturing support.

    Another thing you need to get straight: Quotemining is not the same as quoting sources that support one's argument. (Well, maybe to Temujin it is, if the source supports the opposite of Temujin's position.)

    You asked for my position. I suppose you want my position w.r.t. evolution. Why do you care? So you can figure out just what insults to use? So you can peg me? I don't want to be pegged. Let's just discuss the issues that are actually raised.

    To satisfy your curiosity, however, my position is basically a skeptical one. Not an "anti-" one, like R' Slifkin categorizes the position, just a skeptical one. When I see a claim made (like your platypus one), I like to check out the opposition, and then the rebuttal, and then the
    counterrebuttal. It's the only way to go. You should try it some time.

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  115. Y Aharon wrote: "Now, all of this (referring to mechanisms of evolution) could be considered a matter of design." -- Ah, but the real question is: could all of this be considered a matter of accident, ultimately?
    If you say 'no', you will have immediately lost the support of a huge number of biologists. You wouldn't want to do that, would you?

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  116. The math is, well, daunting, Almost as daunting and astronomical as the orders of magnitude for the mathematical probabilities of all the people on this forum getting through life with all their individual adventures, thinking their thoughts, sipping their favoured hot drink and posting their words. And yet, somehow, here we are.

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  117. Barry, your 'back of the envelope' calculations are largely irrelevant. You implicitly assume that the formation of proteins was a strictly random process involving 20 amino acid candidates. That is certainly not how the original proteins formed, nor is it true now. First of all, there would have very likely have been only a few amino acids available. More importantly, a key component for life is having a self-reproducing molecule such as a primitve RNA (or DNA) entity. That primitive genetic component would be capable of producing a limited number of key proteins for the continued existence and/or proliferation (through fission) of the primitive cell. Mutations induced by the unfiltered, high energy solar radiation, could then effect gradual changes and advances in such primitive cells. The cells with such new capabilities would be favored over the original type cell in, say, acquiring nutrient molecules from the environment, i.e., a Darwinian type competitive 'struggle'. The point is that this is a stepwise, long-term process whose probability (if it could be calculated) would likely be far, far greater than what your scenario would envisage. The point is also that our knowledge at this point is totally inadequate to make a judgment as to probability.

    As to Bayesian statistics being wholly retrospective, that is not my understanding. Bayesian calculations of conditional probability include only some factors with prior history and statistics in the calculation for the yet undetermined state of affairs. If the issue was already determined (e.g., the patient did or didn't have cancer), then statistics are irrelevant.

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  118. "...when I read the words of a literary master such as yourself..." Ha! Pay no heed to Temujin's verbal acrobatics, Mr Jacobson.; only octopus's ink to hide one's poor science background and a critical numeracy deficit. So please, no math test at the end of this.

    ...or I get lulled into a sense of security and serendipity which causes me to accept unquestionably whatever you are saying. Hmm, well, one can't complain about that, what?

    The something had to happen argument is soothing, but that something may have been nothing but a disordered wreck, or insignificant being. But we humans are blessed with the capability to design 747 airplanes, and radios and TV's and household plumbing and even air conditioners. This incredible intelligence just "had" to happen?

    Well, from personal convictions, a "no" in answer to the last sentence. Existence of anything didn't have to happen and Temujin goes on faith that a Creator made all of this and us possible. But one can understand an atheist, though, who may begin with an updated Aristotelian assumption that Existence and its universe/universes were always there and that in this limitless vastness of time and space all possibilities could or did materialize many times over in countless permutations. Under such mind-boggling conditions, a 747 or multi-cellular intelligent life, for that matter, cannot be deemed impossible or even improbable. With Temujin's limited understanding of statistics, such a challenge would be hard to counter as it seems that under conditions of endless time and space all talk of statistical probabilities becomes meaningless. In a universe where "anything goes," sooner or later, somewhere in the endlessness, everything goes. And this all goes back to Temujin's growing conviction that it is impossible to provide universally satisfactory logical proofs or scientific evidence for a belief in God; that we can attain authentic belief only through other ways of knowing.

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  119. Right, well, you are a fascinating fellow Gravel. One suspects though, mostly from having been around the block a few times, that unless you are transitioning between a religious and a faith-based paradigm or vice versa, your mind is already made up and the rest is theatre and drama. Genuine fence-sitting probably cannot take longer than a few seconds. Most likely it's one of those purely binary, impossible-to-reduce things and you can only be on one side of the divide or the other, with no genuine "skeptical" in-betweens. But that's a philosophical speculation, not stuff for this forum.

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  120. Pretend you were playing poker against your nemesis, and your hand consisted of junk, while your nemesis' hand was a royal flush with spades. While the odds of each hand is identical, 2,598,960 : 1, you would not react by saying "his hand was just as likely as my hand." You would think the guy is cheating.

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  121. Dear Y. Aharon, the points you made about the machinery and raw amino acids not being available initially, I discussed in a previous post. (Because there is a long time between submission and moderation, perhaps you didn't see it at the time you wrote yours.) My point is that I'm trying to be charitable, and still the odds are astronomical. Similarly, with the following response to Temujin.

    Dear Temujin, I will address two points you recently raised. First, the fact that we live in a large universe, we must take into account the vast space and materials available. My response is as follows: I will redo the math based on that.

    In my original calculations, I threw out a number of how many cells might be present on earth at any one time. I chose 10^24. But I decided that let's use a maximum upper bound which would be the number of atoms in the entire universe, which is estimated at 10^80 (Wolfram Alpha). I will also kindly give you an extra googol times as many, for an early birthday present, in case there is hidden dark matter. Make it an even 10^180. In addition, I will generously grant a googol of mutations per second for each of these cells. (Note, that is a fast track to cancer, G-d forbid, as the DNA repair mechanism could never keep up.)

    So we have 60*60*24*365*15*10^9*10^180*10^100=10^297 mutations in 15B years.

    I will also play along with the claim that many amino acids are don't cares. I will be so generous that I'll say 99%(!) are unimportant. (In a protein of 400 amino acids, I am willing to grant that only 4 of them matter!) Because I am feeling so generous, I will also grant that there are only 20,000 genes, and of those only 1% matter, i.e., 200. We have (20^(.01*480))^(.01*20000)=10^1248 possibilities.

    We still miss the mark by a factor of 10^950. Nobody will give you a better deal than I just gave you, but it still doesn't cover the bases. Next post will address your second point.

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  122. Dear Temujin, I want to now address your second claim that all types of random things are going on around us, and something has to happen, so the odds don't really matter.

    Unfortunately, I don't buy that. Your argument is as follows: Suppose there are 100 men in a room, and each is wearing a shirt in one out of 10 possible colors. The number of combinations are 10^100, yet one of them must have happened. The same with evolution.

    I believe that is faulty for the following reason. Each man is completely independent of his neighbor, and there is no significance to the pattern of colors. It is just a random arrangement. But the human body is one complete whole, and each part must work right and fit exactly with the others in order for it to work. The heart pumps blood to all cells. The nervous system regulates and passes messages throughout the whole body. The eyes fit into particular spaces (and there are even special holes, formamens, in the skull for the optic nerve to pass through). Everything is one synergistic and interlocked unit which is a marvel of engineering.

    The proper analogy to use is to type a random sequence of characters (the monkey at the typewriter situation). Each sentence is on average 480 characters, and there are 20,000 sentences. In other words produce a book of about 10 million characters, which makes perfect sense, maybe even a detailed manual of biology, all by accident.

    This is clearly impossible. In the next few days or so, I will try to sum up my case and make some closing arguments.

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  123. Dear Y. Aharon, I wanted to clarify that I was uncertain when you said the probability would be far, far greater than my calculations, whether you were referring to the exponent being higher (lower probability), or the probability being higher (lower exponent). If the latter, then please illustrate how the math improves in that case. Note I asked yesterday for someone to crunch some numbers under various evolutionary assumptions to improve probability over my calculations. I believe I had seen it done, but don't remember which book. I would like to examine those assumptions, such as the claim that a semi-functioning protein may provide an evolutionary advantage and reduce possible combinations towards creating a fully functional protein down the road. I don't remember how this might work. Please demonstrate.

