Double-Blind Science and the Church of Agnosticism
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, forcing him to produce a number of convoluted arguments and even set up a few strawmen along the way.
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.”
He attempts to gloss over the problem by saying that “those who are uncomfortable with the idea of an omniscient God certainly have a bias towards accepting naturalistic explanations.” Let’s have the facts as they are. Belief in evolution is a prerequisite doctrine of atheism: one who wishes to deny the existence of G-d must believe that we arrived at our current state through natural means. There is no alternative. The moment an athiest or agnostic admits that evolution is mathematically untenable, he or she must at that same moment admit that we were Created.
Rabbi Shafran did not write that “religious figures who oppose evolution ‘can truly perceive the world with clarity.'” The correct quote about impartiality is 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,” which is uncontroversial. 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.
As Rabbi Slifkin and I have discussed previously, I was educated, like anyone outside parochial schools, to believe that Evolution was proven fact, and, as Rabbi Slifkin has pointed out, this belief is not necessarily contradictory to belief in Torah. [I even wrote a paper on the unscientific nature of so-called “Scientific Creationism,” a position of mine which has not changed.] Once my biases were removed, however, I gradually rejected evolution as an unproven and unlikely conjecture.
So I do not understand how he can write that “those who oppose evolution inevitably subscribe to a religious worldview in which evolution is theologically problematic at best and usually entirely unacceptable.” 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.” In some ways, the infinitesimal probabilities for Evolution are at least as problematic as if they added up. [Parts of this are quoted from my comments to the aforementioned post, which probably should have been converted to a Cross-Currents post long ago.]
Rabbi Slifkin claims that the antiquity of the universe is something that the “charedi community officially rejects.” This is one of the strawmen to which I referred. 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. Who are the “charedim who reject it?” I know that someone will comment with the name of someone, somewhere, because every rule has its exception, but do not ignore the issue at hand: if the charedim are “overwhelmingly, critically biased against any evidence supporting it,” as Rabbi Slifkin asserts, then why do they not reject the age of the universe as well? He fails to present any explanation as to why the age of the universe is accepted as scientific fact by the same people who reject evolution as wildly improbable. On the contrary — he pretends that Charedim reject the observed age of the universe, because the truth so flatly rebuts his argument.
To see the bias of the evolutionists, on the other hand, one merely need observe their reaction to the theory called Intelligent Design. The only difference between Intelligent Design and Evolution is “whether or not the probabilities for the random generation and advancement of life are sufficient to explain our presence.” It is not, in and of itself, a theological statement, and deserves serious consideration within the realm of science. Sir Francis Crick himself (with James Watson, the discoverer of the DNA molecule) found the probabilities for evolution to have occurred by chance so overwhelmingly unlikely that he promoted a theory of Directed Panspermia, genetic seeding from outer space. He later changed his mind, concluding that random advancement was certainly more probable than the idea that we are some sort of galactic farm experiment, a conclusion with which most of us would probably agree. Yet as we have discussed many times, the devotees of evolutionism reply to Intelligent Design with ad hominems, hysteria and ridicule in lieu of rationale. This is not because ID is a theological statement, but because, as I said earlier, any alternative to evolution has theological ramifications.
Rabbi Slifkin correctly notes that a scientific theory is “a hypothesis corroborated by observation of facts which makes testable predictions.” He fails to mention that by this definition, evolution is no theory. He links to a post which purports to demonstrate that new species have been observed; they are, to a one, vacuous. Variations within species are nothing new, to the point that a Great Dane cannot interbreed with a Chihuahua. 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.
[Update: I neglected to take RNS to task for referring to the absence of new species as “Rabbi Shafran’s sole ‘scientific’ objection to evolution.” As above, the appearance of new species is precisely that which is necessary to convert this particular hypothesis into a scientific theory, and it has not occurred. Why he characterizes this as a shortcoming in RAS’ objection requires explanation.]
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. There is no evidence, after repeated testing, yet the wild conjecture behind all this research is still called not merely a theory, but accepted as proven fact. This is not evidence of the scientific method, but of the strength of the Church of Agnosticism, which cannot countenance the questioning of one of its most sacred pillars of faith.