Friday, July 21, 2006

Evolution on the Jewish Press

I had written the following and sent it to the Jewish Press as a letter to the editor in response to the discussion on evolution initiated by the article written by Rabbi Maryles from June 21st. They didn't print it though, I suppose because they wanted to move onto newer (or less redundant) issues.


In the July 12th issue of the Jewish Press, a series of letters to the editor regarding the theory of evolution was printed with the introduction: "Evolution: The Never-Ending Debate." This title is at one time as curious as it is apt.

Why is it that this ‘debate’ never ends? What about it is so intractable that the two sides are forever opposed with no means of understanding the other? Please, allow me to explain. It is all a matter of methodology.

For those on the Creationist side of the debate, the point of origin is that the Torah is the word of God and hence unimpeachable. They believe that the Torah says, and numerous Rabbinic commentators have agreed, that the whole universe and each species was specially created in six days just a few thousand years ago. This truth comes from on high and is bedrock truth no matter what the minds of men can conjure up in the forms of alternative explanations for our origins.

For those on the side for evolution, it is the physical evidence and rational methodology of science that have proven themselves reliable (since we benefit from them every day) and to which they have no choice but to accept if they wish to have a rational understanding of the world and our origins. These people accept the theory of evolution based on the merits of the science and the evidence at hand. They do not believe that man was placed on Earth with a large brain and rational mind in order to disallow their use.

When a Creationist comes upon the same evidence which so convinced the Evolutionist he has no choice but to try and tear it apart. By virtue of his preconceived bias, the evidence simply cannot be valid since it conflicts with what he believes is God’s own narrative of creation. No matter how convincing the evidence may be from an objective perspective, he ‘knows’ it is false because he believes God said otherwise. This is why the Evolutionist and Creationist can only talk past each other.

The Evolutionist posits evidence as his currency for knowledge. He speaks in terms of fossils and genetics; strata and homology. He builds up his understanding of nature from the ground up. The evidence is X which means that the theory is Y. Yet this is all worthless for the Creationst to whom the truth comes from God above. He favors a top-down approach to knowledge. Truth lies in what only can be derived from the verses of the Torah. The Torah says X, period. With such wildly different methodologies for ascertaining truth, is it any surprise that they cannot find common ground?

My only hope is that those holders of emunah peshutah realize that simple faith is for simpletons. A literal understanding of Bereishit is hardly a comprehensive understanding of our origins. While we do have the Torah, we also another text, the open book of nature with which we need to contend.

28 comments:

Kylopod said...

There are many people whose views do not fit neatly into either of the two "camps" you have described. Harry himself has endorsed the concept of intelligent design, as has Rabbi Weinreb of OU. But they both then back off and declare their view to be "religious" rather than scientific. Neither of these men seem to realize that Darwinism repudiates the concept of ID, and that if you accept ID you are challenging the core of Darwinian theory even if you choose to keep your doubts to yourself.

I talked to Harry about this. Though he claims to accept evolution, he holds that macroevolution could not have occurred "by chance." (Let's not get distracted by how evolutionists define the word "chance." I determined from prodding Harry that he considers macroevolution too improbable to have occurred without divine intervention. He's vague about this because he tries to emphasize the compatability between his views and those of modern science.)

I have discovered similar ambiguity among many religious people who claim to accept evolutionary theory. The difference between them and ID advocates is often more a matter of strategy than fundamental beliefs.

Thus, it's simplistic to think that doubts about Darwinism are always due to a complete rejection of the rational, scientific approach. You'll find many religious people who value the discoveries of science as a whole, even contradictions to traditional religious beliefs, but who still have a lot of trouble accepting fundamental aspects of Darwinian theory.

Orthoprax said...

Kylopod,

"There are many people whose views do not fit neatly into either of the two "camps" you have described."

Oh, I don't disagree with that. People aren't always fully integrated in their thinking and there is a gray area, but I do believe that there are two opposing ways of approaching the issue and a strengthening of one leads to the weakening of the other. Bottom-up vs top-down.

In fact, the very distinction between "scientific" and "religious" beliefs displays the difference. Guys like Rabbi Maryles just find a comfortable balance between the two approaches.

Alex said...

