Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


Accepting Your “Cup” from God

posted by David Klinghoffer
In Judaism, special occasions are almost invariably solemnized over a cup of wine — for example, the benediction Kiddush said at home to inaugurate the Sabbath as I’ll be doing shortly, or at Havdalah on the Sabbath’s departure. Traditionally, following the Grace After Meals, there’s a further blessing over a cup of wine. A wedding is conducted amid certain blessings over a cup. The Passover Seder has its four cups. And so on. With each, there’s a prescribed choreography involving how to pick up and hold the cup, or receive it from someone else, or what posture to assume while drinking it. Why all the cups and why all the fuss about them?
Rav Hirsch in his Torah commentary points out the symbolic meaning of a cup in the Hebrew Bible. Sometimes, a cup is just a cup — or perhaps a magic cup, as Pharaoh possessed for divining. But in the more poetic and prophetic passages, it usually denotes the fate God has assigned to you: 

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. (Psalm 23:5)

What we seem to be doing on these occasions is ceremonially accepting our fate from God, with the purpose of reminding us, frequently, that He is in charge of our destiny. There’s also an implied prayer that our destiny should be like wine — beautiful, mellow, mildly intoxicating in its goodness. It all reminds me of a verse in this week’s Torah reading, Shoftim, “You shall be wholehearted with the Lord, your God” (Deuteronomy 18:13). Rashi explains, “Conduct yourself with Him with simplicity and depend on Him, and do not inquire of the future; rather, accept whatever happens to you with [unadulterated] simplicity and then, you will be with Him.”
The verses immediately above warn against divination, seeking guidance from astrology, reading omens, and so on. Rather than trying to outsmart Him, accept your cup from God.
This isn’t to say that Judaism entirely disdains such magic arts as false and empty. Some authorities do, some not. Rather the warning is against seeking out insight from them about our individual futures. Don’t think for a moment that sophisticated people, secular folks, today have all grown up and beyond the allure of prognostication. Hence the popularity of websites that promise to tell your “real age,” i.e. how many years you can expect to live. This is pure fortune telling.

It’s funny because I’ve had astrology on my mind lately. I reconnected with an old friend who was telling me her troubles living in New York, an uncanny series of glitches in her life, from health difficulties to traffic accidents. I suggested it might be time to change her “mazal,” literally her constellation or fate, by changing her place of residence — an old Jewish idea. I’ve also been reading David Berlinski’s fantastically interesting and evocative history of astrology, Secrets of the Vaulted Sky.
More on that later, I hope. For a balanced view on Judaism and astrology, see here.


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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 22, 2009 at 5:17 am


If a Jew accepts the scientific evidence for evolution, and thinks of evolution as God’s method of Creation, such a Jew is, according to David, an apikoros, one who has no part in the world to come.
Yet if a Jew accepts astrology, despite it being scientifically bogus, that is just fine as long as he regards astrology as a “manifestation of the divine will” (according to the article David cites approvingly as a balanced treatment) and doesn’t start worshiping stars or nature or something like that.
That David won’t explicitly come out for astrology, at this point, makes me wonder if this post is a joke or maybe performance art of some kind. If we take it seriously we get:
Believe in evolution, but regard it as a manifestation of God’s will – unacceptable for Jews
Believe in astrology, but regard it as a manifestation of God’s will – acceptable for Jews
Curioser and curioser.



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Aura Wright

posted August 22, 2009 at 3:39 pm


The actual translation for the word ‘astrologer’ also means Chaldean.
Just look in the footnotes of your Bible. Chaldeans were a sect of people who practiced witchcraft as well as a host of unsavory sacrifices and types of worship. I don’t know of any Astrologers who do any of those things!
The trouble with translating the Bible is that many of these ancient words (like the Aramaic word for Astrologer) have several meanings. The word for teeth might actually also mean vapor or something equally unrelated in most cases. This is why the Catholic Vatican will ONLY let people in to look at their ancient texts who have already agreed to THEIR version of the interpretations of those words. Ultimately the public is duped, and unless you are a scholar of Aramaic who has also seen and translated those ancient scrolls firsthand, (and I just explained why nobody has) you simply do not have the authority to interpret the word!
I actually put up a blog post on my site in answer to this issue, you can read the whole thing here: http://www.astrologychick.com/astrology-blog/2009/08/22/339339/astrology-trends