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  124. "One suspects though"
    Still projecting, manufacturing support, I see.
    But that's a philosophical speculation, not stuff for this forum.
    And therefore you speculated all that. In this forum.
    I'll take your "fascinating" as a compliment, thanks. Adieu...

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  125. Barry, your efforts to understand how things work shouldn't lead you to a definitive conclusion that direct divine intervention was involved. I doubt that any scientifically trained person would claim that the origin of life was a strictly random occurrence. Rather, it is a question of whether the momentous event was spontaneous or planned. Your statistical assumption of strict randomness is therefore irrelevant. The formation of a living cell from non-living simple constituents has not been demonstrated, nor is the pathway to such a cell known. Whatever the pathway, it would involve many small steps and special conditions to form, say, a small RNA polymer that could act as a template for the formation of a number of proteins as well as replication. Some of these chemical steps would require energy input from energy released by other cell constituents. I focused on the primitive membrane aspect since it is, in principle the most readily understood part of such a cell, and illustrates the spontaneous aspect of some organized modes of action.

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  126. Just wanted to add one thought regarding Y. Aharon's point that in the beginning we did not have amino acids or protein manufacturing machinery available, so my mutation model would not apply. In actuality, without a mutation model, the odds become much worse. The reason is that amino acids encapsulate groups of acids into modules, and these modules are arranged linearly (primary structure of protein) but will fold into 3-D shapes spontaneously (tertiary structure of protein).

    If, however, we compute probability of individual atoms arranging themselves into particular molecule, then we have opened a pandora's box. The formula for hemoglobin is C2952 H4664 O832 N812 S8 Fe4. In other words, about 10,000 atoms, and I believe that is small relative to other proteins. Computing probability that 80 (stable) elements could arrange themselves in lengths of 10,000, and then that there are 20,000 such proteins becomes 80^(10,000*20,000) =10^380,000,000. In reality, this could be far greater, because molecules are not linear, but can be arranged in numerous 3-D arrangements with chains and subchains branching off all over, using the same elements. Using amino acid encapsulation we had only 10^23,000,000 possibilities, so the situation is now much worse.

    Nobody has offered any reason why these biological molecules, or a human being as a whole, would be favored energetically over any other arrangement.

    In summary, the construction of a human being is of such depth and complexity it is literally a tehom raba. Pilay playim.

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  127. I am not sure how many people are still following this post but I would like to thank all the participants. Particularly Mr. Jacobson who has expressed, far better than I could, the reasons I have not been able to accept evolution as a reasonable explanation for life. I look forward to his further comments.

    If one cannot accept that G-d created life, the most a “scientific” view could be is “I don’t know how it happened. The odds of it happening by the mechanism of evolution and natural selection are forbidding”.

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  128. Concerning "I doubt that any scientifically trained person would claim that the origin of life was a strictly random occurrence." --
    It probably depends on whether they're atheists or not.
    There is some confusion as to the meaning of randomness. Newsweek asked in their Global Literacy Quiz: "True or False -- Darwinian evolution is random". The answer was: "Correct. False. Although mutations arise at random, those that survive and persist are determined by natural selection, which is not random." However, according to Kenneth Miller, "evolution is random and undirected". And according to Evolution, Nicholas Barton et al., (2007), there is "extreme randomness [in] the evolutionary process" . The point is reiterated:
    "Seen in detail, however, the evolutionary process is fundamentally random." and
    ". . . we begin our consideration of the processes responsible for evolution by emphasizing the randomness of evolution."

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  129. Barry, how do I communicate with you? You keep on making the error of assuming that the biochemistry of the original life form was comparable to that of 'modern' living things (haemoglobin, indeed!). Your statistics based on the current general ignorance of how life could have formed, coupled with your apparent lack of imagination, has produced many words and arithmetic of no consequence. Nor are you the only one who has gone down that pathway. It is a favorite ploy of those who would debunk evolution with superficial arguments and without the necessary knowledge. Let's just say that we don't know yet how life formed, but that evolution theory provides a mechanism for the changes in life forms after the first living thing.

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    1. Dear Y. Aharon, with due apologies, I sometimes have trouble understanding you, because I believe some of your points have been vague and noncommital, while I am trying to be as precise as possible and considering all cases. Yes, I agree that the first life form or cell had to assemble from raw components, not mutations of an existing DNA machinery, and that its chemistry may have been much different than we are used to seeing today. No argument. My initial mathematical calculations were based on the standard mutation model of today. My point is that at some point, this machinery was set up and is now the standard basis for evolutionary models, if my understanding is correct, and led to a vast variety of life forms via random mutations which caused beneficial gains of functions in some cases. Natural selection weeded out and left the best equipped organisms to survive and reproduce at the expense of the others, since there were limited food supplies and many predators.

      Therefore, my first proof was even if we grant that the current machinery to produce reproducing cells was already in existence, and able to churn out arbitrary sequences of amino acids, the chance of getting a functional organism was very low in 15 billion years from the date that machinery was established.

      But as you note, building that machinery is very complicated. Yes, the first self-replicating molecule probably had no need for hemoglobin, but some current theories believe it may have been an RNA-based machinery which could self-catalyze formation of other RNA, perhaps. My point is that at this point all bets are off for what molecules were there at the time. If we have 80 stable elements, there are many ways to arrange them into 3-D structures. If carbon was the backbone, it can form up to 4 bonds in a tetrahedral arrangement to other atoms, and each of those could be another carbon forming still more chains and subchains at each point of its own tetrahedron and bonding to other random elements at random positions along the way. Without any rules to constrain, the sky's the limit. Do we know these rules today? Has anybody worked out a way to compute delta G and delta H for any given compound based on its structural formula alone, or are these only measurable empirically? And certainly you know that rates and yields do not follow from equilibrium constants, but depend on specific reaction mechanisms, with even favorable reactions possibly having too high an energy barrier to overcome in reasonable time.

      I am not aware that we can predict any of this now, without benefit of a lab to actually synthesize it and measure. So the situation then is a wild west of possibilities. With increasing molecular size, the number of possible combinations grow quite rapidly unless one can argue that thermodynamic constraints limit many, which I don't know if such knowledge exists today. So we can randomly speculate that this or that self-replicating molecule may have been formed, limited only by our imagination. But is that rigorous science? I only used hemoglobin as a gauge by which to calibrate size of typical biological molecules. But you are correct that at the initial stages they may have been of smaller sizes. Nevertheless, I think the numbers of combinations are still enormous, considering chain branching.

      And then again, that first molecule would have to eventually lead to something which would start building dna polymerases and topoisomerases and helicases. Finally, we would be in "standard machinery mode" where we start churning out random combinations of amino acids, and even then, getting something like an eye to work would be quite a feat. More later.

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  130. 0 "but evolution theory provides a mechanism for the changes in life forms after the first living thing." ==

    A plethora of mechanisms, yes. Just not sure if the time frame is sufficient (without just assuming it is.)

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  131. Dear Avraham, thanks for your kind words. I agree that we don't know. The upsetting part is that there are those who want to ban any discussion as being nonscientific. More on this later.

    Dear Gut Check, It seems the standard understanding of evolution is that mutations can happen randomly at any point in the genome. No reason one DNA base-pair is more or less likely to be altered than another, (although one could argue that the chemistry of each of the bases is different, and would affect the probability. Look up deamination, depurination, for example. ) One might set up a matrix with transition probabilities for each type of base to change into each other type. There are also deletion and addition probabilities. Neighbors of the base in question might affect any of these numbers, as well. The literature almost certainly contains data on all this.

    In truth, these numbers are probably not strictly random (in the sense of being equally likely for all bases at all locations). Nevertheless, for evolutionary purposes, I think it is generally assumed that they are, although it may not matter whether they are exactly equal or not. (One would need to check on this to be sure, and probably depends on what exact type of model an author is trying to develop.)

