Double-Blind Science and the Church of Agnosticism

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49 Responses

  1. Vanity says:

    “The moment an athiest (sic) or agnostic admits that evolution is mathematically untenable, he or she must at that same moment admit that we were Created.”

    This is simply false. One could easily find evolution untenable, but nonetheless think exactly that we weren’t created, but appeared spontaneously or by accident, or are a figment of someone’s imagination (as anyone who has ever studied philosophy, the options are literally endless).

  2. Ori says:

    I look forward for the argument here. I except it will be a very good one, and highly instructive.

    But to set a parameter, what level of drastic change, happening in a lab without direct genetic manipulation, would constitute sufficiently strong evidence for evolution?

  3. Shanks says:

    “Biologists define species very narrowly, which is fine from a taxonomy perspective, but changes limited to these levels of precision are not evidence of the types of wholesale changes required by evolution. He says that ‘we would not expect to see such dramatic changes in the few years that we have been watching for such things.’ Come now. Tens of millions of dollars are spent in labs at the world’s finest universities, attempting to accelerate the process, and their hands are empty.”

    What about Richard Lenski’s E. coli experiment?

  4. Natan Slifkin says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Agreed. Now I challenge you to write an article for Mishpachah or Ami or Dialogue elaborating on this – that the scientific evidence itself clearly shows the world to be billions of years old, and that nobody with an education in the hard sciences would say otherwise. Then we’ll see if the Orthodox community is really okay with this. But in any case, the fact that someone accepts the more undeniable evidence for one thing does not mean that they are honestly evaluating the evidence for something else.

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

  5. A. Nuran says:

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

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

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

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

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

  6. E. Fink says:

    Once my biases were removed

    Please tell us how you accomplished this?

  7. Natan Slifkin says:

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

  8. Fred says:

    I am a Ph.D. hard scientist. I am frum. Both of you have little clue how science works.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Rabbi Menken,

    So the world is what it is, while looking like what it should look like, and the difference between reality and appearance needs no naturalistic explanation? I don’t by any means suggest that there has to be a naturalistic explanation, especially a specious one supported by however many biased observers, but should we be barred in principle from looking for one?

  10. Baruch Gitlin says:

    Although this is a fascinating discussion, I believe the focus of the discussion misses what should be the main point. I think any thinking person can agree that evolution is, and has been for a long time, a focal point of the debate, in both the Jewish and the Christian world, as to the nature and validity of revealed scripture. This makes it almost impossible to approach the issue without bias. In the secular world, alternatives to evolution cannot be taught. In the Orthodox Jewish world, the herem on Rabbi Slifkin’s books and the fact that evolution is often mocked by people who have no real knowledge of evolution theory indicates how widespread the attitude is that refuses to accept any scientific theory that contradicts a literal reading of Torah.

    But to me, the main point is that one’s attitude towards science, specifically in this case evolution, should not define one’s Judaism. The Rambam, in Moreh Nevuchim, clearly states that when science contradicts scripture, we should re-evaluate scripture and take it in a metaphorical sense. This is exactly what Rabbis Slifkin has been doing, adapting the Rambam’s approach to the issues of today. Whether his science is right or wrong is, to me, besides the point. The rabbis that put his books into herem, with the claim that these books contain heritical ideas, have forced the Orthodox Jewish public to take sides on these issues. That should not be. In effect, these rabbis are trying to pasken science. How, then, can a Jew that accepts the authority of these rabbis possibly approach the issue of evolution, or the age of the universe, or any other contraversal issue, without bias, knowing that views such as Rabbi Slifkin’s have been pasked to be heritical?

  11. yitznewton says:

    “To the religious person, it would really make no difference at all if the evidence for Evolution was absolute and overwhelming — because the Medrash says that everything looks as if it were created naturally. Adam was physically a 20-year-old at the moment of his “birth.””

    Non sequitur, eons of geologic history from a Midrashic account of trees and Adam. Says I. And if you’re invoking Omphalos, perhaps you can address the difficulties that RNS raised in his book CoC, which I see are summarized in the Wikipedia article.

  12. dave says:

    ‘What about Richard Lenski’s E. coli experiment?’

    I’m curious as to what you see in this experiment. If you read his own reports, after 52,000 generations, approximately 1,000,000 human years, he has seen a few minor changes from the original population. In other words, they are all still E.coli. The rate of change there does not even come close to the rate of change that is needed for the evolutionists to bolster their argument.

  13. YM says:

    I took 12 credits of college level Biology and cannot understand the technical arguments made between serious scientists who believe in evoluation and serious scientists who don’t. I do know that if you could prove beyond any doubt that natural, non-purposeful evolution is true and correct, that our being in the world has no intrinsic purpose, that we are just animals who can speak and (to a certain extent) think, well, to my weak mind, that would be a world where any sort of civil society could not endure – it would be unlivable.

  14. Ellen says:

    Seems to me there is more than one understanding of “evolution” going on in this discussion. I found Rabbi Shafran’s original article taking a rather startlingly strong tone against some scientists, and while perhaps he was lumping too many scientists together as one and the same – it didn’t seem at all to come from the place as Rabbi Slifkin’s attackers some time ago.

    I do not understand why Rabbi Menken responds to Rabbi Slifkin without the slightest compassionate acknowledgement of the intellectually and religiously dishonest railroading he experienced (even despite the vigorous and constant defense by one of the major Charedi Rabbonim in Ramat Bet Shemesh), and why Rabbi Menken further insists that no Charedim deny evolution from bias.