Quote of the day:
"It is no easy matter to deal with so deeply ingrained and common-sense a belief as that in spontaneous generation. One can ask for nothing better in such a pass than a noisy and stubborn opponent, and this Pasteur had in the naturalist Felix Pouchet, whose arguments before the French Academy of Sciences drove Pasteur to more and more rigorous experiments. When he had finished, nothing remained of the belief in spontaneous generation. We tell this story to beginning students of biology as though it represents a triumph of reason over mysticism. In fact it is very nearly the opposite. The reasonable view was to believe in spontaneous generation; the only alternative, to believe in a single, primary act of supernatural creation. There is no third position. For this reason many scientists a century ago chose to regard the belief in spontaneous generation as a "philosophical necessity." It is a symptom of the philosophical poverty of our time that this necessity is no longer appreciated. Most modern biologists, having reviewed with satisfaction the downfall of the spontaneous generation hypothesis, yet unwilling to accept the alternative belief in special creation, are left with nothing." (Wald, George [Harvard biochemist, Nobel Prizewinner, 1967], "The origin of life," Scientific American, Vol. 191, No. 2, August 1954, pp.45-53, pp.45-46)

Alex said...

OK, I'll be more on topic in this post. Here's a book review of a book on your exact topic:

http://www.angelfire.com/mn2/tisthammerw/bkrvws/bob.html
The Battle of Beginnings: Why Neither Side is Winning the Creation-Evolution Debate
by Delvin Lee Ratzsch

Enjoy.

hayim said...

> They didn't print it though, I suppose because they wanted to move onto newer (or less redundant) issues.

Or was it because of your last paragraph ??? :)

Good post, but there are more factors involved here than top-down vs. bottom-up approaches. If not, we would have the same debates about the Sun circling the Earth, the existence of a sky dome (rakiah), and many others still.

Sure some people will challenge Copernicus' revolution, but by far not as many. Even the "Age of the Universe" question does not lead to the same heated arguments as Darwinism does - many people will be quite happy to quote obscure midrashim to explain how the world can be older than 5766 years, and will nevertheless oppose fiercely evolution. So there is something deep here that causes knee-jerk reactions againt the possibilities offered by our tradition to allegorize the creations myths.

I used to think that Darwinism leads to us to understand differently our place in the grand scheme of life, but then so does Copernicus (Earth not the Center of the world), the Big Bang theory (man has been around for a ridicule fraction of the world's existence), Freud, etc ...

I have been debating Evolution with a friend of mine, a fellow BT who hasn't yet recovered... The main argument he opposes, and he brings it up again and again in different guises, seems to be that "random" evolution is incompatible with God's implication in Creation. In other words, Darwinism's picture of the origin of life contradicts flatly his understanding of God's providence. Maybe this is the core issue, I still wonder.

Kylopod said...

Orthoprax: What you call a gray area in fact probably describes the views of the vast majority of people, including some prominent scientists (e.g. Francis Collins).

Hayim: I think you are absolutely right. Darwin's theory is different. Richard Dawkins understood why, when he subtitled his most famous book "Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe without Design." It's the full repudiation of design that makes Darwinism qualitatively different from any other scientific theory that has been brought to challenge traditional religious beliefs. It's not purely an issue of dogma but a reflection of much deeper theological issues. Also consider the scientists like J. Huxley who wanted to create a new religion based on Darwinism. I think the usual science vs. religion dichotomy breaks down when talking about this particular theory.

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

"Quote of the day"

So what are you telling me with the quote? That spontaneous generation is more of a philosophical point than a proven scientific one? I don't disagree.


Hayim,

"Or was it because of your last paragraph ??? :)"

Hey, I guess we'll never know. ;-)

"If not, we would have the same debates about the Sun circling the Earth, the existence of a sky dome (rakiah), and many others still."

We do! They're not as popular, granted, but only because the evidence is that much more in your face. Check out some sights like chabadtalk and the question of geocentrism is still being discussed. (This isn't true for the firmament though, because a literal understanding of that was out before the time of the Rishonim.)

"The main argument he opposes, and he brings it up again and again in different guises, seems to be that "random" evolution is incompatible with God's implication in Creation."

Indeed. I do note that there is a distinction here between a different version of prehistory vs a different mechanism of prehistory. The mechanism debate is indeed a different one from the fact of evolution itself. Yet with the comments you get on the Jewish Press, they're primarily against the very fact of our evolutionary prehistory. And it was really those to whom I had addressed my post.


kylopod,

"What you call a gray area in fact probably describes the views of the vast majority of people"

That may very well be. But in terms of the very fact of evolution - that would be much more black and white.

The debate on mechanism is far from settled. This is true even on the very merits of the science itself.