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 22, 2009 at 10:53 pm


Don’t think for a moment that sophisticated people, secular folks, today have all grown up and beyond the allure of prognostication. Hence the popularity of websites that promise to tell your “real age,” i.e. how many years you can expect to live. This is pure fortune telling.
This gets right to the heart of why David is absolutely unqualified to express opinions about science.
If he’d ever been to the Real Age website, he would have found that he had to answer a bunch of lifestyle questions, such as do you smoke, do you speed, are you overweight and by how much, as well as how old you are now.
Then the website calculates your life expectancy from actuarial tables.
Now actuarial tables are not scientific. What they are is a large collection of statistics, used by life insurance companies to make enormous profits, and hence what they say must be “true” in a probabilistic sense.
The Real Age website is no more “fortune telling” than a casino is gambling!
A casino can lose to a lucky player, sure. But thousands and thousands of unlucky players give them an extremely reliable source of income; and life insurance companies are doing exactly the same thing with the actuarial tables. That’s why those tables were compiled in the first place! Anyone can get lucky, or unlucky, but deal with thousands or millions of people and the luck averages out.
The actuarial tables are not scientific because they are just correlations; they don’t explain anything by themselves. They tell you that fat people and smokers, on the average, die younger but they don’t tell you why.
The Real Age website uses a statistical argument to predict your life expectancy. It’s no more fortune-telling than I have psychic powers when I say David is most likely right-handed. (The odds are 9 in 10 that I got it right.)



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 22, 2009 at 11:10 pm


This is why the Catholic Vatican will ONLY let people in to look at their ancient texts who have already agreed to THEIR version of the interpretations of those words. Ultimately the public is duped, and unless you are a scholar of Aramaic who has also seen and translated those ancient scrolls firsthand, (and I just explained why nobody has) you simply do not have the authority to interpret the word!
Than how did you find it out, Aura?
And I didn’t know Jews got their holy books from the Vatican. That seems a little odd, don’t you think? Isn’t it much more reasonable that Jews have their own traditional versions of their scriptures?
Even the Samaritans have their own version of the Torah. It didn’t come out of some vault in the Vatican.



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davidf

posted August 23, 2009 at 12:44 am


Gabriel, concerning your point that DavidK has some kind of inconsistency regarding denying the affect of evolution while acknowledging the affect of the planets–you have it wrong.
First, the critique of evolution by the Jews is that Darwinism posits that the creation and development of life and all of creation is a purely material and mechanical matter and this is inconsistent with Jewish belief in God as creator. It was Rav Kook when first told of a new scientific discovery, out of ignorance of what the science actually had established as fact, quickly embraced evolution as more miraculous that he had ever expected and consistent with his belief in God as creator. However, Rav Kook and Richard Dawkins (for example)cannot be said to agree on the matter since Rav Kook was a Jewish Rabbi and Dawkins is a firm atheist–so you see they are suggesting two very different realities when they are both said to be embracing evolution.
The planetary influence on our world is established as kosher–and it was once a legitimate science. Today, no one knows astrology as it was understood 2500 years ago so I would agree that today, there is no scientific practice of astrology. The sense that there is a both an element of “mazal” that can affect people and a astrological influence on personality or temperament is an OK thing to believe–as the Chabad article points out, as long as the effect is not understood as a power that comes from something other than God’s will. Hence, if a really fine person knowing such things as birth date and handwriting can derive something about one’s personality–I might take it seriously. However, if some website that knows only such basic things as one’s weight and level of exercise and a few other factors (other than the established medical history of family members) and tries to predict how long you might live–that would be called pure conjecture.
Bruce, I was not aware that you had an intellectual standing above the Baal Shem Tov–if this is really true, you could have quite a following and your impact would be tremendous. Indeed, I have never met anyone on this planet who by comparison could turn one of the great men of the past 200 years into a a supposed ignoramus.
As for the astrology chick, Aura, -again, astrology was a kosher ancient science–the prohibition in our Torah involves the kind of divination it specifies and this was a preferred mode of several ancient societies encountered by the Jews as described in the Torah–those people would manipulate dead skulls, use magic, etc. and these are the practices described by David K in his entry.
Lastly, Gabriel, I hope you have not forgotten my challenge to you regarding the “how” of the plant hormone auxin posted on another thread.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 23, 2009 at 2:28 am