    Either way, once the baby is born, the test is whether it does better or worse than its peers in surviving to reproductive age and reproducing. That is the natural selection part. But natural selection is only a filter, not a generator of new functions.

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  132. Mr Jacobson, one is lost on the coloured shirts analogy, but intuitively agrees that no, even a greater number of monkeys in front of typewriters would not be able to compile a book on biology. Or even a smallish chapter, one would wager. It frustrates Temujin to no end though, that he wouldn't be able to articulate the reasons for this sensibly to an opponent in a dispute. It's that numeracy disability issue again.

    To paraphrase someone, "I have no idea what I am reading, as the [math] is far above my head [but] I get lulled into a sense of security and serendipity which causes me to accept unquestionably whatever you are saying!"

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  133. Temujin, your paraphrase reminds me of this: Sir Solly Zuckerman, the famous English zoologist, was asked what he did when he read a scientific paper and came across mathematical formulas. He said, “I hum them.”

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  134. Dear Temujin, well, think of it this way, I probably used the wrong word in the first place, meaning to say serenity, but wrote serendipity, which I don't really know what it means, to begin with. We all have our problems. I long-ago realized there are many people whose talents I'll never be able to copy.

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  135. But Temujin, seriously, if you are troubled by the shirt formula, think of it this way: If there were only 2 guys in the room: Jim and Tom, and 3 possible colors: red, blue and green, then we have 9 possible combinations: J wears R, T wears R; J wears R, T wears B; J wears R, T wears G. Then JB TR; JB TB; JB TG. Then JG TR; JG TB; JG TG.

    So for that case 9=3 squared (3^2). For 10 colors and 100 guys, we have 10^100 possibilities (a googol, or 1 followed by 100 zeros).

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  136. Not to worry, Mr Jacobson, one just looked up "serendipity" as one suspected his definition was wrong as well. And sure enough, it was. Dead-wrong. According to the ever-helpful Wiki: "..."fortuitous happenstance" or "pleasant surprise". It was first coined by Horace Walpole in 1754." Armed with this knowledge we can now both go about dropping the word about willy-nilly, impress the masses at home, school and the office.

    Alright, the smaller number of guys with fewer colours of shirts managed to penetrate Temujin's cerebral casing. He thinks. Once you went into the 10 colours to 100 guys and mentioned the googol, hyperventilation began, but one took Gut Check's helpful advice and began humming. For some reason a tune from the Soviet Army Choir sprung to mind....

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  137. Barry, it seems to me to be inappropriate to throw out statistics when we have no real idea of how the first organism arose. This retrospective application of random processes based on current biochemistry is unconvincing because of both the assumption of the same or similar processes and and that of the random building of molecules. It is entirely possible, for example - if not likely, that the original cell contained components that were produced on or in minerals that conferred a certain composition and structure to the molecules as determined by crystalline forces. Perhaps such structured multi-atom molecules even formed a miniscule solid mass whose structure was retained even after incorporation into the proto-cell. In any case, the original cell is best visualized as stemming from stepwise changes with survival under competitive pressure as the impetus for progress, rather than the de novo assemblage of a complex entity from appropriate components - your implicit scenario. This is all speculative at this point, however, it argues against your assumption of randomness. Now, you recognize that non-random combination of atoms is real, yet you dismiss it when it comes to your calculations. I fear, however, that my arguments will carry little weight with you since I perceive that your viewpoint is based on theology rather than an objective seeking for truth.

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  138. Temujin: I sympathize with your headache about “big” numbers. It is really hard to imagine just how different numbers are, that are 1,000 times bigger than other numbers. Here are two videos that talk about the relatively small numbers (one trillion) compared to the odds that Mr. Jacobson was calculating but they give you an idea of just how much bigger one trillion is compared to one billion. (One billion being a number most of us would consider big.)

    1. Obama Budget Cuts Visualization 1:38
    2. What Does A Trillion Dollars Look Like? 1:04
    Note: the videos are for number comparisons not to start down the path of politics.

    And remember, a trillion is only 10^3 bigger than a billion. When you start looking at 10^23, or 10^50, or, gasp, 10^100, they cannot be imagined directly, only by comparing them other such large numbers. So when Mr. Jacobson compares the possibilities needed to create a living cell VS the number of seconds in the 15 billion years the universe supposedly exists (5*10^17) you can get some idea of the differences. Just keep in mind how big a 10^3 difference is.

    And a note for Y. Aharon. Mr. Jacobson’s calculations start with life. How do you account for the formation of life from lifeless atoms by random chance? As sensible as common decent may be, I have not seen a convincing argument about how life started. And I think most readers of this blog would agree if you posit G-d created life, how it developed, while fascinating and interesting, really does not pose a significant theological problem, though is does pose a significant scientific problem.

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  139. Dear Y. Aharon, I have a few issues with your latest post. First, your distinction between random formation and nonrandom formation of the first complex multi-atomic entities is not clear to me. Define random and nonrandom in that context. To me, whatever was there, whether all possible elements, or a subset would have followed the same laws of chemistry and thermodynamics of today. Favorable reactions would be possible, and nonfavorable ones would not. When you say random, do you mean all elements, but nonrandom means a specific subset present under fortuitous circumstances? Or no, both involve subsets of all elements, but random means all possible energetically favorable outcomes for the subset of elements that were there, while nonrandom means a subset of energetically favorable outcomes from the subset of elements that were present. Or maybe you mean a 3rd thing, that the elements were not in pure form to begin with but fortuitously were already in a subset of possible compounds, and these reactants fortuitously only underwent formation of a subset of possible energetically favorable products. And these products fortuitously were able to insure formation of more of the same products than were there originally from other reactants who would not have ordinarily formed those products. I guess a chain reaction or autocatalytic reaction of some sort. And somewhere along the way, it must have led to a diverse and complex set of products that formed a functioning cell in the terms we know it. But you know this is pure speculation without any basis that such a thing is possible. Nor have you provided any specific molecular structure or mathematical model upon which we can perform any quantitative analysis. And as before, you seem to start with convenient subsets. So why is this any less founded on a belief system, then my approach? But my approach, is based on an intuitive postulate that complex and perfectly harmonious functional systems do not arise from chaos, any more than an electronic circuit can be slapped together from an array of diodes, transistors, resistors, capacitors, inductors, transformers, batteries and wires. Or that even a simple binary counter can be slapped together from an array of and, or, and not gates, without a designer. Or that a book can be written by monkeys. Or that software can be written by a random number generator. When you look at a book, it must have had an author, and when you look at a circuit, it must have an engineer, and when you look at the visual system, it also must have had a designer. Evolutionists are trying to turn the entire world on its head and convince us of a new concept called spontaneous order from chaos, i.e., pure luck, rather than hard work. I find it rather distasteful, and totally underestimative of the incredible thought that went into biological syatems. And as a result, we tend to oversimplify, and therefore miss the boat on how these systems really work, and hence hinder our progress in finding cures.

    I plan to do a post on the visual system just as an example. Note, this will take a lot of work on my part, and will also be tiring for a reader, but is necessary so we have a frame of reference.

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  140. Dear Avraham, thanks for your clarification. One interesting thing is that a googol of something is more than the estimated number of atoms in the entire universe. And there are about a trillion trillion atoms in a few grams of many substances (Avogadro's number), for instance, in a supermarket container of table salt.

    But in addressing Y. Aharon, you have to understand that secularly there is no clear distinction between living and nonliving entities. One must rely on certain arbitrary definitions. Especially in discussing the origin of life. To an atheist, a cat or a person is just a robot. (BTW this is another reason I find evolution so distasteful.)

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  141. As I stated, the argument here against evolution is based on theology rather than objectivity. Barry wants me to propose specific scenarios and mechanisms for the formation of life on earth. I have repeatedly maintained, however, that this is unfeasible with current knowledge (I only offered some suggestions on small parts of the puzzle). His predilection for the alleged impossibility of evolution will provide no new information about life on earth. Whereas, my assumptions are aimed at furthering experimental work that may shed insight into the abiogenic formation of the first living organism(s). It's unfortunate that religion is taken to be opposed to scientific understanding and progress.