Kylopod said...

"But in terms of the very fact of evolution - that would be much more black and white."

In my view, the distinction between the "fact" of evolution and the mechanism is a lot muddier than most scientists admit. The concept of biological evolution is nebulous if you have no idea what the mechanism is.

The debate within evolutionary biology itself is technical. Even the naysayers (Gould, Margulis, etc.) who argue for a more limited role for natural selection still consider the Darwinian mechanism vital to explaining great increases in biological complexity.

It's quite a different matter to doubt the creative power of natural selection. That's when the concept of "evolution" collapses into vagueness. Take the statement that "birds evolved from dinosaurs." It seems likely that there was some process of transformation, whether you believe in Darwinism or not. You have the Archaeopteryx, you have other ancient fossil birds with reptilian characteristics, you even have modern birds with features that seem to hint at a reptilian past.

But if you think "something else" is needed to explain the transition, something more than the observable processes of inheritance and selection, what exactly does it mean to say that birds "evolved" from dinosaurs? Your only choice is to throw your hands in the air (as Pierre Grasse did) and declare evolution to be a mystery beyond the comprehension of modern-day science.

Some people compare evolution to gravity, in the sense that we know the process occurs even if we don't understand the mechanisms. But I don't find that analogy convincing. Gravity is an observable process; we know what the process looks like, what specifically it does. Saying that "birds somehow evolved from dinosaurs," in contrast, doesn't tell you anything at all about what sort of process went on or what it looked like.

Orthoprax said...

kylopod,

"Some people compare evolution to gravity, in the sense that we know the process occurs even if we don't understand the mechanisms. But I don't find that analogy convincing."

I disagree. Even if we had no idea about mechanisms (which I don't agree to but am willing to accept for the sake of argument) we would still know fully well the fact of evolutionary prehistory and the nature of the branching trees that is life's biological past.

At that point it is basically just history. Just like if thousands of years in the future people uncover direct and convincing evidence that America had a civil war, even if they don't know how or why it happened, that fact of history doesn't go away.

The fact of the Great Depression is still a fact of history even if you don't know the first thing about the science of economics. And so on and so on for every fact of history and prehistory.

Kylopod said...

If you find evidence of a civil war in the past, even if you know nothing about the causes, you still know what it means to say the nation was at war: it means that people were organizing into armies and conducting battles against each other, were attacking and even killing each other. There's no trouble visualizing what went on, even without a clue as to what provoked it. The nature of the event is not in doubt; only the causes are.

With Darwinism, on the other hand, the theory views the mutation-selection mechanism not merely as the cause of the process, but as the essence of the process itself. From a Darwinian perspective, evolution is the process of traits being passed down, with the occasional mutation, filtered through natural selection. Macroevolution is nothing more than the accumulation of tiny changes over vast periods of time. You can't separate evolution from the mechanism; evolution is the mechanism (or set of mechanisms).

People who call themselves anti-Darwinian are even more in the dark than creation-scientists as to explaining how complex living things arose. They lack an explanation not only for what caused the changes, but for even the most basic description of the process. They may insist that "birds evolved from dinosaurs," but they have no idea how many generations it took or what the intermediates looked like or even whether there were intermediates. Of course, I think that Darwinians don't even possess that information, but at least they're able to speculate about it.

Orthoprax said...

"You can't separate evolution from the mechanism; evolution is the mechanism (or set of mechanisms)."

And you can't separate economics from the mechanisms of business and trading, but the fact of the Great Depression is still a historical fact.

You don't have to understand how a dinosaur can change into a bird to recognize that fact that they are vertically related. If we are talking strictly about the relatedness of biological organisms, that can be derived without recognizing any mechanism.

"From a Darwinian perspective, evolution is the process..."

At the end of the day I think this is just a matter of semantics. I'm defining evolution as the fact of biological relatedness in a branching manner with biological forms coming from pre-existing forms, while you are defining it strictly as being through the Darwinian mechanism.

I don't believe your implied definition is justified. Non-Darwinian evolution is not an oxymoron.

Alex said...

Orthoprax is correct with this last comment: "Non-Darwinian evolution is not an oxymoron." There were "a few non-Darwinian evolutionists ... including Schmalhausen and Waddington, who argued that the processes of macroevolution are different from those of microevolution." Dobchansky said: "we are compelled at the present level of knowledge reluctantly to put a sign of equality between the mechanisms of macro- and microevolution" (wiki: macroevolution)

And, of course, there's theistic evolution, which, who knows, maybe even Orthoprax, with his newfound belief in a god-of-some-sort, might adhere to one day.