    Only a very few holy people in this world are without any bias, and the rest of us would be wise to acknowledge that we really can’t trust ourselves. If you’ve ever gotten emotional reading (or responding to) a blog post, you can probably count yourself with me in the personally biased group 🙂

  15. Moshe says:

    I just published a post detailing the views of David Berlinski (an agnostic Jew) on the theory of evolution. I think it’s worth hearing why he is not a fan of the theory):

  16. yitznewton says:

    YM: “I do know that if you could prove beyond any doubt that natural, non-purposeful evolution is true and correct, that our being in the world has no intrinsic purpose…”

    I don’t think the leap from “natural” to “non-purposeful” is logically necessary; in other words, natural processes can still be part of God’s plan. That’s the lesson behind Megillas Esther, is it not? His will is still represented within the natural order. Esther was dealing with human behavior, but the same co-incidence of circumstances applies to the world at large. He works through the world; evolution can be seen as part of His workings.

  17. Raymond says:

    There is no way that my very limited mind can fully comprehend the discussion going on here, yet I would like to add a little thought here and there to this mix.

    I am one of those ignoramuses who know next to nothing about the evolutionary sciences. For many decades, I took evolution on its face value, due to my being mesmerized by the popular science books of British Zoologist Desmond Morris, who writes science like a novelist. I never accepted the idea of mankind being a descendant of a single cell, though, as that struck me as so obviously absurd, yet I thought on some level, evolution must be true, that we are little more than glorified primates.

    Recently, though, I have had a change of mind. Once I reflected on the idea that the foundation of Darwinism is random chance, I had to reject it. While I am an agnostic myself, random chance is too opposite of Judaism’s world view for me to accept it. Recall that the whole mission of our eternal enemy Amalek is to make us believe that things happen because of chance alone.

    Having said that, I do not know how I feel about the age of the universe. The Torah clearly says that the universe was created in six days, but the scientific evidence indicates otherwise. As for the Rambam holding the position that we should treat as metaphors any part of the Torah that contradicts science, how far does one take that? After all, by definition, all the miracles recorded in the Torah itself, defy scientific laws. So did they never really happen?

  18. Michoel says:

    “But theists who truly have an impartial view of evolution all accept that the evidence supports it!”

    Rabbi Slifkin, do you honestly not see any irony in this comment of yours?

  19. Yaakov Menken says:

    Many people have wondered why Rabbi Shafran didn’t allow comments to his original post on this issue. Please understand that as per his own previous post on the subject, he does not feel that he has the time necessary to “vet comments submitted to [his] essays and clear those that meet the standards,” much less respond to them all. He does respond to comments submitted by e-mail, and I am quite confident that he will at some point read the comments submitted here as well.

    RNS writes that he didn’t try to dispute either of RAS’ points, and I have set up a strawman to say otherwise. But the strawman is the caricature of RAS’ position which RNS created: “claiming that those who subscribe to evolution do so out of religious faith, whereas tzaddikim reject it out of objectivity… that religious figures who oppose evolution ‘can truly perceive the world with clarity’.” Having set up the strawman, RNS then wrote that “it’s a chillul Hashem for an article with such nonsense to appear in public” regarding all those things that RAS never said. As I said, RNS couldn’t have disputed the relatively obvious things that RAS did say, which is why he had to set up a strawman.

    In his new comment, RNS then makes the rather remarkable assertion that “theists who truly have an impartial view of evolution all accept that the evidence supports it!” His only source for this incredible, broad-brush assertion is that those people happen to agree with RNS. In attempting to show they are impartial, he only demonstrates bias of his own. See further below.

    Similarly, he claims that “since even those without any atheist bias believe in evolution, this indicates that the evidence supports it.” This, again, is flatly wrong. Since some of those without an atheist bias believe in evolution, and some don’t, the less biased people — not unbiased, as RNS wrongly states that RAS believes, but less biased — find this a topic for rational discussion. The atheists cannot participate with any semblance of objectivity, since they must believe in evolution to maintain their a-theology. This is known by even the rare exceptions to this rule, such as David Berlinski.

    Furthermore, RNS conflates two entirely distinct claims: that there is genetic evidence of common ancestry, and that life forms evolved entirely as a result of chance mutation. What do I say, given that “those scientists who do subscribe to ID all accept that all life evolved from a common ancestor?” Why, that I agree with them, of course! Or, almost. The gaps in the fossil record are such that it remains very difficult to explain how we got from one species to the next. But the evidence of common DNA is such that common ancestry remains the only likely scientific explanation. What RNS has missed is that many of those theists who profess to “believe” in evolution are referring only to this first element. Those who believe that chance mutation is a sufficient explanation for all the diversity of viable species is a much smaller number.

    Finally, he challenges me to write “an article for Mishpachah or Ami or Dialogue” about the age of the universe. Yet he began his own essay on our topic by writing that he thinks many Charedim “are better off not being exposed to” evolution, and that he warns that at least one of his own books “is not appropriate for those with little exposure to science.” Why, then, does he challenge me to do the very things that he avoids doing? It’s silly, and has absolutely no bearing upon what beliefs are accepted by those with knowledge in a relatively-specialized field.

    Do I really, truly think that “ad hominems, hysteria and ridicule in lieu of rationale” are more common from evolutionists then of Orthodox Jews who oppose evolution? Absolutely. I think RNS’ strawman, coupled with claims of “chillul HaShem” regarding a series of things RAS never said, are a case in point.

    I will parenthetically address Ellen’s wonder why I don’t speak about the “dishonest railroading” she asserts that RNS experienced. First of all, because it is as irrelevant to RAS’ essay as it is to RNS’ response. Second, because I have never felt qualified to express an opinion about the whole thing, unlike those such as Rabbi Adlerstein who have. There is no question that RNS takes a radical approach to understanding the natural world, to reconciling it with Torah, and to understanding the Torah, with which many traditionalists would feel discomfort. Thus he has rabbis who back him, and those who oppose him. I do not believe it is appropriate (and even demonstrates a certain lack of Kavod Chachamim, Honor for Sages) to assert that one side engaged in “dishonest railroading” even though they felt it necessary to state their opposition publicly. They, too, have a right to their opinion. Without question the whole brouhaha caused RNS incredible pain, and his responses and defenses are all posted to his website, which my company continues to host, gratis. But back to the issue at hand, please.

