Intelligent Design For Dummies

Whatever you believe about evolution – that it is entirely incompatible with Torah belief, that it is nothing to lose sleep over if it turns out to be true, or that it is the preferred approach to the evidence for a Torah Jew to take – intelligent design (ID) is a whole ‘nother can of invertebrates. Too many True Believers figure that ID maximizes the role of G-d, and therefore should be attractive to Torah Jews.

This is short-sighted, as demonstrated by two recent articles, one in the Jerusalem Post, the other in Jewish Action.

Many Jews who identify with ID don’t understand the first thing about it. They embrace it simply because they believe that some scientists exceed their own mandate, and use science to force G-d out of the game on a squeeze play. These scientists see religion as the exclusive province of the ignorant. Those who have explanations don’t have any room left for a Deity. (As Laplace replied to Napoleon when the latter asked him how he could publish a compendium of all human knowledge without once mentioning G-d, “Your Majesty, I have no need for such an hypothesis.”) The number of such scientists is, I believe, greatly exaggerated – although the harm they inflict is great indeed. The embrace of intelligent design is much more of a reaction against the misuse of science by some scientists and science-popularizers, than a studied taking of a position.

Both of these articles show that Intelligent Design is simply a variation on the “G-d of the Gaps” theme. Since time immemorial, whatever Man could not understand, he attributed to G-d, Who did not have to be understood. People who predicated their belief on G-d filling gaps of comprehension lost their faith whenever some of those gaps were filled in by more naturalistic explanations. The more authentic mesorah of Klal Yisrael (so claimed the Vilna Gaon) predicates our belief not on any of these gaps, but of our historical experience in which we experienced G-d directly as a nation. The longer of the two articles (the one in Jewish Action), authored by Dr. Nathan Aviezer, traces the “G-d of the Gaps” approach and its pitfalls. It also presents a refreshingly non-hysterical and cogent explanation for why so many scientists (including even religious scientists not necessarily in league with the Devil) reject ID, and offers an alternative to ID that is in fact championed by the scientific community, but becomes a powerful lens with which to see Hakadosh Baruch Hu when held in the hands of those who already believe.

Ironically, it is the shorter of the two articles, authored by Rabbi Natan Slifkin, that points to the gaping hashkafic hole in ID. Spokespeople for ID, all of them believers in G-d, point to phenomena like “irreducible complexity” as necessitating the intervention of G-d. In other words, they have no problem leaving G-d out of the equation – until they get to a roadblock, where they have to call in G-d to get them out of a predicament of incomprehension. The Torah Jew, writes Rabbi Slifkin, never thinks this way. Any existence, including the existence of a comprehended natural law, is unthinkable without the Will of G-d. G-d is as present in what we do understand than in what we do not. To the contrary, it is in what we do understand that we are better able to perceive the majesty, wisdom and presence of the Creator.

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27 Responses

  1. michoel halberstam says:

    In this connection, it bears noting that the Rambam, in the Moreh sets out to prove the existence of God , even if one begins with the premise that He may not necessary created the universe. In other words, even if one believes that Olam Kadmon Hu. This is because the Rambam felt that this was the view of many intelligent people, and we cannot create arguments that will exclude their point of view. Similarly, it is clear that the only intelligent approach for a “Torah Jew” to take is that what we believe must of necessity not be inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis cocerning the facts which is based on the evidence or on logic. It is dangerous in the extreme to make the truth of our beliefs depend on the eventual outcome of scientific discovery.

  2. Bob Miller says:

    Michoel Halberstam said (November 17, 2006 @ 9:40 am), “…what we believe must of necessity not be inconsistent with any reasonable hypothesis cocerning the facts which is based on the evidence or on logic.”

    Which here is the cart and which is the horse? To this way of thinking, present scientific knowledge appears to trump belief, even if eventual scientific knowledge does not. Michoel, if you did not mean this, please explain further.

  3. Henry Frisch says:

    I am surprised at so little response. On Hirhurim, where this topic is frequently discussed, there would have been many responses after four hours.Is the readership of Cross-Currents so very different from thaqt at Hirhurim?