Kylopod said...

"You can't separate evolution from the mechanism; evolution is the mechanism (or set of mechanisms)."

And you can't separate economics from the mechanisms of business and trading, but the fact of the Great Depression is still a historical fact.


As far as understanding what happened, you can separate the event from the causes. All the conflicting economic and political theories about what caused the Depression do not detract in the slightest from our ability to understand--and vividly describe--what the Depression was. It was a time of great economic strife, with great poverty, unemployment, and homelessness, with people losing entire fortunes. Even if you know nothing about the causes, you still come away with a very clear picture of what went on during that period. In the case of evolution, however, you can know nothing about the process without understanding the mechanism. The mechanism is the process. It is the very description of what happened, not simply the root cause. If you disagree, then I'm curious to hear how you would vividly describe the evolutionary process without referring at all to the mechanism.

You don't have to understand how a dinosaur can change into a bird to recognize that fact that they are vertically related. If we are talking strictly about the relatedness of biological organisms, that can be derived without recognizing any mechanism.

I agree. We can infer that organisms are somehow related. But "relatedness" is a very mysterious concept without a theory to explain it, unlike the examples you bring.

At the end of the day I think this is just a matter of semantics. I'm defining evolution as the fact of biological relatedness in a branching manner with biological forms coming from pre-existing forms, while you are defining it strictly as being through the Darwinian mechanism.

You're right. It is semantics. If you want to define evolution as biological relatedness, you're in good company. In practice, however, Darwinians never stick with that definition. I had one tell me straight out that there's no difference between evolution and Darwinism, and when I tried to explain to him that historically there was a difference, he acted like I was crazy. I do not claim that this experience represents what most Darwinians would say, but it does illustrate a mindset that most Darwinians would rather not openly admit to holding.

In practice, Darwinians define evolution not just as the general idea of biological relatedness, but as the mechanism they assume is responsible for the great changes. When they refer to "evolution in action," most of the time what they mean is observed examples of natural selection in living species today, even if there's no direct evidence that any change has taken place. This thinking bleeds over into the rhetoric of religious evolutionists. After talking to R' Harry a few weeks ago, I have to say that I can't figure out what his position really is. He declares evolution to be established fact, but when asked for the evidence, what is the first example that springs to his mind? Does he cite fossil strata, biogeography, taxonomy, or any of the other facts normally used to establish common descent? Nope, he mentions drug-resistant bacteria.

Non-Darwinians (I mean true non-Darwinians; I'm not talking about knee-jerk Darwinians like the late Stephen Jay Gould who accepted the core of the theory while quibbling with the details) and creationists do not consider such observations to be true examples of evolution. The only people who do are those who accept the Darwinian premise that such variations will accumulate over time into much larger changes that ultimately account for the differences separating higher taxa. Many creationist farmers throughout the Bible Belt deal on a regular basis with insects that become resistant to insecticides. Thus, the fact that Harry acknowledges the existence of drug-resistant bacteria doesn't in itself tell me much about his beliefs. And when I prodded him about it, it turned out that not only does he endorse the concept of "irreducible complexity," he does not consider the Darwinian mechanism, or any other known process, sufficient to explain the origin of species. This is evolution?

While the known examples of natural selection do confirm part of what Darwin said, the core of Darwin's theory is the ability of these small variations to account for macroevolution. Calling these observations "evolution" is an assumption, not a proof, of the theory. But Darwinians have trumpeted these examples for so long that it has persuaded people like Harry to say they "accept evolution" just because they acknowledge observations that no creationist disputes! An "evolution" that causes minor variations within the species but does not bring about major changes is not Darwinism. So why are Darwinians so eager to seize on these minor examples as proof of the larger theory?

The problem is that "evolution" is used to refer to two distinct claims. First, it is the abstract notion of relatedness. Second, it is the minute shifts and variations within present-day populations. Both of these phenomena are called "evolution," a practice that tends to blur the question of whether Darwinism has been confirmed or not, because Darwinism rests on the idea that the two are fundamentally the same process seen at different scales.

If you decouple the two, all you're left with is this idea of "relatedness." You call it evolution, but it really doesn't necessarily imply anything evolutionary in the usual sense of the word. "Evolution" usually suggests an extremely gradual process. If something more than the accumulation of tiny changes is needed to bridge the enormous gaps of the higher taxa, I'm not sure I would call such a process "evolutionary."