    Barry's repeated examples of the vast improbability of monkeys or random key generators reproducing literary works means nothing. We know that such works are the product of men presumably using their unique intelligence (and manual skill). To assume the same for the universe, is circular reasoning.

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  142. Barry's last post contains the key to his viewpoint explicitly. To an atheist, he states, "a person is just a robot". In other words, there is no mysterious element such as soul or divine activity. However, Darwin was, I believe, a religious man, and, more to the point, the protagonists in this debate believe in divinely ordained creation. It is just a question of mechanism and direct vs. indirect intervention. Traditionally, direct divine intervention was assumed. However, with advances in human knowledge, what was once relegated to such intervention can now be largely accounted for by 'ordinary' physical mechanisms. However, even such mechanisms are based on mysterious rules that govern nature and that apparently existed from the beginning. Moreover, if we simply ascribe things to such direct intervention we learn nothing new.

    Barry states further that secular thought doesn't provide a clear distinction between living and non-living things. Really! I thought that the definition involving reproduction and energy production from intake materials was a sufficient demarcation. If not, how does religious thought provide a 'better' definition?

    In sum, the debate that I have with Barry is a question of seeking vs. certainty. Those who maintain that they have certainty on their side will find it difficult to change without making radical changes in their belief system.

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  143. Dear Y. Aharon, No, stating the argument is based on theology is a matter of semantics. The argument is based on the feasibility of self-assembly/abiogenesis of complex organsims. For example, in the public schools, if a teacher offers to teach how to build robots, that is laudable. But if he tells the class, maybe we were also put together by a builder, that is considered "theology", or bringing religion into the schools, or violation of the separation of church and state, or what have you. In fact this is nothing but semantics. The only question is do humans require a builder or not. You can call it science, theology, physical education or world history. It really doesn't matter, but an honest search for the truth requires presenting both sides. And your comment that it is circular reasoning has no basis. It is inductive reasoning, or even better, a kal vachomer (a fortiori). If it requires intelligence to build an unintelligent object like a refrigerator or violin, al achas kama vkama it takes intelligence to build an intelligent object like a human. Kindly elaborate on what is circular about that.

    Normally, in the quantitative sciences, you need to propose a mechanism, and then build a mathematical model demonstrating its feasibility. You say we don't know enough to do it. So then it really doesn't meet the standards of science, either. Before rockets, it would be just like saying maybe the moon is made of green cheese, but we don't know enough to propose a mechanism for how the cows got up there to provide the necessary milk..Hypotheses are a dime a dozen.

    But getting to the heart of the matter, the statement that G-d directly built the proper proteins to make a human, or that G-d rolled the dice, and luckily they came up on the first try, out of the googols of googols of possibilities does not hold much significance for me. If you prefer to view it that way, I am fine with it. But an atheist or true secular scientist would not agree with you.

    Yes, maybe there is a way by luck alone to have the correct compounds form, But that conveniently ignores the possibility that the wrong ones could form, or even worse, that toxic ones will form, and kill out all nascent forms of life. As another paradox about how chemistry works, in addition to some examples I mentioned earlier, chloride ions are necessary for every single known species of life. Incorrect chloride ion channels cause cystic fibrosis and other diseases. But free chlorine is toxic to every known species of life, and was the first chemical warfare agent manufactured, back in WW1. (Wikipedia chloride ion channels, and Wikipedia chlorine.)

    Finally, as I stated, to an atheist, we are all robots, and any demarcation between living and nonliving beings are based on arbitrary definitions. The ones you provided are good examples. Energy production from intake materials seems to fit filling the gas tank of a car quite nicely. And reproduction would exclude, chas vshalom, a couple experiencing infertility. Are they not alive? Also, computer viruses reproduce. So neither definition provides a description of what life inherently is. They are arbitrary working definitions to try to set off the subject of biology from the subject of electrical engineering..

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  144. Maybe Darwin was a religious man at some point in his life. But his faith diminished later on. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_views_of_Charles_Darwin#Autobiography_on_gradually_increasing_disbelief

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  145. "Barry states ... that secular thought doesn't provide a clear distinction between living and non-living things. Really! I thought that the definition involving reproduction and energy production from intake materials was a sufficient demarcation."
    Well, according to Discover magazine, "there's no single satisfactory definition of life." See: http://news.discovery.com/space/alien-life-exoplanets/what-is-life-anyway-130313.htm

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  146. Slight error. It wasn't Discover Magazine. It was LiveScience.

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  147. Thank you Avraham for your response to one's melancholy mopings about numeracy issues and for your very helpful links! Visual types with lingering learning disabilities like this man, need an entirely different approach to these kinds of knowledge areas.

    Temujin is much more comfortable with human mysteries and foibles, past and present as opposed to mathematical thinking and begs to be excused by doing the classic, "Oh, look, there goes a squirrel!" shtick. The squirrel in this case is actually a great question still at the now-dormant Cows post which is of relevance here and which provided Temujin with a couple of late-night hours reading up in his yellowing anthro books. Jacob had asked someone:

    Why do you think man succeeded in domesticating aurochs, mouflons, and boars, but never succeeded in domesticating man? I mean like making a new species from slaves?"

    Well, if you consider a domestic cow a new species, you can then consider the peasant as a form of a human "slave species." Short and stocky to conserve heat and fuel in the form of food, well-developed musculature for lifting and moving heavy loads, with a constitution that can withstand long periods of repetitive, back-breaking hard work and live off monotonous, low-animal protein diets of complex carbohydrates from grains or tubers. This new slave species could not have evolved earlier than at the start of the Agricultural Revolution, less than ten thousand years ago. This "slave species" also brought us the pale European "race" look, which most likely developed from the need to absorb vitamin D from the Sun in the unusually warm, but Sunlight-poor grain regions south of the Baltic.

    Contrast the peasant's typical body from the "species," or more accurately, the body type he evolved from; the hunter. The hunter's physique can be observed in some descendants of hunter-gatherers and pastoralists and is elegantly portrayed in Cromagnon cave art. Regard our world of fashion and you can see it still idealized (and idolized) as the more aesthetic and even "noble" one. It is the runner's or the swimmer's body-type; relatively tall and long-limbed, with a good lung capacity and an efficient circulatory system for oxygen distribution and cooling, which provides him with the ability excel at archery and spear-throwing and to run for days at a time after his prey and thus outrun and outlast, in terms of distance if not speed, every animal in the world. Alas, that physique is not too good for stooping over a field from sunrise to dusk, hence the adaptation to the peasant "slave species." However, like some of the domesticated animals, human types can also revert to the "norm," almost like isostatic rebound, with change in subsistence patterns, which is probably why our generations appear to be getting taller. That last bit was a classic Temujin speculation, btw, without a speck of proper and respectable evidence to back it. Caveat emptor!

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  148. Barry Jacobson at 1:50 AM: ....They are arbitrary working definitions to try to set off the subject of biology from the subject of electrical engineering... Coo-el! Another mystery Temujin has been trying to decipher. The stuff one can learn on this blog.

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  149. Gut check and Barry, I stated that energy production and reproduction were a sufficient demarkation of living from non-living forms of existence - not that it is the only possible definition.
    Barry, your counter argument about the alleged inadequacy of my criteria for life are unfounded. I required both elements so that your car doesn't fit, nor your infertile couple. Reproduction involves more than progeny in complex organisms. Cells are being reproduced constantly in the body, whether the person is fertile or not. Your computer virus may reproduce its program, but it doesn't really fit the energy production from intake materials that I mentioned. At best, it can be programmed to control an external energy production machine such as a motor. In that sense, it is more like a real virus, which occupies a kind of nether region between living and non-living.

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  150. Barry, it is circular reasoning to use things that are the known products of intelligent design by humans to argue that the 'natural' world must logically have been so formed. It assumes the existence of a Designer and a plan, but that is precisely what was to have been demonstrated. At best, you can claim to infer such design from what are known human activities. It is not a logical proof.