  4. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Reb Michoel –

    Interesting observation, but I wonder if it is true. I’m out of my depth here regarding the Mutazilim and neo-Aristotelian philosophers he might be refering to (and hoping readers can fill in), but at least some of those who believed in an eternally old universe saw that eternity linked to G-d. While denying that there was an act of Creation, some in the ancient world saw the universe as an emanation of G-d, not His handiwork. (See the “philosopher”s” statement in the opening scene of Kuzari.) The world was, however, inconceivable without its ultimate cause within G-d.

    It is also interesting that the Rambam’s own arguments for the existence of G-d are of the classic “G-d of the gaps” variety: from where else is the First Cause or Prime Mover?

  5. Joel Rich says:

    IIRC the Rambam stated yesh meayin (there was an act of creation) but if it could be proven yesy myesh(etenal matter)it wouldn’t bother him and he would reinterpret genesis in that light (then again we know that in his own day he had detractors :-))


  6. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    There is a huge difference between Hirhurim (of which I am a great fan) and Cross-Currents. CC has a very different policy about comments. Gil is great about weeding out ad hominem arguments, etc, but will allow kinds of comments – as well as sustained back-and-forth – that we shy away from.

    One of these days we are going to get the time to put our comment protocol out in the open. We know that it costs us much in excitement, but we want to keep CC friendly to a variety of communities, and this comes at a price.

  7. Jewish Observer says:

    “There is a huge difference between Hirhurim (of which I am a great fan) and Cross-Currents”

    you left out the most basic difference. CC is charedi, whereas HH is frum YU.

  8. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    Not really. Gil has written about his own confusion as to whether he is “frum YU” (JO’s phrase, not mine), or charedi – which is what his wife maintains he is. The jury is still out.

    CC, OTOH, is neither. It incorporates individuals identified with each side of the divide, and some people who haven’t sorted things out yet. We manage to infuriate on an equal opportunity basis. From the hate mail we receive (and don’t publish) it is clear that there are as many people who are angry at us for including leftist infidels as there are those who despise us for given safe haven to charedi apologists.

  9. larry glunker says:

    If G-d has done miracles in the past does that mean He is not involved in the universe in any other way? Maybe G-d created many things with evolution and ‘intervened’ in certain processes to show Himself.
    Anyways, ID can mean the universe clearly shows design in a way that cant be explained by random darwinian evolution, there must have been a guiding force. That’s not G-d of the Gaps.

  10. Chaim says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, where does this leave R Akiva’s arguament, mentioned in the medrash, concerning the garment proving there must be a weaver?

  11. Michoel says:

    You really get “hate” mail, as opposed to strong or angry argument? That is suprising to me.

  12. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “It incorporates individuals identified with each side of the divide, and some people who haven’t sorted things out yet. We manage to infuriate on an equal opportunity basis.”

    I sometimes compare my ideology to that of a pendulum. It swings on both sides depending upon the issue, the current state of the blogosphere, and what side of the bed I wake up on. 🙂

    Although socially, I am more in the charedi world than not, if I see a particular argument has strength and cogency, I try to concede the position’s merits, even if that makes me a “centrist” on some particular issues.

  13. ja says:

    I have little question that evolutionary theory is in the midst of a paradigm shift and that NeoDarwinian Synthesis will be replaced in time by some form of Neo-Lamarckianism. That is, the move will be from explaining that evolution took place via random mutation to an explanation that argues for teleology. Put differently, the ID proponents are on to something even if they have mangled the science – random mutation is not a satisfactory explanation for the complexity we see – and the critics who claim that it is more praiseworthy to see God in random mutation are going to land up backtracking when the consensus changes. It is foolish to hitch one’s wagon to NDS at this point. This argument is one of the most disappointing I’ve seen from N Slifkin and has lowered my opinion of him considerably.

    On a lighter note, I think the jury is no longer out on Hirhurim. Since the Slifkin ban, Gil has moved left and is now pretty firmly RW MO. Maybe if haredism splits, he can become LW UO again.

  14. David says:

    Of course, to atheists the reverse of the God of the Gaps theory is the theory that since science has explained some of the gaps, therefore there is nothing that eventually won’t be explained, which somehow supports atheism. This is of course illogical, at least IMHO.