    Here is the hump that RNS cannot get over with regards to the Age of the Universe versus evolution. This will also respond to E. Fink — obviously, I did not state that I lost all biases I might have, but rather, that belief in traditional Jewish theology enabled me, as I said, to take a look at the Theory of Evolution unencumbered by a belief system which obligated me to believe that this hypothesis was fact.

    In this, I am hardly alone. The Baal Teshuvah community, those who became Charedi later in life, is blessed with a substantial number of people with degrees in the hard sciences (such as, “Fred’s” confident ignorance of my background notwithstanding, myself). Two in particular to whom I spoke today, one being a physicist formerly of JHU’s Applied Physics Laboratory, the latter an Astrophysicist (the paradigmatic “rocket scientist”) whose husband is an engineer, both confirmed that they and most everyone they know in similar circumstances demonstrate an extraordinarily similar pattern.

    All of us were raised in a secular environment, in which we were educated to believe that the Age of the Universe is roughly 15 billion years, the age of the world is roughly one billion years, and that Evolution occurred by random chance. Today, all of those people whom we know (admittedly anything but a comprehensive survey) continue to believe that the Age of the Universe, as measured by the tools of the natural sciences, is 15 billion years. And they continue to believe that the age of the world, as measured by the tools of the natural sciences, is one billion years. Yet every one of them believes that the mathematical probabilities are too poor for chance mutation to explain the evolutionary process, using those same tools.

    Note that all or most of the methodologies used to reconcile the apparent Age of the Universe with the tabulation of 5771 years since the Six Days of Creation, could also be used to explain why Evolution appeared to have occurred by random chance, even though we know from the Bible that this is not the case. The assertion of bias is simple nonsense. If it’s bias, then the same shrugging off of Evolution should be used to shrug off the Age of the Universe, or on the contrary, to accept the secular community’s assertions about Evolution to the same extent as those of the Age of the Universe. Bias cannot be used to explain why two of these three concepts are accepted wholesale and then reconciled with Jewish theology, while a third is rejected as untrue.

    Obviously there is something else at work here, namely the ability to look at the facts with less bias than previously.

  20. dr. bill says:

    I find it odd that while R. Adlerstein can make peace with the existence of multiple writing styles in the Torah by asserting a single Author, others find it difficult to integrate the hand of a Maker in an evolutionary process. Godless evolution and the documentary hypothesis are not logical consequences of their respective findings, regardless of what some might choose to believe. Conflating the religious and scientific planes often demeans religion or science or both.

  21. Steve Brizel says:

    The above debate is an intellectual and hashkafic dead end for one simple reason. RYBS once commented that Torah and science seek to explain mutually exclusive questions, with Torah explaining why man should act in a certain way, and science explaining how man acts, based on scientific discovery and rules in a wide variety of disciplines. When Torah and science invade each other’s territorial prerogative, the integrity of Torah and science is threatened-thus, a person has to learn to live with the tough questions rather than accept bad answers-regardless if a Torah observant or atheist acknowledges the same. Thus, neither bad explanations nor articles that defend or debunk evolution are helpful because Torah and science are working on two totally different tracks.

  22. eLamdan says:

    The very act of choosing to write articles only on the scientific topic of evolution and not on, say, whether the polar bear descended from the Irish Bear, is itself an act of bias. On complex subjects that are not threatening, non-scientists do not even think to get involved.

    It may be hard to believe, but there are plenty of scientists who are as personally invested in evolution as they are in the descent of the polar bear from the Irish bear. They really do not care about the results – they are just trying to get them.

  23. Natan Slifkin says:

    What do I say, given that “those scientists who do subscribe to ID all accept that all life evolved from a common ancestor?” Why, that I agree with them, of course! Or, almost. The gaps in the fossil record are such that it remains very difficult to explain how we got from one species to the next. But the evidence of common DNA is such that common ancestry remains the only likely scientific explanation.

    I am fascinated (and relieved) to discover that you actually DO accept that all life-forms likely evolved from a common ancestor! This is extremely significant. Rabbi Shafran claims that an objective evaluation of the evidence would mitigate against it, and yet you (like Rav Nadel, and like me) accept it!

    Do I really, truly think that “ad hominems, hysteria and ridicule in lieu of rationale” are more common from evolutionists then of Orthodox Jews who oppose evolution? Absolutely. I think RNS’ strawman, coupled with claims of “chillul HaShem” regarding a series of things RAS never said, are a case in point.

    Most people read RAS’s piece the way I did. Besides, I wrote an entire lengthy book in rationale of my stance, and I continue to write a massive amount of material to explain my positions. Considering the quantity of what I write (and what I went through), I think that the proportion of “ad hominems, hysteria and ridicule” is minimal. Contrast that to the distinguished opponents of evolution and other such things in the Torah world. You can find numerous such examples in documents and recordings on my website.

    Your final claim is that your rejection of the mathematical improbability of evolution can’t be bias, since you accept the antiquity of the universe (and apparently common ancestry, too!) Let me first clarify that I have no position on whether evolution is mathematically improbable or not; the mechanism of evolution is of little interest to me (for reasons that I explain in my latest post). However, I will point out that the commentator Raymond above says that he is fine with accepting the antiquity of the universe, but that he cannot bring himself to accept random evolution – not because he has evaluated the math, but because of the theological problems that he (mistakenly) perceives with it!