    Moreover, an omnipotent and omniscient Creator could have produced a universe in no time. Yet, all available evidence points to an earth which is 4.5 billion years (Ga) old and a universe which is nearly 14 Ga. If creation always involves direct intervention, then the extremely slow development should be troublesome. That is why I prefer an indirect causation involving the rules, energy, and forces that were divinely inputted to the universe from the beginning.

    Please don't bring up things like a 'green cheese' hypothesis of the moon prior to the moon landing. We knew much about the moon prior to that visit such as diameter, shape, mass, average density, and some composition. Comparing a 'green cheese' moon scenario to my speculations about some aspects of cell origins is kind of insulting since I'm a fairly knowledgeable chemist and have given some thought to the matter of abiogenesis. However, I don't maintain that I know how the first cell originated. My point is to strongly encourage the appropriate experiments which start from a mix containing the necessary simple molecules (and similar molecules)and finding ways in which they could assemble stepwise to form such a proto-cell. That's the difference between science and scholasticism. The former is based on experimental results, while the latter is based on arguments from authorities.

    Your arguments about the alleged statistics for the assembly of complex molecules are invalid, as I have repeatedly pointed out. You make assumptions about randomness for which you have no evidence. Statistics can't make up for ignorance. At this point, we are all ignorant about how life first came into being. Need I cite Mark Twain's aphorism about statistics? The essential difference between us, that I can see, is that I admit not knowing just how life came to be, while you are sure that it was a product of direct divine intervention. Well, it took some 3 (or 3.5) billion years to go from that first cell to us. That time frame argues for a natural, slow developmental process (if you can't stand the term, 'evolution'). As slow as that process might seem, it doesn't depend only on point mutations which you have implicitly assumed. Mutations involving the 'opening' and 'closing' of gene switches (such as by strategically adding or deleting methyl groups) could have greatly accelerated the process. Of course, that still leaves the question of how all those 'extra' genes came to be (an argument for design - believe it or not).

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  151. I would now like to address Y. Aharon's question of how religious thinking may provide a better definition of life. First I'll list the questions, and later we can discuss answers. (This in no way implies Y. Aharon is an atheist; we argue hypothetically about the secular vs. religious viewpoint.)

    1) As before I contend that an atheist cannot define life, and in fact, views all life forms as robots.

    2) Based on that, he cannot define the concept of will.

    3) It then follows he cannot define the term "pain". I.e., if I develop a new hobby involving gouging live cats' eyes out, and kicking and hacking them to death, he doesn't have a good explanation for why this is wrong. Yes, he will claim that statistics show animal abusers will eventually abuse humans. But that is really beside the point.

    4) Furthermore, what is wrong with doing the same to humans? After all, survival of the fittest is why we got here. If I am fit, why should I not kill my neighbor and take his money so I'll be in a better position to survive, myself? (Hitler had similar idea.) Yes, I know the atheist will answer that it is a social convention that we refrain from harming others so they won't harm us. Is that really the reason?

    4) The atheist can't define joy, or explain why a little child will always splash through the puddle, instead of walking around it. (My Rav mentioned this example.)

    5) The atheist can't explain freedom of choice, i.e., do I have autonomy over whether to raise my hand or not, or is it an illusion?

    6) He can't explain accountability. In other words, if my computer gives me a wrong answer, would it help if I scold it?

    To make some of these questions simpler, consider the following: A car needs gas, and a person needs food, as in the previous post. But there is a world of difference. If you don't feed your car, it won't run. But if you don't feed a person or animal, it feels pain.

    Therefore, from all of the above, it should be rather clear that science has limits as to what it can explain. Science does very poorly with all the above life questions because they depend on a person having a soul, and cannot be addressed scientifically. I also believe that the origin of life is similarly beyond the scope of science.This blog is called Rationalist Judaism. To most people, that means accepting the scientific explanation for everything. But I submit that a rational person must know the limits of his tools. As wonderful a tool as science is, and nobody is more enamored of it than me, it has limits to what it can explain, and I believe I have demonstrated that.

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  152. Temujin, you wrote "Contrast the peasant's typical body from the "species," or more accurately, the body type he evolved from; the hunter." I'm not so sure this history is accurate. I might just have to take you up on your "caveat emptor." According to
    http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/4582.aspx -- "Despite popular theories posed in research papers and popular literature, early man was not an aggressive killer, argues Robert W. Sussman, Ph.D., professor of anthropology in Arts & Sciences at Washington University at St. Louis."

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  153. Ehem...Mr Jacobson, can a former atheist crash this party? One who actually grew up with no religious upbringing whatsoever and thought about such things and even debated them in his "former life"?

    Temujin is not an atheist today, thank God, not for a while. Nevertheless, he continues to view all attempts to offer logical or empirical "proofs" for or against God's existence as futile for similar reasons Rav Slifkin gave for the futility of the evolution debate here.

    So, begin hypothesis mode.

    Part One

    1) As before I contend that an atheist cannot define life, and in fact, views all life forms as robots. As you and Mr Aharon have shown in your discussion, the boundaries between organisms and machines are fuzzy. Most people will therefore fail in the task of coming up with a definition for life and those who do will not convince everyone. Other definitions, such as zoological, medical or legal may be functionally important, but philosophically they are mainly nominal and thus, they are ultimately arbitrary and subjective.

    2) Based on that, he cannot define the concept of will. No, uh-uh, sorry, no "based on that" allowed. Building the second contention on the shaky edifice of the first doesn't help matters. The basic definition of "will" is actual fairly simple; it's the ability or the act of making independent and conscious decisions. Where it gets confusing is with the question of whether this will actually exists. Theism assumes God's total control of everything and His ability to foresee all events. This removes the possibility of free will. The atheist's determinism is not that much different; it's governed by the effects of nature and culture. Both theists and atheists may say that autonomy is possible, but both get into convoluted explanations, escaping either into mysticism or scholasticism.

    3) It then follows he cannot define the term "pain". I.e., if I develop a new hobby involving gouging live cats' eyes out, and kicking and hacking them to death, he doesn't have a good explanation for why this is wrong. Yes, he will claim that statistics show animal abusers will eventually abuse humans. But that is really beside the point. Good Heavens. Temujin, has the sweetest one year-old cat which was abandoned at the shelter because she's all black (nose, lips and whiskers included), was born on Halloween and has freaky crossed eyes...so he has trouble with the first example, but will plow on in the name of science. Pain is pain, both the atheist and the theist understand it from experience and both will have difficulty defining it. Physicians can describe the mechanism and explain it. But what follows then, is an inexplicable hyper-jump to ethical issues. So, let's take the atheist, who will point to ethical patterns and norms which developed over the millennia of human existence, 99% of which was spent in bands of 20-40 people. ANy behaviour which caused pain, distress, fear and unhappiness to some or all was functionally detrimental to the reproductive and subsistence strategies of the band. In time, natural selection favoured the groups which reduced pain-causing behavior. Moreover, human intelligence, aided by language, was able to take note, analyze and suggest changes to behaviour....a pristine form of an ethical system. Regarding animals, those who were with people such as dogs (ca. 40,000 years ago) and cats (ca.10,000 years ago) benefitted fro these ethics as "members" of the bands and their families. This ethical system is stored and retrieved in and through the medium of culture. Culture, you may consider as the first and primary depository of survivalist information...a kind of a "soft-drive." This is why the statistics about abusers of animals (and even of things, as in vandalism) are not "beside the point" at all, but are actually the beginnings and the primary rationale behind this most pristine form of ethics.

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  154. Part Two

    4) Furthermore, what is wrong with doing the same to humans? After all, survival of the fittest is why we got here. If I am fit, why should I not kill my neighbor and take his money so I'll be in a better position to survive, myself? (Hitler had similar idea.) Yes, I know the atheist will answer that it is a social convention that we refrain from harming others so they won't harm us. Is that really the reason? This is similar to 3. What is wrong with wronging humans is even if the original reason against it is gone, the cultural messaging which at its simplest has evolved to reduce causing pain or damage, is now an integral part of human psychology and human societies' norms. Sorry, nprms and social conventions do count as powerful forces of social guidance and control and they provide a sense of purpose and even a feeling of pleasure. If for the majority of human existence people lived in small groups, doing wrong to anyone was counter-productive. Then, ethics became more complicated with formations of larger groups, such as bands and tribes, all resulting in more intense and frequent forms of conflict such as inter-family violence and warfare with ever larger groups up to tribal confederations, kingdoms and eventually nation states.