    And then you have the classical argument that the atheists use which is “if a million monkeys are pounding on a typewriter (updated to ‘keyboard’) for millions of years then eventually one will produce a Shakesperian sonnet’. I don’t believe that you will ever get anything of the quality of ‘Jack and Jill went up a hill’ quality. In fact we don’t need monkeys to do this. We have computers that can generate random numbers and letters at blinding speed. You can bet that if anything sensible would have come out of these programs we would have heard about it by now.

  15. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    “On a lighter note, I think the jury is no longer out on Hirhurim. Since the Slifkin ban, Gil has moved left and is now pretty firmly RW MO. Maybe if haredism splits, he can become LW UO again.”

    Gil hasn’t moved anywhere. RWUO moved further out. Gil stayed where he was, but woke up one day to find that thousands of people had joined him.

  16. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “Gil stayed where he was, but woke up one day to find that thousands of people had joined him.”

    I agree with this: tzaras rabim, chatzi nechama(the problems of the masses are half a measure of consolation).

    An analogy would be the Foucault Pendulum, which one can see in science museums. The Foucault Pendulum appears to travel around the base. But really, the pendulum is always swinging in the same plane. It is the Earth’s rotation under the pendulum that causes this illusion(note: as explained by Rav Aryeh Kaplan, the avoidance of geocentricity is not a conflict to verses in Tanach !).

    I would also note, as pointed out on one of Gil’s threads, that RW/Charedi Orthodoxy always consisted of many sub-groups. The issue is merely which group’s concerns de-facto become dominant at given points in time, as far as certain communal issues are concerned, and also if a number of communal decisions establish a trend.

    I would like to see a future column on CC or elsewhere discussing if people think that the RW will swing back to the center(wherever that was) and also about ideas how the “thousands of people” can cope with such imbalances. There are of course more serious problems facing the Klal and individuals, but nevertheless, this issue can be irksome, or for some, seriously troubling.

  17. Baruch Horowitz says:

    I am also curious if the charedi world has a self-correcting mechanism that ensures that the “sliding to the right” does not take on a life of its own. I can understand, for example, that an American ben-Torah who wears blue shirts, and moves to Eretz Yisrael, perhaps should adopt the community standards, but the question is where does it end? I read a Ynet report this week that in one neighborhood in Ramat Beit Shemesh, a charedi/MO pressure point, men and women need to walk on separate sides of the street. In the U.S., even in chassidic Willamsburg, no one enforces such stringencies!

    Granted, this is likely done by a fringe Ramat Beit Shemesh group and is an extreme example that exists nowhere else. Nevertheless, this is why I agree with an anonymous Lakewood intellectual quoted in an August 2005 Haaretz article that “it would be healthy for the Haredi world to have more freedom of press to check the unlimited power of the leadership”. In other words, there has to be some “check” which will give expressions to voices of moderation and balances; I don’t think this contradicts Daas Torah or Kavod Hatorah.

  18. David Klinghoffer says:

    Oh dear. At least one can say in favor of this posting that it’s accurately titled. Beyond that, it reminds me how important it is, including for rabbis, to hesistate to express opinions on subjects on which they haven’t educated themselves sufficiently or at all. Anyone interested in understanding why ID is not a “God of the gaps” argument should look here:

    It’s a basic point and really needs to be grasped by anyone who wants to venture a view.

    You’ll find, also, that it wasn’t Diderot, the philospher, who made that famous remark to Napoleon. The future emperor was only 15 years old went Diderot died. It was the physicist Pierre Laplace. [corrected – YA]

    For further information on the ID/Darwin debate, see here:

    And here:

  19. Raymond says:

    I am not going to even pretend that I understand Rabbi Adlerstein’s article, or the comments that follow it. But I wonder about something. Suppose the day comes that science explains everything. Where does that leave room for G-d? I grasped the Rabbi’s article enough to understand, at least on a superficial level, that such scientific advancement would make no difference at all, but what about, for example, the soul? When I was studying psychology, there was a great, unresolved debate about heredity vs. environment, that is, which is the greater determinant of human nature. But nowhere was there any discussion of the soul. I realize this was because I was attending a secular university, yet I found myself restling the matter over in my own mind as to where that leaves the soul? Let me go a bit further on this. Suppose that science somehow discovered how all of nature must have a kind of order because of the nature of matter and energy, and that therefore the hypothesis of the need for intelligent design is excluded. Then what?

