Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


What You Don’t Hear from the Media about Evolution

posted by David Klinghoffer

How fascinating — the underreported revelation of modern evolutionary, genetic, and DNA science — that physical, material causes are not enough to explain the history of life’s evolution and development — was understood by the rabbis more than a millennium ago. Rabbi Bahya ibn Paquda in Duties of the Heart:

A person who does not understand the affairs of the world thinks that it is the new, created cause that effects change in things and their transformation from one state to another. Actually, [that] cause is too weak and insignificant to bring about the change or transformation of the essence of things….[This] applies to the the generation of a human being and of other living creatures from a drop of semen, or the growth of a large fish from a tiny fish egg” (Gate of Trust in God, Chapter 3:3).



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Glen Davidson

posted April 29, 2009 at 12:48 pm


Oooh, yes, metaphysics. Really not so much Rabbinical, as Greek, in origin. Sure, it infiltrated Jewish, Christian, and Muslim ideas, but the whole nonsense about “essence” and the like comes to the West through figures like Plato.
Not bad thinking, it just had to be questioned and eventually abandoned as useless in order for science to arise and to really inform us about the world. This doesn’t keep David from using the results of science (computers, etc.) to bash science, but you know, there’s nothing about the existence and utilization of science that makes people understand it or portray it knowledgeably.
Here’s what an intelligent Jew who also was something of a philosopher stated regarding the invocation of unevidenced causes:

To assume the existence of an unperceivable being … does not facilitate understanding the orderliness we find in the perceivable world. – Albert Einstein, responding to an Iowa student who asked, “What is God?” July 1953; Einstein Archive 59-085

True, it’s the statement of someone who simply peered deeply into the universe’s mysteries, and indeed, its causes, and not some derivative religious “authority.” Surely it has the ring of truth, nevertheless.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/6mb592



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Turmarion

posted April 29, 2009 at 1:22 pm


Unlike Glen, I don’t necessarily have a problem with metaphysics. I also don’t think that science explains everything–nor does religion. They speak to different areas. E.g. the acceleration due to gravity is a scientific question which the Bible, Upanishads, Koran, etc. are not designed to answer. The existence of God (contra many atheists and materialists) is not a scientific but a metaphysical question. When you use the wrong method to answer the wrong question, you have problems. E.g. I would not use 1 Kings 7:23 to determine the correct value of pi; nor would I use modern physics to answer ethical or theological questions.
It is also spurious to use a “God of the gaps” argument, since in areas where we just don’t know something now, we may later. Trying to use God to explain something we don’t understand now my come back to bite us as science advances. True, evolutionary theory as it now stands does not explain every single possible thing about the origins and development of life. However, the track record of its explanatory power to the extent that we do understand and can test it, is excellent. It is therefore a bad idea to invoke direct Divine intervention for a process that may later be understood.
An example, which I’ve mentioned before, and which I wish David would address: Aristotle believed that an object needed a constant force applied to it to remain in constant motion. We now know this to be incorrect–it is only friction that makes us require constant force against an object on Earth. No friction, no force needed (as in space). This derives from the well-known Law of Inertia, developed by Newton: An object in motion stays in motion, or at rest stays at rest, until acted on by an outside force. Since Aristotle didn’t understand friction, he didn’t grasp this.
Thus, when Aristotle considered the motion of the planets (which like the other ancient Greeks he well knew to be orbiting bodies), he was perplexed. There was no obvious force being applied to them, and yet they continued to move. According to his theories of physics, this was not possible. Therefore, he had to posit bodiless intelligences that, under the direction of the Primum Mobile (the “First Mover”), eternally directed the planets in their courses. When Jewish and Christian philosophers came in contact with Aristotle’s works, they thought this was just dandy. The planet-moving intelligences were thought of as angels, and the First Mover was obviously God. Sacred Scripture was confirmed by science!
Of course, the problem was that Aristotle was wrong, as proved by Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, and finally Newton. At first, the Church indeed had problems (we all know about Galileo), since the new physics seemed to be overturning the “proof” of God that Aristotelian physics seemed to provide. When the evidence became overwhelming, however, the Church relented, realizing St. Thomas’s maxim that all truth (religious and otherwise) is one, and cannot be contradictory. If science contradicts what your religious belief, and the science can be demonstrated, it indicates you didn’t understand your religion properly.
It seems to me that the ID people are doing the same thing that the Church did with Galileo. They believe it is necessary to reject the possibility that evolutionary forces could have brought about life since they think that would undermine the necessity of belief in God. Since the evidence for evolution is so good, they feel the need to argue that since evolutionary theory is not 100% perfect, it must be rejected. This is spurious, though–anyone who has read about modern physics knows that gravity is the most intractable problem going. No one completely understands it or how it relates to quantum theory. This does not mean that since gravitational theory is imperfect that we reject the Newtonian model of the cosmos for the Aristotelian, though!
The Church’s failure was a failure of imagination. Instead of realizing that God set up the laws of gravity, the laws of motion, and such, and let them run, it insisted on a narrow literalism that saw God directing the angels to move the heavenly spheres. Likewise, ID proponents lack the imagination to think of God as setting in motion the forces that bring about seemingly random evolution to produce the results He wants. For all these reasons, harping on flaws or imperfections in evolutionary theory is completely beside the point. When better understanding clears these up without reference to God, what will they do then? For some of us, our faith is not dependent on the regnant scientific model.
I might also point out that Rupert Sheldrake’s theories of morphic fields, while highly controversial in biology circles, strike me as interesting and worth investigating. However, I need to point out that Sheldrake is most certainly not a young-Earth creationist, nor does he reject evolutionary theory in general.