    4[b]) The atheist can't define joy, or explain why a little child will always splash through the puddle, instead of walking around it. (My Rav mentioned this example.) The ability to provide an articulate definition isn't based on beliefs, but on language skills and education. Regarding the puddle, the young of all mammals engage in prolonged periods of play where they experiment with objects, acquire information about effects gravity, mass and inertia, physical cause and effect and physical possibilities and limits, and their own abilities. This instinct-like behavior to engage in play during the period of growth has been carefully studied and can be explained in purely biological terms which take into account growth, neural, muscular, circulatory system development and so forth. It is "fueled" or rewarded by joy, which can be defined and even measured as brain chemical-based "drugging" to encourage salubrious behavior.

    5) The atheist can't explain freedom of choice, i.e., do I have autonomy over whether to raise my hand or not, or is it an illusion? See number 2. Both the theist and atheist struggle with this issue. The former claims that God determines the extent of freedom of choice, the latter insists that it's the natural world, as in environment and biological makeup.

    6) He can't explain accountability. In other words, if my computer gives me a wrong answer, would it help if I scold it? The atheist understands accountability in terms of the physical and social effects he can produce. He will reject scolding an inanimate object or one with insufficient intelligence like our computers today, just as he will reject praying to entities or powers he does not believe exist. The survival of the fittest has not, for the majority of human existence, been the survival of the most brutal or selfish groups; humans have always depended on reciprocal relationships. It is with the advent of pastoralism and agriculture that violent behavior became common. Another way of looking at human history is that the band level, hunter-gatherer mode of existence is the norm and the population explosions and environmental changes which propelled humanity into agriculture and then in a comparative blink of an eye to where we are now represent a degradation and possible the beginning of the end for humankind. Coincidentally (or "coincidentally") Judaism begins at the end of the system which saw the development of "natural ethics."

    End hypothesis mode.

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  155. Aaaaand....

    Part Three

    There you go, Mr Jacobson. One is sure that you can counter each and every argument and not only that, but one might even agree with you on most. But the point is that without researching the topic and strictly from the top of one's head, a former atheist can come up with myriads of reasons many atheists can live with. On a levelplaying field these are no less convincing, romantic or sublime than theistic ones.

    So, where does that leave Temujin, the new theist who cannot rely on any kind of evidence or logic to support his beliefs? With his beliefs, of course. Works for some!

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  156. Dear Y. Aharon, a few comments:

    1) I didn't mean to insult with the green cheese remark. Just pointing out that the wild speculation about how life may have developed, which as you say, has no good explanation thus far, does not really meet the standards of scientific inquiry. It is not a well-posed problem that we can evaluate with methodical scientific techniques. I am not claiming certainty, as you state. I am claiming unknowability, at least with our current suite of tools. Therefore nobody can dogmatically assert that it has more validity than a creation model.

    2) My objections to your definitions of life are not that the intersection of those two criteria doesn't give an answer which corresponds to what we would most likely consider life. It is that neither captures the essence of what life is. For example, if you wanted to define policeman to a child you could tell him a person who rides in a blue car. But the child might object, well our neighbor has a blue car. So you tell child, a policeman rides in a car with a siren. Those two definitions cover just about all policemen: blue car with siren. You still haven't told the child the first thing about what a policeman does. A far better definition would be somebody paid by the government to protect us. The first definition is called a working definition; it only tells how to identify the object. The second is an intrinsic definition.

    I might also add that if you took a child to a zoo, and he missed feeding time, and also doesn't have any idea what reproduction is, and certainly never saw the animals in the zoo (or their cells) reproduce, he could probably accurately identify which objects in the zoo are alive, and which are not. So both your definitions, eating and reproduction, are in a sense, superfluous.

    But the deeper issue is that in fact to an atheist, both "living" and nonliving objects are robots. They are one and the same. So definitions are meaningless. Just a way to distinguish by convention. Like red paint and blue paint.

    3) Your statements about the age of the universe bring up a subject which puzzles me. Since it seems that to go through all possible combinations of mutations (or enough to get something to work) would take eons of time, 15 billion years is way too short. So for a religious person, what do you really gain when you abandon simple pshat of 6 days as being too short, when 15 billion is also way too short.

    Your repeated complaints about my use of randomness in my calculations leave me confused. You have not defined randomness in that context. And who or what is providing the nonrandomness, as in my earlier post. Are you suggesting that it is energetically favorable to form a human out of the raw materials present at the time without any natural selection? Just poof, a spontaneous reaction?

    5) I have a different understanding of gene switches than yours. You can Google at arXiv.org under my name for a paper titled, Dynamic DNA Processing: A Microcode Model of Cell Differentiation. What is fascinating is that a fellow with a long name like Statayanamapoulos or something like that coined the term Duon for the observation that a region of DNA can be both coding and regulatory at same time, something my paper suggested long before. (I am in middle of follow up paper.) What that means is that when you buy a kit, usually it has a parts list and assembly instructions in two separate documents. But imagine if it were one document. When you parse it one way it is a list; another way, it is instructions (not necessarily for the part at that point in the document). Isn't that weird? If the parts list were randomly mutated, it could affect the instructions for any or all of the other parts. Doesn't that argue for Design?

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  157. Dear Temujin, as usual your eloquence and erudition are overwhelming. Nevertheless, I have a minor problem. If it takes somebody three lengthy posts, including forays into ancient history and advanced sociological theories and who knows what else to answer a simple question of why we should not hurt people or animals, then something is amiss. And this is precisely my point. Belief in a creator perfectly and easily describes our everyday feelings and behavioral norms, while atheism requires an encyclopedia to come up with all kinds of contrived theories.

    My points are very simple:

    1) An atom doesn't much care who it is bound to, or what temperature you heat it, or how much you step on it. Throwing a zillion of them together will not change that. They have no will, meaning a preference for any given state over any other. Therefore, nothing made of them will feel pain any more than a refrigerator, laptop or robot.

    2) A human has a preference for certain states (will). When he is in an undesirable state, he is in pain. This pain is felt in the soul. Hence if pain exists, the soul must exist. This is my very simple proof of G-d. An atheist cannot define pain, because all living beings are robots. (Note, electrical nerve impulses do not work as a definition of pain, as one can go watch the Van de Graaf accelerator in Boston Science Museum which produces 1,000,000 volts and sends out bolts of lightning. Is it in pain?)

    3) Joy is being in a preferred state. Also felt in the soul.

    4) We should not hurt people or animals because it causes pain to their souls, just like it hurts us if people abuse us either physically or emotionally.

    5) We have autonomy, because our souls are unfettered by determinism or randomness and can initiate action in the physical world during our lifetimes. (I am not specifying a mechanism here, but have some thoughts.)

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  158. Barry, I looked at your very interesting paper on an informatics model for cell differentiation. While I haven't digested it properly (I don't know that I have the background to properly assess your paper) it reads very well, and offers a significant alternative version to account for cell differentiation. I certainly hope that you get a proper response and evaluation now. It seems that there is all kinds of talent involved in such blogs.

    I still disagree with the tenor of your arguments, however, and find it difficult to assimilate how a well educated and very knowledgeable person can write those comments about the supposed inability of atheists to define life, joy, pain, will, freedom, and accountability, or to refrain from killing. They would have no more difficulty than a similar religious person.

    Your conception of the cell as a computer doesn't mean that the very complex organism called man must be viewed by secularists as a robot. They may not accept the idea of a spiritual entity called the soul, but they can recognize consciousness as operating in a different plane than other physical processes.