  24. James Ross says:

    “Evolution occurred by random chance”

    No who knows anything about evolution says it occurred by random chance. The claim is that it occurred by natural selection which is the very opposite of chance.

    It is noteworthy that neither of your two friends are biologists. They should read a little biology before they make know nothing claims based on gut hunches. And so should you. You’ll find that the math has been tested and proved correct time after time after time. A physicist is not likely to have any specialized knowledge of biology and your two friends obviousl dont’t

    Also, in your original post you either goofed or lied about Crick. He accepts evolution. In fact he even says that the aliens who may have seeded earth deceloped by evolution themselves The alien theory relates to abiogenesis which is not the same thing. Crick, by the way, also believes abiogenesis could have occurred on earth. He simply used the alien theory to point out that determining how abeogenesis occurred on earth is supremely difficult, s difficult that there’s no way to rule out the alien theory. You misrepresent his views, however, when you pretend his difficulties with abiogenesis have anything to do with evolution, just as you misrepresent evolution when you suggest it has to do with chance.

  25. Moshe says:

    One small point concerning Yaakov Menken’s comment above – David Berlinski is not an atheist, he is agnostic. He doesn’t deny G-d’s existence – in fact, he it sounds like he is open to the possibility that G-d exists as this post shows:

  26. ChanaRachel says:

    I agree with Rabbi Menkin that one can have full faith that G-d created and runs the world, while still being convinced of the scientific validity of the theory of evolution. Thus, we all agree that evolution is theologically neutral for the believer. If so, why is so much ‘hot air’ being devoted to “debunking” evolution on a website that is supposed to be discussing [orthodox] Jewish thought? Evolution should stand or fall based on scientific evidence, and Cross Currents is hardly a forum for scientific discussion among experts. Thus, it seems that Rabbis Safran and Menkin don’t consider evolution to be quite as neutral in its implications, as they claim.

  27. G*3 says:

    > Belief in evolution is a prerequisite doctrine of atheism

    Because there were no atheists before Darwin, right? I mean, it’s not like the frum world uses the name of a 2000-year-old atheist as a synonym for heretic.

  28. dave says:

    ‘No who knows anything about evolution says it occurred by random chance. The claim is that it occurred by natural selection which is the very opposite of chance.’

    James, how could you post something so obviously false? This sounds like something from the militant atheist talking points trying to convince people that atheism makes sense and is not total lunacy.
    This is from wikipedia on evolution,

    ‘There are four common mechanisms of evolution. The first mechanism is natural selection, a process in which there is differential survival and/or reproduction of organisms that differ in one or more inherited traits.[1] A second mechanism is genetic drift, a process in which there are random changes to the proportions of two or more inherited traits within a population.[7][8] A third mechanism is mutation, which is a permanent change in a DNA sequence. Finally, the fourth mechanism is gene flow, which is the incorporation of genes from one population into another.’

    The driving force of evolution is random mutations and natural selection. You can’t have natural selection without anything to select. And we are witnessing it right now. There was a four legged chicken born recently in Israel. This is obviously advantageous to the chicken as it presumably enables them to run away from predators faster. Now all we need is for this chicken to reproduce and in a few short years all the chickens all over the world will be four-legged. (sarcasm)

  29. Shanks says:

    The natural sciences don’t measure the earth to be 1 billion years old. They measure it as 4.54 billion years old.

  30. Michoel says:

    Your statement is certainly true. However, if it is true about articles, it is certainly true of full length books, both by those that reject evolution and by those that don’t.

    I find the entire line of reasoning of, “I must be right because it makes sense (to me) that you are more biased then me” to be pretty silly. There is simply no way to be certain as to how bias is effecting one’s thinking about a topic or about one’s evaluation of another’s bias. It might make for interesting debate but this is not what I would call fruitful dialog.

    The fact that “theist” scientists accept C.D. has a whole lot of wiggle room factors that don’t lend themselves to easy evaluation. What EXACTLY is a theist in this context? Is it one who self-identifies as such and could include people of very weak belief that are simply uncomfortable calling themselves non-theists? Or is a theist only someone that would be willing to give up their life (and perhaps more importantly, their kavod) for their belief in an Omnipotent Creator? Even assuming that later, there are many other biases that can come into play.

  31. David says:

    Yes, evolution is a theory, yes it makes predictions, and yes, those predictions are verified. You get flu shots… you find fossils layered in such a way as to align what we understand of geology and paleontology with evolution. You simply never– ever– find a dinosaur fossil in the same context as a hominid fossil, nor, for that matter, do you ever find an australopithecus fossil in the same context as a homo sapiens fossil. Moreover, we know of transitional species that have been discovered (tiktaalik) that confirm evolution-based theories as to the move from the sea to the land. Evolution can be– and has been– tested as a theory. The constant insistence here that it’s impossible, or somehow mathematically unworkable is really silly. You want to do away with evolution? Find a theory that explains what we’ve found– and what we observe– as effectively. Or, go out and find an australopithecus fossil with a homo sapiens fossil, or evidence that cave men ate, or were eaten by, dinosaurs. Until you do that, the attacks amount to no more than argumentative tricks or downright intellectual dishonesty.

  32. ARW says:

    James Ross,
    Why don’t you check out your facts first? Evolution posits random mutation and then natural selecion of the desirable mutations. So yes, evolution has a highly random element to it, the occurrance of positive mutations. Basically, although this is an over-simpification, the math fails on the random mutation, not the natural selection. Since this is a quantitative analysis you could of course change the assumptions for the model you are using and come out with the answer you want. However, I have yet to see a model which uses reasonable assumptions, based on mutation rates that have actually been observed that makes the creation of a complex organisms seem even remotely likely.

  33. Bob Miller says:

    James Ross wrote, “The claim is that it occurred by natural selection which is the very opposite of chance.”