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Larry Yudelson

posted April 29, 2009 at 1:55 pm


David complains that we aren’t being told that “physical, material causes are not enough to explain the history of life’s evolution and development.”
But what David refused to admit is that Jewish traditions and teachings totally fall flat when it comes to explaining that history.
To take a simple example: Genesis teaches that birds and fish and land animals were created through separate Divine commands. Materialist scientific evidence makes it quite clear that they are all part of the same genetic family, running the same DNA toolkit.
David’s denial of materialist science — and the abject failure of religious explanations — matters because materialist science works. That’s why most people believe in it. At the early stages, materialist science led to the development of vaccines. Now it results in medicines based on molecular biology. But at no point did study of the Torah, the Talmud or even the Zohar lead to the sort of mass medical cures that have saved millions of lives in the modern era.
David would solve the problem by adopting a position outside mainstream Orthodox Judaism: He rejects medicine. He writes in How Would God Vote, “in an ideal world, we would never consult doctors at all. A person with an illness would seek out spiritual guidance , not unlike the model of Christian Science.”
It should go without saying that that is not the position taken by the leading Orthodox rabbis of the 20th century. The Albert Einstein College of Medicine was established by my alma mater, the Orthodox Yeshiva University.
As the debate over government provided health care begins to shape up, it’s worth noting that David doesn’t really believe in any science-based health care for anyone. I wonder how many Christian members of the Republican Party share his faith-based approach to wellness.
http://benyehudapress.com/catalog/HowWouldGodREALLYVote/index.html



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Tom

posted April 29, 2009 at 2:42 pm


There are still many misconceptions surrounding the Galileo controversy. It wasn’t about a rejection of his theories. The scientists whose theories he was brazenly bashing reported to church hierarchy that he was defaming them and committing heresy. When questioned, Galileo confirmed he wanted the sun orbiting the earth theory biblically reinterpreted. At that time geocentrists argued against Galileo using the parallax shift theory not knowing that the stars were millions of light years further away from the earth than our own sun. Therefore the church declared that there wasn’t adequate scientific evidence to reinterpret.
Also David’s argument as far as I can tell isn’t against evolution in its basest definition (small changes over a long period of time) but against Neo-Darwinism claiming that the process is completely unguided (outside of ‘natural’ selection), something impossible to prove scientifically.