  20. ja says:

    What sense does it make for R Slifkin to say that Chazal’s approach to proofs of God is “theologically offensive” and why does RA praise that point of view? (I also don’t see why RA labels Rambam’s approach “God of the gaps”.)

    RE Hirhurim: The RWUO may have moved right, but the RWMO did not and Gil has moved left. Even in the original post in which he said his wife thought he was haredi, he was not “confused” and gave reasons he considers himself MO. More recently, he has firmly identified himself as MO and recently posted again a list of reasons why.

  21. Rivka W. says:

    Mr. Klinghoffer, that was a singularly self-serving and supercilious response.

    Your Jerusalem Post opinion piece mentioned the notion of scientific falsifiability, and claimed that ID’s arguments meet such criteria. I have yet to hear of any which do (and I have done quite a bit of detailed research on ID, and am myself a recovered ID supporter).

    There is no conflict between God and evolution. The fact that you think that there is tells me that you place limitations on Him that simply do not exist. But just because He used tools (like evolution) which we can detect does not mean His “fingerprints” are detectable by scientific means.

    He also causes the sun to rise each morning (well, more accurately, causes the earth’s rotation to allow each segment of the planet to see the sun for the first time in a 24-hour period, but forgive my planet-bound perspective), but that doesn’t invalidate gravity or any of the other physical laws which are the observable and measurable causes. They are His tools, just as evolution is one of His tools. And just as I cannot directly detect or measure His hand in the rising of the sun (though I thank Him for each beautiful sunrise and sunset), why would you expect to be able to measure (in a scientific sense) His hand in the design of His creation?

  22. David N. Friedman says:

    Natan Slifkin grossly misrepresents ID and it continues to puzzle me why even traditional Jews are so slow to suggest that God as creator means that the universe and our natural physical world is designed. It is one thing for the secularists to say that religion and science are two different spheres and religion answers the “why” question and science gets at the “how” questions–it cannot be for the Jews to agree. God as creator means that the creation is our world–not the “spirit” world.

    Slifkin’s punchline that “God in the gaps” ID premise means that when blood-clotting and the bacterial flagellum can be explained in evolutionary terms, God will be diminished. David Klinghoffer has already explained why this premise is not true.

    Judaism is not precisely ID but materialist reductionism is the very opposite of the Jewish worldview so that the advocates of ID are, in my opinion, allies of the Jewish message for humanity and not our opponents.

  23. David N. Friedman says:

    Raymond, I sense you are willing to give science too much credit. You anticipate a time when science might “explain everything.” I find this a very strange extrapolation since today, science can explain almost nothing of the “HOW” concerning most things in nature. In fact, there is general disbelief among scientists that the major questions concerning “how” will ever be answered.

    Regarding the doctrine of evolution, it is assumed that small changes over great time periods is somehow a creative agent. This makes no sense. Over a span of the hundreds of millions of years we can chart, time has destroyed most species so that the destructive aspect of nature and natural law can be documented. On the other hand, what cannot be documented is the creative capacity in the natural world. For example, teams of scientists over decades and with the aid of elaborate computer programs have at long last charted the plant hormone auxin. This discovery was trumpted as a “victory for Darwin” and implied that the mystery had been solved. This is false. Science has no clue as to how such a complicated hormone that is fundamental to plant life could have arisen or evolved or “emerged” (a favorite term among the evolutionists–complex and unexplained systems are said to have conveniently emerged). In fact, the most simple blade of grass cannot exist except with an entire symphony of incredibly complex phenomenon–a literal cascade of hundreds of separate miracles that science cannot fathom in terms of how it was all put together without a plan and a purpose. This is clearly a logical prediction of the ID position that has come to fruition– it will take a mammouth effort for intelligent humans to even chart (and not explain) a plant hormone.