Orthoprax said...

kylopod,

"If you disagree, then I'm curious to hear how you would vividly describe the evolutionary process without referring at all to the mechanism."

At time X a given organism had phenotype A. At time Y, that organism's descendants had phenotype B. Extrapolate for all known cases and you get general evolution.

Again, I'm not describing a _process_ but a fact of history.

However, even though that's said, I don't think that the ability to 'vividly describe' an event is the test for the ability to understand what happened. The Egyptians built the pyramids but it happened in such a distant past that nobody really knows exactly how. Nevertheless, it is perfectly justifiable to say that it is a historical event.

"But "relatedness" is a very mysterious concept without a theory to explain it, unlike the examples you bring."

Are you talking about the technical details of sexual and asexual reproduction? You can understand that without evolution.

"In practice, Darwinians define evolution not just as the general idea of biological relatedness, but as the mechanism they assume is responsible for the great changes."

I wouldn't like to generalize like that. I'm sure most people are capable of separating events from their theorized causes. The first step in any debate on evolution is to ensure that both sides believe in an old earth, then comes the fact of evolution and then finally mechanism.

"Calling these observations "evolution" is an assumption, not a proof, of the theory."

It is corroboration. This is science, we don't do 'proof.'

"So why are Darwinians so eager to seize on these minor examples as proof of the larger theory?"

Because actual known speciation events are either laborious to explain or too unfamiliar to the public. It is also recognized that big changes will only likely take place after relatively long periods of time.

"If something more than the accumulation of tiny changes is needed to bridge the enormous gaps of the higher taxa, I'm not sure I would call such a process "evolutionary.""

That's your prerogative. As we've agreed, it's a matter of semantics.

Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof said...

To be Honest, I don't see any difficulty between evolution and the Torah's account. First off many Rishonim and achronim held the six days to be allegorical. A day is defined before the luminaries, yet the luminaries are placed so that man will be able to determine the seasons and tell day from night (Genesis 1:14-18). Obviously then "day" does not mean in human time but in G-d's time. In any event much has been written about this. Interestingly the language in Bereshis is specific and G-d when creating tells the Earth to bring forth. I believe Ramban explains that the earth has within it the properties by which life can come from it.
Secondly science is simply the human explanation of human observation. It is not authoritative in the sense that just because science says that means it is. The Torah explains Creation in a concise manner to teach the importance of creation to Humanity. One does not glean from Evolution the purpose of Creation but only how. Sience does not answer why we are here, the Torah however does. Darwin Himself in Origion of the Species credits Evolution as being the way in which G-d created life on earth. The truth is ther is no dichotomy. I believe completely that G-d created all things, every piece of matter in the universe,the particulars of how he encoded in the Torah and in nature. Man has only recently begun to find it in nature. The reason its not overt in the Torah is that if G-d had given us an astrophysics/biology/zoology/genetics course I doubt we would ever really know what purpose our lives are about. As Michio Kaku the noted astrophysicist said in Hyperspace: "concerning the why we are here the "god" of science (menaing percieving G-d as nothing more than a cosmic order but not as an active entity) is silent".
My ultimate point is Torah and Science are 2 approaches to understand G-d they are not mutually exclusive and in the case of evolution I find them to be very complementary, especially since the amount of time it took for life to develop on earth was way too short for this much life to develop. Scientific observation each person will have to draw their own conclusion with that evidence.

Orthoprax said...

Tzedek,

All of that is well and good, but how do you jive the Torah's account, for example, with trees coming before the sun with the account that science and the evidence presents to us?

Additionally, you have the issue with the undirected conception of Neo-Darwinian evolution with the idea that God intended our world to be as it is. Though that can be resolved with a Kantian transcendental division, if you're inclined to go that route.

"especially since the amount of time it took for life to develop on earth was way too short for this much life to develop."

Hum? It's impossible and yet it happened? I don't understand.

Kylopod said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Kylopod said...

(EDITED POST)

"If you disagree, then I'm curious to hear how you would vividly describe the evolutionary process without referring at all to the mechanism."

At time X a given organism had phenotype A. At time Y, that organism's descendants had phenotype B. Extrapolate for all known cases and you get general evolution.


Your description is perfectly compatible with the idea that the first bird hatched out of a reptile's egg. Would you call that evolution? Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Again, I'm not describing a _process_ but a fact of history.

Evolution is inherently a process.