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Steve

posted April 29, 2009 at 3:49 pm


David wrote: “How fascinating — the underreported revelation of modern evolutionary, genetic, and DNA science — that physical, material causes are not enough to explain the history of life’s evolution and development — was understood by the rabbis more than a millennium ago. Rabbeinu Bachya in Duties of the Heart:
‘A person who does not understand the affairs of the world thinks that it is the new, created cause that effects change in things and their transformation from one state to another. Actually, [that] cause is too weak and insignificant to bring about the change or transformation of the essence of things….[This] applies to the the generation of a human being and of other living creatures from a drop of semen, or the growth of a large fish from a tiny fish egg'(Gate of Trust in God, Chapter 3:3).”
David, what do you mean by “physical, material causes?” Moreover, what reason is there to believe that “physical, material causes are not enough to explain the history of life’s evolution and development?” As far as I can tell, Rabbeinu Bachya doesn’t offer any evidence that “that physical, material causes are not enough to explain the history of life’s evolution and development.” He does offer any reasons to support his conclusion. He essentially offers the same proposition (in different forms) three different times. He doesn’t offer any reasons to believe that the proposition is true.
Besides, we know that no deity poofed into existence any organism that has lived on earth, and we no that no deity poofed into existence any part of any organisms that has lived on earth. For one thing, nothing remotely similar to that has known to occurred. For example, I’ve never seen a deity poof an elephant into existence. Moreover, we know that self-replicating molecules that were on earth about 3.8 billion years ago evolved through reproduction into all the complex organisms that have lived on earth. Here is a quote from Ernst Mayr:
“Astronomical and geophysical evidence indicate that the Earth originated about 4.6 billion years ago. At first the young Earth was not suitable for life, owing to the heat and exposure to radiation. Astronomers estimate that it became liveable about 3.8 billion years ago, and life apparently originated about that time, but we do not know what the first life looked like. Undoubtedly, it consisted of aggregates of macromolecules able to derive substance and energy from surrounding inanimate molecules and from the sun’s energy. Life may well have originated repeatedly at this early stage, but we know nothing about this. If there have been several origins of life, the other forms have since become extinct. Life as it now exists on Earth, including the simplest bacteria, was obviously derived from a single origin. This is indicated by the genetic code, which is the same for all organisms, including the simplest ones, as well as by many aspects of cells, including microbial cells. The earliest fossil life was found in strata about 3.5 billion years old. These earliest fossils are bacterialike, indeed they are remarkably similar to some blue-green bacteria and other bacteria that are still living” (p. 40).



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Turmarion

posted April 29, 2009 at 8:39 pm


Tom: I’m aware of the complexities of the Galileo case. His attitude tended to get him into trouble even with those sympathetic to him. It is also true that the evidence for heliocentrism was not as clear at that time as it is now.
However, I think we’d all agree, along with John Paul II (who apologized regarding the Galileo case), that it is not the business of the Church to tell scientists how to pursue their work. In other words, those who favored geocentrism and those who opposed it should have debated each other on the basis of the evidence until the situation was cleared up (as it ultimately was). The Church had no business being involved at all on either side. And of course, as you mention, heresy was brought into the mix, too, when it had no place being there.
To put it into a modern perspective, can you imagine the Vatican condemning a scientist for supporting the theory of continental drift because there was insufficient evidence? I might point out that at the time that Alfred Wegener proposed the theory, most scientists thought he was a nut, since there was at that time no known mechanism by which this could occur. Later advances in technology discovered incontrovertible evidence for continental drift, and it is now the standard model in geology. So, if we’re going to defend the Church re Galileo, should it have punished Wegener for jumping the gun on proof of his theory? And should he have been charged with heresy, since the Bible indicates the continents are fixed?
Also David’s argument as far as I can tell isn’t against evolution in its basest definition (small changes over a long period of time) but against Neo-Darwinism claiming that the process is completely unguided (outside of ‘natural’ selection), something impossible to prove scientifically.
I’m not actually sure what David is arguing for. At times he seems to argue that Darwinism or Darwinian evolution is intrinsically evil; sometimes he seems to argue that evolution is unproven; sometimes he seems to think that modern science is some kind of conspiracy; sometimes he admits that the truth or falsity of evolution is a scientific, not a religious question. He won’t show his hand (I am willing to be proved wrong!) In any case, it is only zealots on both sides (Dawkins types on one end, Fundamentalists on the other) who think that neo-Darwinism necessarily implies a blind, unguided process.
How about it, David? In the interests of clarity and fair debate among us, where do you stand? Are you a young-Earth creationist? Do you think the opening verses of Genesis are to be taken literally? Or do you hold a view similar to Francis Collins, that evolution is OK, but that it is theistically directed? Are evolution and Judaism or Christianity compatible, or irreconcilable?
I’ll be upfront. My beliefs are along the lines of Francis Collins. I see no reason to doubt either the current view of Earth’s origin and the origin of life taught by modern science or the existence of God and the inspiration and authority of the Bible. I’m a compatibilist. Yourself?



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Steve

posted April 29, 2009 at 8:47 pm


Tumarion wrote: “In any case, it is only zealots on both sides (Dawkins types on one end, Fundamentalists on the other) who think that neo-Darwinism necessarily implies a blind, unguided process.”
I don’t know what you mean by “neo-Darwinism.” But I think the process was “unguided.” I think no deity or extraterrestrial hand anything to do with evolution. For one thing, I haven’t experienced anything remotely similar to a deity or extraterrestrial poofing an organism or part of an organism into existence.