    Your counterargument about 15 billion years being too short to account for the vast variety of species that have existed on earth is based on your own arguments about statistics. You are obviously aware of genetic switches and have written about how one nucleotide change in DNA can potentially trigger such a switching. Why, then, does this not seem to factor into your estimate of the time needed to effect the changes on earth that we note?

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  159. Dear Y. Aharon, Thanks for your kind words. I have had much frustration with that paper, as it was written while I was a grad student 16 years ago, and at the time was viewed derisively by many editors, although a handful of people had faith and encouraged me. Then within the last year, many people started finding one thing after another to be true, and publishing them separately. Finally I heard about arXiv, and uploaded it there. Two days later, a fellow Werner from Oxford uploaded a very brief, but similar idea. Then I just found that in May, at the time I last submitted to a journal, a fellow at Univ of Chicago wrote a paper titled the Read/Write Genome, also expressing a piece of the idea. Then in the fall, Statayanamapoulos published on Duons, another piece of it. But I have a long paper trail, and am documenting it in a follow-on piece. The peer review process can sometimes drive you crazy, because they are free to reject for any whim. I have reviewed quite a few papers, some horribly written, but never did I reject. I only made lists of changes that needed to be made and sent back for revisions. If somebody worked hard on an idea, it deserves to be heard, unless there are out and out errors. Not because I think it is unlikely or "too far afield from current scientific thinking". What do I know?

    But as to your question, the point is that my opinion is that the cell is one well-planned system, and what are currently viewed as random mutations, may in fact often be deliberate. See the U of C paper above, Read/Write Genome. Also in 1998, one year after my first attempt to get it published in Nature, there appeared an article in Nature called Deliberate Mutations, which is also a piece of the idea. Around 2003 somebody wrote on Error-Prone DNA Polymerases, saying it almost seemed to him that they were deliberately making errors instead of correcting. (I write from my phone, and cant look up.) In a perfect world, one would get a call back from the editor, saying it seems they have confirmed some of your ideas, we will reconsider. But that doesn't happen in the real world. As my thesis work was in a completely different area, I had no time or strength to pursue. I'm glad the arXiv organization was willing to accept it, and if I had known, would have uploaded long ago..

    But evolution is so ingrained that just two days ago, somebody uploaded to arXiv a commentary on the U of C Read/Write paper titled We Have Evolved to Evolve. Meaning even if somebody states random mutations are not random, it should still be viewed as deliberately making errors to increase genotypes within the gene pool, while my idea is that these mutations are a clock to regulate differentiation.

    As far as evolution, I tolerate the idea, but I believe scientifically, it is leading to oversimplifying an extremely complex system, and actually hindering progress. If one goes into the subject with the mindset that every single base-pair is significant, it leads to more depth than thinking most of DNA is a whole bunch of leftover evolutionary junk.

    Yes, I believe the atheist can come up with reasons to explain emotional feelings, but even the concept of consciousness is the subject of intense research, and considered a holy grail of neuroscience. It is not clear to me that there is a satisfying secular answer.

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  160. It seems to me that Barry Jacobson and Y. Aharon may actually have agreement on some part of their respective views.

    Y. Aharon February 3, 2014 at 10:37 PM In sum, the debate that I have with Barry is a question of seeking vs. certainty. Those who maintain that they have certainty on their side will find it difficult to change without making radical changes in their belief system.

    Y. Aharon February 4, 2014 at 10:59 PM The essential difference between us, that I can see, is that I admit not knowing just how life came to be, while you are sure that it was a product of direct divine intervention.


    In response to Avraham January 31, 2014 at 6:09 AM “If one cannot accept that G-d created life, the most a “scientific” view could be is “I don’t know how it happened.”

    Barry Jacobson February 2, 2014 at 4:03 AM I agree that we don't know. The upsetting part is that there are those who want to ban any discussion as being nonscientific.

    I think both agree that they don’t know. I am sure Barry Jacobson does not object to continued research on how life may have occurred on its own. If such a mechanism is discovered, it must have been built into the fabric of the universe. That would change the question to: How did the universe get there?. I would guess both would agree G-d had something to do with it. And it would show something wondrous about His creation that it had a mechanism to produce us.

    Temujin: For a little help with numeracy issues. To imagine how big a trillion dollars is. If you spend $1,000 every second in the year (you spend Shabbos’s money on Friday), it would take more than 31 years to spend a trillion dollars. You would be spending $31,557,600,000 a year. However, if you could contrive to get a return of 3.16% on you trillion (not impossible even in today’s economy) you would end the year richer because the return would be greater than 31.56 billion and thus you could continue spending at that rate forever (or at least until the sun runs down or you can’t get at least that return on your money).

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  161. Barry, I empathize with your publishing problem. Your paper is well written, but it is more in the style of a tutorial(something that I appreciate) than that of one specialist writing to others in his field - the usual obtuse style. However, such stylistic deviations would not be the only or major issue. I have used such a style in some of my publications and based such behavior on my mentor, a leading combustion scientist. The main problem is that you are willing to challenge a major claim of molecular biology about the existence of coded DNA differences from cell to cell. You are aware of Popper's thesis involving resistance to paradigm shifts. Good luck with that. However, evidence may soon be in hand to either verify or disprove your thesis.

    As Avraham stated we agree about some things in the evolution discussion. My only objection to the design argument for the origin of life is that it would tend to cut off scientific study of the subject. It is better to assume that there were physical mechanisms available to form the first proto-cell stepwise from a soup of simple chemicals, and to conduct experiments in an attempt to duplicate this in the laboratory. Such work is rather far from what I do now, but I would quit my current position and take up the challenge if funding lab facilities were available.

    Best wishes for your publication efforts and the success of your theory.

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  162. > "My only objection to the design argument for the origin of life is that it would tend to cut off scientific study of the subject." -- One day, I'd like to see an evolutionist admit that labeling much of DNA "junk" had the effect of curtailing scientific study of the subject.

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  163. That's a good one, Avraham, spending gelt like there's no tomorrow...until our Sun goes supernova or White or Red Dwarf or whatever, as you had to remind one. Until now, one didn't have a good conceptual handle on what a billion or a trillion is.

    BTW, did you see Temujin's valiant attempt above to suggest a hypothesis for your intriguing question about why no genetically engineered human slaves? This man gives you the soon-to-be-famous Temujin Morphological Hypothesis at the February 4, 2014 at 6:28 PM mark above. A titillating hint: They are he-e-e-re, and have been for a few thousand years on almost all continents...well, for sure excepting Australia and possibly most of North America. One is rather proud of that one, as speculative or loosely interpretive as the whole thing may be. And not a single brain cell of Temujin's was harmed by big numbers or painful formulae during its creation.

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  164. Dear Y. Aharon, thanks for taking the time to read through and analyze my paper. Yes, I realize it is difficult to abandon entrenched thought processes. Only time will tell. But evidence is coming in more rapidly now, as sequencing methods continue to improve.

    As far as writing style, anything that leaves my hand will always be 1000% clear. I myself can't stand reading papers in the "obtuse" style, and when I write something or give any talk, the safest assumption, even when speaking to gedolei olam in the field, is assume the audience knows nothing. This allows everybody to get on same page, and an extra 5 minutes of intro won't bother anyone. If anything, people respect that you make an effort to engage entire audience. A chisaron in hasbara is a chisaron in havana. I find that if an author increases his paper by a factor of 2, to explain it better, it may decrease the reading time by a factor of 3.

    In fact, because many write in the "obtuse" style, there have been two recent times where an author deliberately wrote total gibberish and got it past reviewers, because they were too ashamed to admit they did not understand. They figured the author must really know what he is talking about, although they couldn't make heads or tails.

    I also wanted to say that for a non-scientist, it is even more so the case that they will trust anything presented as science, since they don't have the skills to analyze. And then there is the issue of judgment, even for scientists, like if somebody wanted to write a paper analyzing the Kullback-Leibler divergence between the D0 and D1 lines of the data bus of some processor circuit. This is a measure of information similarity between two distributions. But in a processor, there is no reason to suspect any similarity between two adjacent bits or digits. It would be like somebody studying the comparison of the first and second digits of IBM stock prices for a year. It sounds very sophisticated, but has no meaning or relevance. The same can be true of biology. One can do very advanced mathematical analysis showing randomness of the base-pairs of DNA, but if he doesn't understand what may be happening, his analysis may be totally meaningless.