    Whether details of a process are apparently dictated by natural law or apparently random, or something in between, we know that the process could not happen without creative action and continuing supervision and direction by HaShem.

  34. mb says:

    Perhaps that is a typo, but the earth is 4.5 billion years old not 1 billion.
    With all the billions and trillions being thrown around in the financial world, I think it’s possible we have lost sight on how long a billion years is and how much change can evolve in 4.5 billion years. Humans, homo sapiens, have been evolving for nigh on 400,000 years, being separately recognisable for the last 200,000 years or so, and still are, such as adapting protective genes and blood types for example.

  35. Michoel says:

    The valid evidence threshold for a claim needs to be commensurate to the likelihood of the claim. If I claim that I flipped 10 straight heads with my nickle, and showed you a video of it happening, you would rightly insist that the video was edited. Or if I had a 100 witnesses, you would insist that they were in on the hoax. So if I insist that many species came to populate areas separated by seas via trans-ocean “floating rafts” and my evidence was merely a video of it happening, you would correctly reject it. We need that the evidence must be a lot stronger than a video of it happening. I don’t think we have that. There are a lot of phenomena that can be well explained if Evolution is true. But that does not make it true, since there are also very much more phenomena that do not lend themselves to explanation by evolution.

  36. Doron Beckerman says:

    I don’t understand why the evidence of common DNA does anything but provide evidence against ex nihilo special creation of all species. That is just one end of the spectrum, though. We do find discussion of creation ex nihilo happening only on Day One in the classic commentaries. That doesn’t seem so earth-shattering. For example:

    אברבנאל בראשית פרק א

    שהיום הראשון נבדל מששת ימי בראשית בשני הבדלים הא’ שמלאכת היום הא’ היה כלו יש מאין ומלאכת שאר הימים היו יש מיש. והב’ שביום הא’ נבראו האבות וההתחלו’ ובשאר הימים נעשו התולדות שיצאו מהם כי כמו שביום הא’ נבראת הארץ שהיא כללות הד’ יסודות ובשאר הימים נעשו הדברים המורכבי’ מהם ככה ביום הא’ נבראו השמים שהוא שם כולל

  37. Yaakov Menken says:

    RNS misunderstands what I said, which, to be honest, I should have predicted and clarified. There is been a gradual evolution of personal computers over the past three decades. This doesn’t mean that one computer gave birth to the next. Similarly, DNA is a common code used in every living species on Earth, from the simplest microorganism up to man, and it demonstrates clear similarities between similar species. This is common ancestry; what science cannot explain is how we moved from one species or family to an entirely different one. The evolutionary hypothesis attempts to explain this, but the mathematical probabilities are impossibly small for this to be a valid explanation.

    RNS now claims that “most people” read RAS’ piece as he did, but in his first comment above, he acknowledged that he didn’t as much as try to dispute the central points of RAS’ actual article. If “most people” trust RNS’ distortions ahead of what RAS actually wrote, that demonstrates a serious problem having nothing to do with RAS.

    It is silly to limit a measure of “ad hominems, hysteria and ridicule” only to material by and about RNS. While he may not be aware of it, one of the anonymous blogs which worships his every position now states that “Menken, let’s be clear, is a clown, who embarrasses himself whenever he opens his mouth about science, religion, or their intersection.” Now admittedly, the potency of ad hominems, hysteria and ridicule increase in direct proportion to the gravitas of the one making the statements, and this particular author believes that “an atheist with no knowledge of science or the natural world might claim that nothing in the natural world ever changes” is a valid counterproof of my statement that evolution is a prerequisite doctrine of atheism. He, Vanity and G*3 all prove my point, namely that an atheist must accept evolution as fact in order to embrace what we know about the modern world. If there was another valid option, they certainly would have presented it.

    RNS also misreads Raymond, who is not fine with accepting the antiquity of the universe, and declares himself ignorant of both evolutionary science and Torah. But RNS does make a critical concession: he has “no position on whether evolution is mathematically improbable or not.” How can he say that Rabbi Shafran’s article was “nonsense” without taking a position upon the key point which RAS made? This is the point that I made as well — it’s mathematically improbable, to an impossible degree.

    James Ross has already been corrected by numerous others. Without chance mutation, there are no options from which natural selection can choose. He’s also wrong about Crick’s Directed Panspermia. “Crick found it impossible that the complexity of DNA could have evolved naturally.” This affects not merely abiogenesis, life from inorganic matter, but the evolution of DNA. For those who find it impossible to imagine that there could be “Codes” in the Torah, they should do a study of DNA and its incredible complexity.

    Taking his middle point out of order, he calls it “noteworthy” that neither of the friends I asked are biologists. To state that only biologists can examine probabilities and combinatorics related to DNA and evolution is similar to saying that only oncologists can analyze probabilities related to cancer, or even that only long-haul truckers can analyze probabilities related to traffic accidents. There is only one serious rationale for limiting the field of experts to evolutionary biologists only: that only those with a significant bias towards accepting the likelihood of evolution by chance choose a career in evolutionary biology, resulting in a self-selecting group who will all tell you with full confidence that of course the math all works — the substantial numbers of mathematicians, engineers, physicists and chemists who feel otherwise, notwithstanding.

    I appreciate the corrections on the apparent Age of the Earth. This reminded me, as well, to add another item to the list: the age of life on the planet, which is even more closely related to evolution. There again, you find the BT scientist has no qualms accepting whatever modern science has to say.

    Chana Rachel’s point was addressed some time ago, but it’s important to note the extent to which evolution is used to “prove” that traditionalists are unthinking primitives. There is much to be gained in pointing out that it is, in actuality, one of the pillars of the Church of Agnosticism.