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Turmarion

posted April 30, 2009 at 7:33 am


Steve: I don’t know what you mean by “neo-Darwinism.”
Neo-Darwinism is more or less synonymous with the modern evolutionary sythesis. That is, it is the synthesis of the original Darwinian concepts of evolution by natural selection with Mendelian heredity, modern genetics, and the findings of molecular biology.
I haven’t experienced anything remotely similar to a deity or extraterrestrial poofing an organism or part of an organism into existence.
This is a misunderstanding of what Christian evolutionists believe. St. Augustine, over a millennium and a half ago, said that God did not create the universe as is, but complete in its causes. In other words, He made the universe at some point in the remote past, structuring the natural laws of physics, chemistry, etc., then allowed it to develop over time. Organisms didn’t need to be “poofed” into existence–they evolved naturally over time according to seemingly random processes until arriving at the desired state.
Of course since evolutionary processes seem random to limited human understanding, people may look at it and assert, as you do, that it is random and unguided. That’s your prerogative, and that is why I wouldn’t base an argument for God’s existence on any specific processes such as this, anyway. As Mortimer Adler points out in his book How to Think About God, the true argument from design considers why the universe should even exist at all, rather than why aspects of it may or may not seem to be designed. It’s an excellent book which I would recommend to anyone, regardless of religious belief or lack thereof.



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Steve

posted April 30, 2009 at 10:20 am


Turmarion wrote: “Neo-Darwinism is more or less synonymous with the modern evolutionary sythesis. That is, it is the synthesis of the original Darwinian concepts of evolution by natural selection with Mendelian heredity, modern genetics, and the findings of molecular biology.”
I think that evolution was “unguided.” I think that no deity or extraterrestrial had anything to do with evolution. I don’t know if my view is synonymous with what you mean by “Neo-Darwinism.” However, I think that no deity or extraterrestrial had anything to do with evolution.
Turmarion wrote: “This is a misunderstanding of what Christian evolutionists believe.”
I didn’t mean to suggest that any Christian evolutionist believes that a deity poofed into existence some organisms and/or some parts of some organisms. I’m just saying that that didn’t happen.



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Turmarion

posted April 30, 2009 at 1:09 pm


Steve: I put links to the Wikipedia articles that gave a longer discussion of the terms.
My point was this: both hardcore materialists such as Dawkins and anti-evolutionists believe that acceptance of evolution necessarily implies disbelief in God and acceptance of a metaphysically materialist viewpoint. The materialists think this is a good thing, since they don’t believe in God; anti-evolutionists think it’s a bad thing, since they do believe in God. In my opinion, belief in evolution does not entail disbelief in God or metaphysical materialism.
All science is methodologically materialist–that is, it looks for material causes of phenomena. In other words, I don’t assume that angels move the planets or that animals are “poofed” into being as is. I look for the causes in terms of gravity (in the first case) and evolution (in the second). None of this commits me to a metaphysically materialist view–that is, I do not need to say that only matter actually exists, and that since God is immaterial, He does not. The fact that I do not look for God poking His finger into the cosmos to move the planets or make animals appear doesn’t mean He couldn’t have set up the cosmos in such a way that it runs as it does according to natural laws (including the development of life by evolution).
As to whether evolution is “guided”–I believe that God gets the results He wants through the process of evolution. How He does that, I don’t know. Even if the process is totally random, God may still be able to get the desired results. A weak analogy–professional gamblers are able to make a living from an intrinsically random process through developing an understanding of “when to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em” and such. I can’t “make” the dealer give me a good hand, but if I’m skilled I can play it and win enough to make a living. It may suit God’s purposes to bring about His will through His understanding of how to “play” the hand that random forces deal Him.



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Gedaliya

posted April 30, 2009 at 8:56 pm


Science is a collection of trivialities, half-truths, and outright nonsense. Some have benefited greatly from its application, others have not…the have-nots outnumbering the haves, I suspect, in the balance.
Science is (somewhat) adept in the realm of “mere appearances,” as Nietzsche explained them, but is ill equipped to operate in the “real world.” As such, for we mortal beings, the appeal of “science” at any other than the level of amusement is difficult to discern.
David is adept at pointing out these matters, which is why I read his blog.



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Qohelah

posted May 2, 2009 at 3:39 pm


‘New Earth’ and ‘Old Earth’ bring to my mind ‘Flat Earth’.



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