However, even though that's said, I don't think that the ability to 'vividly describe' an event is the test for the ability to understand what happened. The Egyptians built the pyramids but it happened in such a distant past that nobody really knows exactly how. Nevertheless, it is perfectly justifiable to say that it is a historical event.

What is the historical fact here that can be separated from the explanation? That the Egyptians built the Egyptian pyramids? That's not a fact, it's a truism. I'm going to assume you don't really think evolution falls in that category.

"But "relatedness" is a very mysterious concept without a theory to explain it, unlike the examples you bring."

Are you talking about the technical details of sexual and asexual reproduction? You can understand that without evolution.


I'm not following you. I wasn't talking about anything technical. My point is that this bare idea of "relatedness" is so vague that it scarcely tells us anything about what happened. You assume that the process occurred through normal modes of reproduction, but that doesn't self-evidently follow from the concept.

I wouldn't like to generalize like that. I'm sure most people are capable of separating events from their theorized causes. The first step in any debate on evolution is to ensure that both sides believe in an old earth, then comes the fact of evolution and then finally mechanism.

Well, in case I wasn't clear before, I'll tell you where I stand. I'm firmly convinced the world is billions of years old. I have no problem with evolution from a Biblical perspective. In general, I'm willing to rethink any traditional belief if I find the evidence against it compelling. Not only do I think the world is very old, I seriously doubt that all of mankind is exclusively descended from one man who emerged from an ark about 4,000 years ago. I think the evidence from human history presents a lot more conflicts for the Biblical literalist than biological evolution does. Still, I think the "design" question is far from settled, despite what the scientific establishment believes.

"Calling these observations "evolution" is an assumption, not a proof, of the theory."

It is corroboration. This is science, we don't do 'proof.'


Sure you do. You just don't consider it necessary for a theory to be accepted. When scientists talk about the "fact of evolution," they certainly mean that it has been proven. And often the first thing they point to as proof is the examples of natural selection, even though non-Darwinian evolutionists would not regard those examples as true evolution. This just goes to show how difficult it is to separate the "fact" from the mechanism.

"So why are Darwinians so eager to seize on these minor examples as proof of the larger theory?"

Because actual known speciation events are either laborious to explain or too unfamiliar to the public. It is also recognized that big changes will only likely take place after relatively long periods of time.


I find that answer very revealing. So the reason they seize on the minor examples is that they lack sufficient data about the bigger ones? Why not just admit they don't have enough information at present to reach any firm conclusions, instead of trying to pass off the limited information they do have as proof?

hh said...

regardless of what you think or postulate-whatever is...is anyway. and we"re all also going to die someday.so why don't you guys just enjoy the life that was given to you and make as much love as you physically can

Orthoprax said...

Kylopod,

"Your description is perfectly compatible with the idea that the first bird hatched out of a reptile's egg. Would you call that evolution? Hypothetically speaking, of course."

If you believe that we can make a sharp line between what counts as a reptile and then what counts as a bird then that is what any macroevolutionary theory would agree to be accurate.

"Evolution is inherently a process."

Yes, of course it is. But it is also descriptive of a long series of events - all of which can conceivably be founded independently without positing a mechanism.

Geological activity is also inherently a process, but we can still point out that the Himalayas weren't always around even without a theory to tell us exactly how they were formed.

"What is the historical fact here that can be separated from the explanation? That the Egyptians built the Egyptian pyramids? That's not a fact, it's a truism."

I didn't say "Egyptian pyramids" I just said pyramids. It is completely in the realm of possibility that the pyramids were naturally occurring artifacts that the Egyptians found to serve their interests. Or maybe aliens build them. Again, the historical fact is that the Egyptians built the pyramids while we don't need a theory to explain exactly how they did it.

"I have no problem with evolution from a Biblical perspective."


Meaning? I wasn't aware that the Bible discussed evolution.

"I think the evidence from human history presents a lot more conflicts for the Biblical literalist than biological evolution does."

I agree.

"When scientists talk about the "fact of evolution," they certainly mean that it has been proven. And often the first thing they point to as proof is the examples of natural selection, even though non-Darwinian evolutionists would not regard those examples as true evolution. This just goes to show how difficult it is to separate the "fact" from the mechanism."

Ok, that's fair. The point is that the historical facts of relatedness complements the theorized primary mechanism of natural selection. That's why evolution is considered such a successful theory overall. The whole thing dovetails together.