  38. RebMoshe says:

    For a powerful refutation of the faith based “religion” of Darwinism, I highly recommend the web site

    Here’s a few quotations from :

    1. In our experience, codes are produced only by intelligence, not by natural processes or chance … The genetic material that controls the physical processes of life is coded information.

    “The basic flaw of all evolutionary views is the origin of the information in living beings. It has never been shown that a coding system and semantic information could originate by itself in a material medium, and the information theorems predict that this will never be possible. A purely material origin of life is thus precluded.” Gitt, p. 124.

    2. For over a century, studies of skulls and teeth have produced unreliable conclusions about man’s origin. Also, fossil evidence allegedly supporting human evolution is fragmentary and open to other interpretations. Fossil evidence showing the evolution of chimpanzees, supposedly the closest living relative to humans, is nonexistent.

    Before 1977, evidence for Ramapithecus was a mere handful of teeth and jaw fragments. We now know these fragments were pieced together incorrectly by Louis Leakey and others into a form resembling part of the human jaw. Ramapithecus was just an ape.

    “… the only positive fact we have about the Australopithecine brain is that it was no bigger than the brain of a gorilla. The claims that are made about the human character of the Australopithecine face and jaws are no more convincing than those made about the size of its brain. The Australopithecine skull is in fact so overwhelmingly simian as opposed to human that the contrary proposition could be equated to an assertion that black is white.” Zuckerman, p. 78.

    3. If, despite virtually impossible odds, proteins arose by chance processes, there is not the remotest reason to believe they could ever form a membrane-encased, self-reproducing, self-repairing, metabolizing, living cell. There is no evidence that any stable states exist between the assumed formation of proteins and the formation of the first living cells. No scientist has ever demonstrated that this fantastic jump in complexity could have happened—even if the entire universe had been filled with proteins.

    “However, the macromolecule-to-cell transition is a jump of fantastic dimensions, which lies beyond the range of testable hypothesis. In this area all is conjecture. The available facts do not provide a basis for postulating that cells arose on this planet.” David E. Green and Robert F. Goldberger, Molecular Insights Into the Living Process (New York: Academic Press, 1967), pp. 406–407.

    4. “Whether one looks to mutations or gene flow for the source of the variations needed to fuel evolution, there is an enormous probability problem at the core of Darwinist and neo-Darwinist theory, which has been cited by hundreds of scientists and professionals. Engineers, physicists, astronomers, and biologists who have looked without prejudice at the notion of such variations producing ever more complex organisms have come to the same conclusion: The evolutionists are assuming the impossible. Even if we take the simplest large protein molecule that can reproduce itself if immersed in a bath of nutrients, the odds against this developing by chance range from one in 10 to the 450th power (engineer Marcel Goulay in Analytical Chemistry) to one in 10 to the 600th power (Frank Salisbury in American Biology Teacher).” Fix, p. 196.

  39. Natan Slifkin says:

    Rabbi Menken, in the history of discussions about evolution, you are the first person to use the phrase “common ancestry” and not be referring to one organism actually being the common ancestor of others! Now that you say that you do not accept common ancestry (as everyone else uses the term), perhaps you can address the questions that I asked about, about marsupials, whales and nested hierarchies?

    The reason why I can describe RAS’s article as nonsense without taking a position on the mathematical probability of evolution is that this was not the only key point of his article. After all, as Chana Rochel points out, the only reason why an obscure scientific theory is being discussed here is because of the alleged theological/ sociological ramifications. Which in this case, was the claim that the scientific community is more prone to ad hominems and hysteria in place of rationale than is the religious community. A claim that I am still amazed that anyone can defend, and I’d be glad to engage in an extensive analysis with evidence.

  40. Joseph Skaist says:

    Raymond, you wrote:
    “random chance is too opposite of Judaism’s world view for me to accept it. Recall that the whole mission of our eternal enemy Amalek is to make us believe that things happen because of chance alone.”

    Are you implying that Amalek’s goal is for there to be a lack of belief in G-d? The reason I ask is because Chazal do not hold that to be true. There are many midrashim that present Amalek and his progeny’s approach as an attack on G-d hinself. They believe in G-d but they do not belief He maintains a special relationship with His creation. The chance (mikreh) that Amalek ascribes to is one of lack of care. Amalek is dangerous because he believes there is a G-d, but He could care less about us. Randomness itself does not imply lack of G-d’s care or purpose. It is how one interprets the randomness that is important.

  41. Michoel says:

    I still do not understand what R. Menken is saying. Please clarify whether or not you believe that Common Descent is a fact and if you feel that common DNA, proves Common Descent.

  42. Michoel says:

    Rabbi Slifkin,
    “A claim that I am still amazed that anyone can defend, and I’d be glad to engage in an extensive analysis with evidence.”

    Do you mean this specifically in reference to science and Torah issues, or more generally? I’d be curious to here at least a superficial treatment if you have time. Not to minimize your personal suffering but my impression is not the same as yours, admittedly not based on any particularly deep analysis.

  43. Menachem Lipkin says:

    After years of reading and occasionally commenting on such banter on Jewish blogs I decided to take a step back and look at the subject more objectively. I realized that my, limited, knowledge of evolution was based on what I learned in high school biology, quite some time ago, and listening to lectures given by Jewish figures who had no expertise in evolutionary biology. So I decided to do something drastic; I read books written by biologists. While I’m sure, as Rabbis Shafran and Menken charge, there are scientists with “biases”, the exceptions don’t prove the rule. The first thing you find is that these scientists are the first to admit that they don’t have all the answers. That’s what science is, a search for answers. Just because a scientist won’t accept a “theory” of intelligent design for which there is no direct evidence does not mean he’s “biased” against such a theory. It simply means that nobody has put forth any credible evidence for such a theory. Let’s be honest, the idea of intelligent design is based on inferences from what we don’t know about how evolution works. For if there were direct evidence of intelligent design then our job of bringing monotheism to world would pretty much be done.