    Like you, I am also not a scientist but I understand that one discovery about a property of elemental matter and energy will not touch all that must happen for a blade of grass to grow. Auxin is not the only plant hormone–there are other regulatory hormones, all working in concert with each other–and the hormones are only a tiny part of the plan for grass.

    I believe that the popular media does a poor job in this respect. Time and again, people exclaim that when trace evidence of water is thought to exist on some planet–life is somehow thought a possibility as if all one needs for complex life is water and mud.

    Your ending sentence seems a real contradiction. You wonder what happens when science discovers that “all of nature must have a kind of order”–then what happens to ID? Huh? This is the working premise of ID theory so if science comes to that conclusion, the materialists that conclude it is all an accident will be the ones in trouble.

    It is my sense that they have long been in denial and the argument at hand is philosophical and not scientific.

  24. Michael says:

    I looked at David Klinghoffer’s links. If I understood them correctly, ID proponents claim that the complex specificity present in certain aspects of the natural world imply design. This implication arises through the directed information content in these aspects, that in other areas of exploration would lead the investigator to conclude a designer. As a geneticist, I can certainly appreciate the complex specificity contained in biological systems. I try to utilize this appreciation to increase my sense of awe and wonder at the creation of Hashem.
    That said, I have reservations about considering ID as a scientific field. The scientific method allows us to observe natural phenomena and construct hypotheses from these observations. The utility of science is that these hypotheses can be tested through their predictive power. That is, we can make predictions as to other phenomena that would be observed based on the assumptions underlying the hypotheses. What is the predictive value of ID theory? Are there observations that we could predict based on the assumption that there is intelligent design?
    From the above, I also cannot understand the attraction that ID would have to a believer in Hashem as the Borei Olam. To answer the above questions, and potentially establish the field of ID as scientifically useful we would have to investigate the nature of the designer. How can one learn about the supernatural with investigation of the physical world? It is simply unscientific to conclude that the data are best described by a model in which an entity that is definitionally beyond our ability to observe (HaKadosh Baruch Hu) is responsible for their generation.
    I am a believer in Intelligent Design, but I don’t find it scientifically useful. Hashem has created a world in which we have the intellectual freedom to accept or deny His existence. This choice is external to the vast but ultimately limited realm of science.

  25. Raymond says:

    To david friedman, first of all, thanks for responding to what i wrote, now I feel that I am not wasting my time expressing myself here. But I do want to throw back the challenge onto you, not for the sake of doing so, but for the sake if trying to discover truth. Your basic argument seems to be that evolution does not have the preponderance of evidence on its side. But what if it did? I am not just throwing out a hypothetical question by asking this; my real point here is that it sounds to me like you are falling into the very enticing trap of explaining whatever is not yet known as being attributable to G-d. But this kind of thinking is exactly what gives the Richard Dawkins and Bertrand Russells of our world such joy, walking right into their trap, because once everything IS explained, which is bound to happen, then where does that leave room for G-d? The second point I want to address is what I meant by my last sentence in my previous comments. The chief argument that Torah Jews give for the existence of G-d is the same one given by Rabbi Akiva thousands of years ago: if the shirt off my back did not appear out of thin air, then how can I say that the universe did? Surely its magnificent order very strongly implies an Intelligent Designer. Yet what if scientists discover that this great cosmic order that we see all around us, is a product of the nature of matter and energy itself? In other words, maybe everything has order, because that is its intrinsic nature. If such is the case, that would preclude the necessity for an Intelligent Designer. Rabbi Akiva’s argument would no longer hold water, and one would then have to come up with some other kind of evidence that G-d exists.

  26. Baruch Horowitz says:

    Regarding my comment # 17, where I brought as an example a Ynet report regarding Ramat Beit Shemesh, I have read subsequently that this source may not have been accurate; this doesn’t affect my point, though.

  1. November 24, 2006

    […] Oh dear, indeed. I wondered how long it would take before David Klinghoffer weighed in on my ID post. His is a welcome contribution. I have abiding affection for David, despite so very rarely agreeing with anything he writes. […]

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