That doesn't mean, however, that the two aspects of evolution cannot be separated - or that ultimately a (hypothetical) failure of one fails the other.

"I find that answer very revealing. So the reason they seize on the minor examples is that they lack sufficient data about the bigger ones? Why not just admit they don't have enough information at present to reach any firm conclusions, instead of trying to pass off the limited information they do have as proof?"

They take the modern examples of successful microevolutionary changes because that's all that's available in the short timescale available to humanity so far. If we could continue observing for long epochs of time then we'd see the larger morphological changes between organisms. We just can't see that kind of stuff in 150 years.

Evolution isn't a theory that stands because of directly observed instances of speciation or significant changes in phenotype. It's a big picture theory that takes all of the known data we have about biological systems and prehistory and brings it all down to a few basic principles. It has incredible parsimony. It allows us to make sense of (and make scientific predictions for) basically every complex biological system on Earth.

Now, I personally may have some unresolved questions regarding the rates of introductions of new alleles and how exactly it is that new forms are often so (apparently) ingeniously adapted to their functions, but for me, the basic principles of natural selection are satisfactorily evidenced for.

I never saw a mountain range erect itself or a new sea shelf form, but that doesn't mean I don't accept the science of plate tectonics. Even though all humans have directly experienced are 'microtectonic activity' in the forms of earthquakes and volcanos. Yet the theory of plate tectonics is not based on the direct observation of such huge events either - same with evolution.

Orthoprax said...

HH,

"regardless of what you think or postulate-whatever is...is anyway. and we"re all also going to die someday.so why don't you guys just enjoy the life that was given to you and make as much love as you physically can"

Hey, I enjoy these discussions. I like learning about our world and understanding our place in it. Even if I were a staunch hedonist (if that's not a contradiction) I would still be here discussing.

Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof said...

Day four says let it be that the Luminaries in the Heavens be for the purpose of signs for the set times and seasons. If people don't exist yet why is Scripture talking about set times? The answer is because up until day Four the Purpose of the Stars and Luminaries as having the specific function for being used by people wasn't set. In other words its purpose was fullfilled on Day four albeit they existed earlier. It also says Rakia Bashamyim referring to the lower Rakia i.e the atmosphere. Hence they became visible on the earth on Day four.

What I meant was that if statistics states that the period of time 4.5 billion years ago to today is too short for all this life to have developed it would seem some form of artificial selsction took place. Artificial selection meaning evolution was guided. To be honest I could explain this but you might not get it, because to me "nature" is not something outside of G-d so to me saying natural selection implies G-d's hand wheras to the agnostic it implies random events. But if it was random you and me and or computers should statistically not be here.

Orthoprax said...

Tzedek,

"Day four says..."

Suffice it to say your whole explanation is just a kvetch for an answer. Seriously unconvincing. And you said _I_ was reading into a text what I wanted to read.

I recommend you do some reading into the cosmological ideas of the Ancient Near East and you'll see that Bereishit fits perfectly into that conception of the universe.

"What I meant was that if statistics states that the period of time 4.5 billion years ago to today is too short for all this life to have developed..."

That's a big if. It's an unsupported assumption.

hayim said...

T3,

Orthoprax was only mentioning one difficulty, albeit a major one, but the truth is that if you look carefully you will find many other problems. For instance, the text of Bereshit says that the "winged fowl of every kind" (birds) was created before the land animals (5th day vs. 6th day).

We know that the opposite is true (link : http://www.pbs.org/lifeofbirds/evolution/).

Some, like prof. Aviezer, are forced to believe that Genesis 1:20 is a reference to the creation of insects. Check R. Slifkin's books for a rebuttal.

Why not simply admit that the Torah's story does not fit with scientific data ?

I second the recommendation to check some of the Ancien Near East mythology, it's impossible to miss the numerous parallels in both structure and vocabulary.

But, if you are reluctant to do so, at least consider the clear parallelism in the Torah's presentation of the 2 x 3 days :

1. Light
2. Sea / Heaven
3. Earth (and plants)

///

4. Luminaries
5. Fish and Fowl
6. Land creatures and Man

The first 3 days describe static creations, the last 3 mobile ones. The order is strictly respected (birds move in the sky and fishes in the sea, etc.). Do you honestly think this is a description of reality ?

Kylopod said...

I didn't say "Egyptian pyramids" I just said pyramids. It is completely in the realm of possibility that the pyramids were naturally occurring artifacts that the Egyptians found to serve their interests. Or maybe aliens build them. Again, the historical fact is that the Egyptians built the pyramids while we don't need a theory to explain exactly how they did it.