    It’s very dangerous, theologically, for people to use the absence of data as a basis for their faith. Have all the faith you want, believe, if you will, that gaps in the fossil record or other such problems prove your faith, but what are you going to do if/when those gaps are filled or those problems solved? I think we’re seeing the effect of this more and more today. Many religious people, feeling backed into a corner, are adopting ever more fundamentalist, close-minded attitudes toward the outside world.

  44. noam stadlan says:

    Rabbis Menken and Shafran claim that an athiest cannot believe in creation because athiesm and belief in creation are conflicting beliefs. Because of this, the athiest cannot evaluate the creation/evolution issue without bias. It is of course possible for someone who is openminded and unbiased who does not have a preconcieved belief in god(he starts as an athiest) to look at the creation/evolution data, and come to the conclusion that creation is true, and they therefore change their preconcieved notion to belief in god. They wind up not being atheists, although they were prior to examining the data. The reason they are free of bias is that their belief regarding god does not direct their findings regarding evolution/creation.
    This is of course exactly the same situation as the Gadol Hador who believes in God, and also believes that belief in evolution is in direct conflict with his belief in God. Since belief in both his view of God-mandated beliefs and evolution are a conflict, he cannot be an unbiased judge of the data. The only way he can be an unbiased judge is if he is willing to change his view of God or God mandated beliefs if the data call for that course. Since, to the Gadol Hador, belief in God and the truth of creation are inviolable dogma, it is impossible that these beliefs can be affected by the scientific data for or against evolution/creation. Therefore, he is just as biased as the athiest who seeks to impose his “religious” beliefs on the evolution/creation debate.

    Rabbi Menken also states that “only someone who has overcome the preconceptions, desires and imperfections of character to which we all play host can truly perceive the world with clarity.” Anyone with religious beliefs comes to the evolution/creation issue with preconceptions. Belief in god is a preconception, as is disbelief in god. Those who clearly perceive the real world that God created are those who seek to understand God’s world without placing limits on God. Those whose religious beliefs make it impossible to appreciate the intricacies of how God’s world runs are the ones with the most biased view of science. God created a wonderful world, with laws for man to seek out, understand, and utilize. It is sad that some have, in the name of God, turned our religion against the quest to understand the world that God himself created for us. Hashem looked into the Torah and created the world. Understanding the world is a way to understand God, and it is what he wants us to do. There is no conflict between science and Belief. Not every midrash has to be taken literally. Many Rishonim discarded the science of the Gemara. Accepting scientific findings doesn’t conflict with any of the Rambam’s 13 principles of faith. The Rambam, when discussing faith, first starts by telling the reader to look at nature. Understanding nature…. is science.

  45. Yaakov Menken says:

    I’m going to restrict further comments, because everyone has had their say and we are rehashing. Please submit another comment only if you have something substantive and new to add, or you may find it discarded. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with me, but that you have to evidence that you understand both sides.

    Reb Moshe refers us to Much of what they write may be correct, but we don’t know. It is because of things like “scientific creationism” that people operate under the misconception that Torah-observant Jews who disbelieve evolution are similarly motivated by bias. They want to discard carbon dating, not because they have any evidence that carbon dating is wrong, but because it doesn’t fit with their religious worldview. They quote that which fits their opinion rather than addressing the totality of the data.

    I am glad that RNS considers me an innovative and creative thinker. Nonetheless, his question to me was regarding the scientists who subscribe to Intelligent Design, and I said that I almost agree with them, in that there is, as RNS said, a very neat and elegant taxonomy to all of G-d’s Creation. It looks like they’re all related… but the problem is getting from one to the next. Darwin expected fossils to demonstrate a gradual move from one species to the next, but that evidence doesn’t exist. A single mutant animal, a more radically new species, would have no partner with which to reproduce.

    I do not know why RNS believes that marsupials and whales present a problem to the non-evolutionist. On the contrary, by what process did mammals crawl back in the water and start breathing through noses in their backs? Logically, they would have first had to go back in the water, and then start breathing through their backs. But until then, the water was a hostile environment. Evolutionists answer this by saying, well, it just worked out that way — regardless of any attempt to model this mathematically, much less reproduce it in the lab.

    The development of the eye and optic nerve is a stronger example of this problem. So chance mutation is a poor explanation, and RNS doesn’t dispute that — he’s not taken a position on whether it’s mathematically improbable. Responding to Michael, it should be obvious that common taxonomy and common DNA do not prove common descent without a valid method for getting from one species to the next. There is no evidence for gradual movement in the fossil record, and the alternatives are improbable beyond what logic can accept.

    Menachem Lipkin appears to believe that it is exceptional to find a biased scientist. This, too, is beyond what logic can accept. Even to be an agnostic is to take the position that there is no evidence of intelligent Creation — this is the very basis for the objection to Intelligent Design, which depends upon all of the same evidence as evolution by chance, but argues that it is mathematically impossible for chance to produce abiogenisis or provide the raw material for natural selection. It is opposed because this implies a Creator of some kind, rather than due to any defects in the analysis of probabilities. Science is supposed to analyze the data and reach conclusions based solely upon which hypothesis best explains the data — regardless of its implications. Opposition to Intelligent Design is no more scientific than is Scientific Creationism; they both tell us to ignore conclusions we don’t like.

    Similarly, Noam Stadlan’s argument also depends upon a phenomena that does not exist, to my knowledge: a Gadol HaDor who claims that to say it appears that evolution happened is in direct conflict with belief in G-d. In fact, all of the arguments claiming religious bias depend upon something similar, and the experience of actual Ba’alei Teshuvah contradicts this absolutely.

