Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Unexpected Predators

Although I am currently on an exotic island that I have never visited before, and nor have most of you, I saw a place yesterday that will be familiar to many of you. It's a smaller, very steep, island, just off the coast:


You don't recognize it? Perhaps that's because when you last saw it, you were looking at it from the other side:


(Those reading this via email will have to go to www.rationalistjudaism.com to see the video above.)

Unfortunately, there are no actual dinosaurs on this island. However, I did see something else that was almost as primeval and horrifying. It was just a few yards away from where I took the above picture. Here it is:


It's a pitcher plant. That odd-looking leaf is about ten inches tall and forms a cup that has a few inches of liquid at the bottom. The inner surface is extremely slippery, and any creature that ventures inside falls into the liquid - which is not water. Instead, it is a digestive juice!

The normal prey of pitcher plants is insects. But this one had caught something quite a bit bigger:


It's a lizard, now in the process of being eaten by the plant. Even more surprisingly, it is a gecko, which (as noted in Sefer Mishlei) has an amazing ability to stick to walls, yet could not maintain a grip on the inner wall of the pitcher plant.

So there are no man-eating reptiles on this island, but there are reptile-eating plants! Amazing. I would wonder why Hashem made such a thing, but according to the rationalist perspective, there is really no such question. The horrifying pitcher plant is simply a byproduct of the evolutionary process.

In the next post, I will discuss a theological lesson to be learned from the animals on this island.

18 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. You must mean שממית in 30:28. I assume that some authority/ies explain/s that as "gecko, as the main ones interpret it as "spider"..

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  2. "I would wonder why Hashem made such a thing, but according to the rationalist perspective, there is really no such question."
    Wouldn't Rambam say that one of the main purposes is to get man to love and fear God?
    Since you obviously know that, how am I misinterpreting you?

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  3. For more pitcher plant fun - try the greenhouse at the Tel Aviv University Botanical Garden.

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  4. How is the pitcher plant any more horrifying than snakes or other creatures reptile, fish, bird or mammal, that eat a live animal whole, or eat parts of other creatures/animals while the animal being eaten is still alive? It's all quite horrifying - from the big fish eating the little fish whole and the little snake eating the big mouse whole. But at least the dinosaurs and oversized reptiles were long gone before we got here! What an extremely horrifying and creepy world that must have been!

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    1. It's horrifying because it's a plant. It doesn't move to attain food. It evolved to compensate for poor soil conditions by supplementing it's food intake by PASSIVELY eating an animal. It's neat but freaky.

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    2. The more you learn about plants the more horrifying they are. Almost every compound they make that does not go directly to growth or reproduction is used to injure or kill something. They strangle their competitors, sometimes engaging in slow but deadly fights with hours-long slashes with tendrils. They poison the ground around them and hide the sun the better to kill off other plants. Take a botany class and you'll never walk through a beautiful meadow the same way again :)

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  5. Simply a byproduct? If Hashem knew man would evolve and desired such an outcome, why can't the same be said of the pitcher plant?

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  6. I wonder if the plant is Kosher. The Torah states all carnivores (Chayos) are un-Kosher because they are predators, perhaps the same for plants (including the Dionaea muscipula i.e. Venus Flytrap)...

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    1. It is certainly kosher - even carnivorous fish (e.g. salmon, tuna) are kosher. The rule of thumb (the Torah doesn't state such a rule) obviously only applies to animals (maybe birds as well).

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  7. "Amazing. I would wonder why Hashem made such a thing, but according to the rationalist perspective, there is really no such question. The horrifying pitcher plant is simply a byproduct of the evolutionary process."

    What does Hashem do according to you? I'll leave the question at that but would appreciate an answer.

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  8. "but according to the rationalist perspective, there is really no such question. The horrifying pitcher plant is simply a byproduct of the evolutionary process."

    Since everything on this earth is a product of evolutionary process, where do you separate the line between something being a byproduct vs. something supposedly intended, like man?

    Or, do you fall in line somewhat with noted Evangelical Theistic Evolutionists (like Ken Miller, Karl Giberson etc) that believe God simply rolled the dice and had an intelligent Oyster came about, that is what God would forge a covenant with?

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  9. Why do you say that according to the rationalist perspective there is no question as to why Hashem made such a plant? Certainly the Rambam believed each plant and animal has a purpose. One could certainly argue that he was basing himself on the science of his times, but does that mean that there is no question, or that there doesn't have to be a question?

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  10. Fascinating. In the words of the Psalmist "imru leilokim, mah nora ma'asecha!"

    And no, the fact that it was shaped by evolutionary processes does not make it any less wondrous as one of G-d's creatures.

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  11. You are arguing something no Orthodox Jewish Evolutionist did or does. Evolution is unable to say G-d doesn't tamper with the Environment to manipulate Evolution for his own purposes because it can't see G-d behind or not behind the seemingly random. You just have and on the side of not seeing Him on behalf of Evolution. You define rationalistic Jewish religious philosophy in a way that it was not defined and indeed is antithetical to the way it was traditionally defined. What I'm seeing is modern agnostic views being your Aristotle that you then reconcile with Judaism by denying Judaism the ability to say something different on the matter. If this keeps up your views on Judaism will be as practical as Mendelsohn's proved to be when he denied Judaism had a distinct theology. A Jewish God sitting around doing nothing is no God Judaism will accept.

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  12. What nutrient is the plant getting through this process of trapping insects and other things that all the other plants in the world manage to get without having to have such characteristics? Even if the soil is nutrient poor I would imagine that there are other plants in the vicintiy that are doing fine without being a predator.

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    Replies
    1. I believe that carnivorous plants mainly get nitrogen from their prey.

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  13. A more honest way of phrasing it might be along these lines:

    "So far every phenomenon which has been ascribed to gods has turned out not to require them. The purely naturalistic explanations have worked without invoking divine intervention every time we run into something we do not understand. In fact, assuming that there is a comprehensible natural explanation and pursuing it has led to centuries of advances in all the sciences. When you discover something which requires divine hands on the scales or you come up with strong, unambiguous evidence of deities by all means let the world know. If it survives the crucible of scientific inquiry you will be praised in the same breath as Newton, Darwin or Hilbert. Just please don't waste our time with all the usual logical fallacies and Aish Seminar nonsense."

    You might also want to want to reconsider your last sentence. If it turns out that "A Jewish God" really does keep His or Her hands off the workings of the physical world who are we to say "We won't let You do that because our religion says You can't."

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