I can see what you're saying. But I still think the "fact" here (the pyramids in Egypt were built by the human inhabitants of Egypt) is a lot more informative and specific than the concept of biological relatedness.

Geological activity is also inherently a process, but we can still point out that the Himalayas weren't always around even without a theory to tell us exactly how they were formed.

Look, we can go on playing the analogy game all day. The point I'm trying to make is that the "fact" that Darwinians talk about is not very substantive or informative. But they're so accustomed to looking at everything through Darwinian lenses that they tend to continue thinking that way even when entertaining the idea of Darwinism being false. That's why even they can't keep the fact/theory distinction straight, like when they cite the arguments for Darwinism as proof of the "fact" of evolution.

Jonathan Weiner's book The Beak of the Finch has an interesting anecdote illustrating this problem. Peter Grant was telling someone sitting next to him on an airplane about the work he does, where he studies shifts in finch population frequencies over several generations (though without observing any change to the genome). The man was fascinated, until the end of the flight when Grant mentioned that the process he was describing is called "evolution." The man turned purple.

Notice that the man found no essential contradictions between his personal beliefs and Grant's observations. But as soon as Grant uttered the magic word "evolution," it tainted the description in the man's eyes. Yet Grant declaring that his study of beak variation is "studying evolution" is sort of like thinking that watching a car get repainted is studying car mechanics. The word "evolution" is used to smooth over vast differences of scale that Darwinian theory assumes to be part of the same process, but which in itself does not constitute evidence for that assumption.

Meaning? I wasn't aware that the Bible discussed evolution.

It doesn't. At least not directly. But I don't think believing in the Bible precludes believing in evolution.

The point is that the historical facts of relatedness complements the theorized primary mechanism of natural selection. That's why evolution is considered such a successful theory overall. The whole thing dovetails together.

That depends on your perspective. The reason scientists accept the Darwinian mechanism is not because they consider it a more effective means of vast change than alternative mechanisms would be. The final arbiter in these discussions is always going to be the facts of reproduction as we understand them today. "Directed" mutations or macromutations would probably be more plausible at causing great change to organisms, if only we could confirm that such processes govern reproduction today. It's no wonder that evolutionists like C.H. Waddington and Stephen Jay Gould flirted with such possibilities, but at the end of the day were rebuffed by the simple fact that the only process we know about that's even remotely plausible for changing the genome is random micromutations.

None of the discoveries of reproduction since Darwin's time have given us any greater confidence in the idea that these tiny variations could lead to great changes. Instead, the scientists treated that as an axiomatic assumption, thinking that whatever ways organisms today reproduce must over time accumulate to account for macroevolution. These observations don't "dovetail" with the idea of evolution; just about anything scientists would have discovered about reproduction, they would have offered to explain the enormous gaps. Neo-Darwinism may look more like a retreat, rather than a corroboration, to those who don't assume that the big changes have to be explained on such a small scale. If Darwin were alive today, he might be discouraged to learn that the only possible source of evolutionary innovation comes through genetic errors, or that the gaps in the fossil record have not significantly diminished since his time.

alex said...

"You don't have to understand how a dinosaur can change into a bird to recognize that fact that they are vertically related."

Larry Martin [one of the world's foremost experts on the birds of
the Mesozoic era], The Sciences, March/April 1988: "I began to grow
disenchanted with the bird-dinosaur link when I compared the
eighty-five or so anatomical features seriously proposed as being
shared by birds and dinosaurs. To my shock, virtually none of the
comparisons held up....the moral of the story is that such poor
attention to detail has been repeated with almost every feature
cited to support a bird-dinosaur relation. No wonder that [the book
criticizing the link] has an undercurrent of righteous outrage, or
that it has been so bitterly attacked by the practitioners of the
faulty logic it exposes."

Orthoprax said...

Alex,

Are you going to be posting that quote all over my site whenever the topic of evolution comes up?

As I wrote by my 'kol b'seder' post:

Larry Martin is a critic of the dinosaurs-birds link, but he progresses that birds and dinosaurs share a common reptile ancestor. But, that thesis is rejected by the wide majority of experts in the field.

alex said...

Sorry for reposting this. (But I'd only post it when the topic of dinosaur-bird evolution comes up, not just evolution.)

Minority voices in the field ought to be heard. Heck, that's what you are all about.