    To become observant, one must accept that there is a Creator, that he gave us the Torah, that we are expected to observe it, etc. There are many fundamental precepts (13, according to Maimonides) which we must accept as true. But one of them is not that the universe appears to be less than 6000 years old, or that it does not appear that we have evolved by chance. On the contrary, the Medrash implies otherwise.

    What he and Menachem have missed entirely is that from a Jewish perspective, evolution has no theological implications whatsoever, any more than the Age of the Universe. No one bases their faith upon the absence of data supporting evolution — for one, it doesn’t say anything about who Created all that DNA (Directed Panspermia). The absence of evidence for chance evolution is at least as much of a theological issue as its presence would be, and neither view is even a “problem.” A person can absolutely be observant while believing that it appears evolution happened by chance, and I am not aware of any BT who dropped belief in evolution at the same time as becoming observant. It’s something they went back later, having already become observant and thus not invested either way, and looked at from a new perspective, at which point they found it lacking. That’s not bias, that’s reason.

    RNS now says that RAS’ article was about how “the scientific community is more prone to ad hominems and hysteria in place of rationale than is the religious community.” Neither the words nor the thought were in RAS’ article, any more than the strawmen that RNS set up the first time. He has agreed that scientists are as biased as anyone else, and takes no position on the idea that chance could support evolution, which all evolutionists assume to be true. So as I said at the outset, he simply misrepresented Rabbi Shafran’s reasonable and well-defined position, and attacked it without basis.

  46. Natan Slifkin says:

    Do I really, truly think that “ad hominems, hysteria and ridicule in lieu of rationale” are more common from evolutionists then of Orthodox Jews who oppose evolution? Absolutely.

    RNS now says that RAS’ article was about how “the scientific community is more prone to ad hominems and hysteria in place of rationale than is the religious community.” Neither the words nor the thought were in RAS’ article, any more than the strawmen that RNS set up the first time.

    So it wasn’t in RAS’ article, but you think it’s true anyway?

    I do not know why RNS believes that marsupials and whales present a problem to the non-evolutionist.

    Why are marsupials concentrated in Australia? Why are whales functionally the same as fish but anatomically the same as land animals – giving them the handicap of having to come to the surface to breath?

    a phenomena that does not exist, to my knowledge: a Gadol HaDor who claims the belief in evolution is in direct conflict with belief in G-d.

    I know that this is what many BT yeshivos would like you to believe, but even Rav Moshe Feinstein wrote that it’s kefirah. The current group of Gedolim ALL believe that.

  47. Moshe says:

    I am in the midst of trying to make a series of articles demonstrating some of the problems and critiques that people have of the neo-darwinian theory of evolution. My goal is to get people familiar with the issues so that they can understand where the criticism is coming from and why it is being made.

    My first post (besides the resources on David Berlinski’s position) concerns the evidence for evolution from bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics. This is often cited a clear example of evolution in work. A deeper understanding of how bacteria becomes resistant shows this not to necessarily be the case – take a look and see what I mean:

  48. Dov says:

    When so many people say the same thing it is called bias, whether it is a true belief or not. Rabbi Slifkin turns the definition of bias upside down. A universal belief in something, he is saying not a bias. Then if in some circles you have some opposed to the otherwise universal belief, it is called bias. Further, we evaluate bias, he says, to measure truth. There is something very wrong here. Those who were and are the upholders of harmony between Torah and science recognize that scientific consensus is not scientific truth. If it would be then the goal of science would not be to model as close as we can the physical universe but rather the scientific consensus. So we would say science is true because it is equivalent with the scientific consensus. And the scientific consensus is true because…? This definition of science is used by those who don’t know or care or both about the definition of science but it serves as a political weapon for a scientific position. There is no such definition. Admittedly there are various definitions of scientific terms but that definition is by definition (pardon the pun) fatuous nonsense. Rabbi Slifkin has not continued the grand tradition of Torah and science with its rejection of scientistism but rather scientistism has its spokesman in him and he and his readers if they are uncritical are the poorer for it.

  49. Yaakov Menken says:

    First and foremost, I have to apologize, I wrote and edited in haste, and RNS has correctly quoted the un-amended text of my comment. There is physics and metaphysics, and I did not mean to confuse the two. A Gadol HaDor who claims the belief in evolution is in direct conflict with Judaism — well, as RNS said, it’s hard to find one who does not say so. But just as with the Age of the Universe and similar questions, we understand from the Medrash that what we see and what really happened may be very different. My intent was to refer to the absence of a Gadol who says that one cannot say that via scientific measurement, chance mutation and natural selection appear to be the means for the diversity of species. The earth appears to be 4.5 billion years old — why should one be a problem more than the other?

    I think RNS already knew that.

    He also knows that how “the scientific community is more prone to ad hominems and hysteria in place of rationale than is the religious community” was nowhere in RAS’ article, though he used it as his justification for his article belittling RAS. Nonetheless, do I think that the evolutionists are more prone to use ad hominems and hysteria vs. those who question evolution and support Intelligent Design? Yes. Never mind that they are ridiculing Sir Francis Crick, the man who discovered DNA — belittling Intelligent Design is central to their approach, because if they had to actually address the mathematics involved and attempt to model something like a mammal crawling back into the ocean, the evolutionists would lose.

    What I can’t figure out is why RNS believes it makes perfect sense to believe that radically different mechanisms and functions would be naturally selected in Australia than in Africa, but it’s somehow a challenge to believe that G-d Created it that way. He admits that swimming mammals have a handicap… so how, then, were they naturally selected and preferred over mammals that stay on land? By any other model than “we believe in evolutionism, and thus it must be so,” the existence of whales via natural selection defies reason.

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