    That is why when I wrote in my very early posts that we are missing many pieces of the puzzle, I was not trying to insult scientists. I was trying to say until we know how the cell works, we really don't know what tools to apply, whether statistical or other means of analysis. Using the wrong tool can generate volumes of totally meaningless data.

    Finally, Y. Aharon, you have shared very little about your interests, but I personally would advise not studying what chemicals may have given rise to life years ago, but rather how to develop better tools to study the life of today. If you have funding available, I could suggest a number of projects that you may find interesting. Send me an email.

    Dear Temujin, I am quite curious what made you switch from atheist to believer. Perhaps you could share with this chevra.

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  165. One thing I want to make clear is that I am not endorsing any political view. My opinions on evolution are not because I endorse the Chareidi view. One can read my piece, Mesorah of Chesed, at the Five Towns Jewish Times site, where I strongly cricticize the Chareidi view of Zionism. I totally agree with the teachings of Rav Kook, as taught to me by my high school Rosh Yeshiva. But my understanding is that Rav Kook wanted people to become educated in all spheres of knowledge, so they would be prepared to deal with the issues of the generation and increase emuna by means of dialogue with people of all backgrounds on an intelligent level. It doesn't mean he would necessarily agree with every new theory being put forth.

    I totally disagree with the Chareidi style of avoiding any secular education past elementary school, or censoring pages of biology books. Rather, the true way is to teach all the theories, and give students the intellectual tools to combat those that are foreign to Torah. But to do that requires science skills and lanuguage skills and reading and writing, etc. We do ourselves no service when we come across as primitive buffoons. In addition, the lack of math and science education causes parnasa difficulties for many, and leads to dishonesty in business and other problems. Hondling (wheeling dealing) does not constitute career training, nor is it a reliable way of making a living. For every such success story living in a big mansion, there may be 10 others living in basements, and another 10 in jail.

    Nevertheless, as one who has had the opportunity to study secular subjects, I simply have trouble wrapping my head around the concept of intelligent systems arising through random processes. And it bothers me when such viewpoints are banned in the public school system, just as it bothers me that certain ideas are banned in the yeshiva system.

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  166. Barry, I have only read the first and last parts of your paper to date, although I hope to read the rest (i.e., the meat of the paper) shortly. While I generally agree with your criticism of typical scientific writing, it is a question of intended audience. For specialists, field jargon and shorthand arguments may be acceptable, even if it is more like babel to everyone else. It's unfortunately true that advancement in knowledge tends to usher in specialized language and arguments.

    You need have little concern about my studying the formation of the first living entity. It is a pipe dream of mine. As I have stated, my professional work has been in physical chemistry - not biochemistry. As such, I doubt that anyone would be willing to fund such an effort or to provide laboratory facilities. I also agree that studies more relevant to sustaining and improving life today should take precedence. However, one should not so casually dismiss the quest for understanding nature, which is, after all, the objective of the scientific enterprise.

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  167. Barry, I have now read your entire manuscript and I would hope that it gets published in a peer-reviewed journal. It proposes a non-conventional theoretical cellular (DNA) reproduction scheme which leads to the unique labeling of each cell. It represents food for thought, if not action in searching for the very minor DNA differences at one of the paired, helical DNA ends that it predicts. Such changes in dividing embryonic cells would be an important place to start. While I don't have the background to properly evaluate the work, I can easily envisage the proposed scenario. In a sense, it complements the established protective function of repetitive nucleotide chains at the other end of the chromosome. Instead of adding the same base (guanine) repeatedly, it proposes that one base of the 4 possibilities is added for each DNA replication. It claims that 27 such additions should be adequate to uniquely label all the cells of the human body. It proposes further that a short protein based on this coded region could act as the messenger to a target cell informing it of the presence of the cell in question. Perhaps the messenger is a micro RNA strand, instead.

    In any case, I wish you well in your quest. As you know, it is difficult to change paradigms. It took some 10 years and identifying the impact crater to convince geologists and paleontologists that an immense asteroidal impact had occurred 65 million years ago, and that uniformitarian dogma needed revision.

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  168. Y. Aharon at February 6, 2014 at 6:35 PM …we agree about some things in the evolution discussion.

    Since our commenters who engaged in long, disagreeing, but not disagreeable, comments on this post but were able to identify points of agreement, I think our esteemed blog host should consider renaming the title of this post, at least to the extent of omitting “Futile”. I leave it to the eloquent and mellifluous verbal powers of Temujin to come up with a better title.

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  169. Dear Y. Aharon, thanks for spending time with that paper. In some ways, I am happy it is publicly available, and do not see an urgent need for peer review at this time. I have been disappointed with the process, and saw how personal biases can get in the way of objective science. I do plan a second paper on same topic, and will document some of the history.

    On another topic, I found a very interesting essay online by MIT professor Scott Aaronson titled, "Why Philosophers Should Care About Computational Complexity", and he cites Godel as saying, "I believe that mechanism in biology is a prejudice of our time which will be disproved. In this case, one disproof, in my opinion, will consist in a mathematical theorem to the effect that the formation within geological time of a human body by the laws of physics (or any other laws of similar nature), starting from a random distribution of the elementary particles and the field, is as unlikely as the separation by chance of the atmosphere into its components."

    Aaronson was kind enough to exchange a bunch of long emails with me the past day on the likelihood of Artificial Intelligence, Turing tests, and Godels work, in general. He personally says in the essay that he is more likely to side with the consensus of biologists, rather than with Godel, but explains that at this stage, we have a long way to go before we can prove the mathematics of evolvability.

    Thanks, Avraham for your comments. I would still like to do a post on visual system, as an example of biological complexity, but have been exhausted and busy with a lot of things. Hopefully soon. Also hope mods will keep thread open.

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  170. Barry, just thought you'd be interested in this New Scientist article on "evolvability": https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/transfigurism/zA7L4A9zumM

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  171. Barry, best wishes for your continuing writing and publishing efforts. I am surprised, however, at that citation from Goedel "I believe that mechanism in biology is a prejudice of our time which will be disproved". That kind of language harps back to the early 19th century Vitalism wherein organic materials were said to only be derivable from living things. That hypothesis was disproved when urea was synthesized by Wohler from ostensibly non-organic chemicals. In any case, no one believes in Vitalism any more, nor should anyone believe that we can have no understanding of mechanism in biology. It's really a ridiculous statement on its face. If he was really referring to human consciousness or soul, that is a different matter. Also, the origin of life did not start from a "random distribution of the elementary particles and the field". It would have started, ostensibly, from a favorable combination of raw materials, temperature, and environment together with adaptations driven by competition for survival.

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  172. Dear Gut Check, thanks for reference. I will look up.

    Dear Y. Aharon, While Godel's language was flowery, he was not referring to vitalism. He also lived well into the 20th century. You may want to check Aaronson's essay where he says, on the contrary, that Godel chose his words with 100% precision, (because nobody was more attuned to nuance and logic of expression than he).

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  173. Barry, the philosophical article on computational complexity by Aaronson that you cited appears to be interesting, but I don't have the time (and probably background) to properly digest it. I found your specific citation, and disagree with your implication about Prof. Aaronson's, "Goedel chose his words with 100% precision". That, I would assert, refers not to the phrase that I cited, but to Goedel's statement about geological time being inadequate for evolution to have produced the results that we find. Aaronson is not convinced by Goedel's intuition in this matter, nor am I.

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  174. Rabbosai, by coincidence, a neighbor just brought over a recent issue of Dialogue, Fall 5774/2013, No. 4, and it has a superb article on evolution by Lee Spetner who holds a PhD in Physics from MIT. I was gratified to see that he brought up a number of points we had discussed, and many others. I will also try to contact him, and ask him what he thinks of the points we have raised here. Don't miss this article.

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