DavidF:…Darwinism posits that the creation and development of life and all of creation is a purely material and mechanical matter…
No, it doesn’t, no more so than any other theory in science.
and this is inconsistent with Jewish belief in God as creator.
When did Jews decide that God’s power is limited only to miracles?
The planetary influence on our world is established as kosher–and it was once a legitimate science.
No, it was never a “legitimate” science, any more than alchemy was. When the mystical baggage of alchemy was dumped, we were left with the science of chemistry, which has described far more of the universe than alchemy ever could, and likewise with astronomy and astrology.
Mystical forces that “influence” the “destinies” of individuals based on what lights in the sky were doing is not science.
However, if some website that knows only such basic things as one’s weight and level of exercise and a few other factors (other than the established medical history of family members) and tries to predict how long you might live–that would be called pure conjecture.
No, it’s a straightforward application of probability and statistics. If you don’t believe that this works, I offer to bet you even money that you can’t roll snake eyes with a pair of dice, and I promise to keep playing with you until you are broke or acknowledge that probability and statistics give meaningful knowledge of the universe, whichever comes first.
Lastly, Gabriel, I hope you have not forgotten my challenge to you regarding the “how” of the plant hormone auxin posted on another thread.
I have almost forgotten it entirely. All I remember of it is that you demanded a “scientific explanation” of something or other and not a mere “description”, and when I asked you what you thought a “scientific explanation” was, we never came to an agreement. I gave examples from physics as to what constituted a physical explanation and that it didn’t differ from “description”. You said that because we were talking about “life processes” that my example didn’t count. I asked you why they didn’t, given that physical processes are what make life processes possible, and you never answered that I saw.
If you want to try again I suppose we can, but maybe an post about astrology is not the proper place to do so. But there’s no point in talking at cross-purposes. You have to tell me exactly what kind of proof you will accept, in advance, or we are both wasting our time.
I would remind you that the entire ID position consists of “challenges” that are met by mainstream biologists over and over again, while the cdesign proponentsists never bother to do any science of their own.
It’s always “explain this” and “explain that”, and when the explanations are given, the invariable response is either “I don’t believe it”, “it doesn’t count”, or “just so story”.



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Mergatroid

posted August 23, 2009 at 8:50 am


David Klinghoffer has written something along the lines of “if a Jew doesn’t believe in intelligent design, then he’s an apikorus” and Gabriel inferred from this that “if a Jew accepts the scientific evidence for evolution, and thinks of evolution as God’s method of Creation, such a Jew is, according to David, an apikoros.”
David, is this inference valid or not?



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Your Name

posted August 23, 2009 at 2:20 pm


It will only take pure faith hope and love to drink that cup,no more no less,and after drinking it,rejoice,give thanks and praise the Lord!!!This is my belief.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 23, 2009 at 4:12 pm


Mergatroid:David, is this inference valid or not?
David’s posts on what he calls “theistic evolution” make this quite clear.
http://blog.beliefnet.com/kingdomofpriests/2009/06/messianic-judaism-theistic-evolution-the-comparison-only-this-blog-would-dare-to-make.html
Messianic Jews, of whom we spoke in the previous entry, think you can coherently believe in Jesus and Judaism. Theistic evolutionists think you can coherently believe that evolution was driven by random events and that it was guided by God. Both are convenient delusions that give believers the comforting feeling that they don’t have to choose between logically exclusive alternatives.
David has also made it clear that he believes that at least some evolution has happened and it has happened over billions of years, but he refuses to make it clear how much of it. Does he accept the common descent of all life, like Michael Behe; does he think humans are separately and specially created like Bill Dembski; how often, approximately, does he think God intervene in evolution? We’ve tried to get straight answers out of him.
He won’t give them, and he never challenges the nonsense of the young earth creationists who post here.
My guess about David’s position is that if you think God has never intervened miraculously in evolution, then you are an apikoros, and if you think He intervened once or a few times then you are a Jew in good standing, and if you think God literally made the world in 6 days 6000 years ago he privately thinks you’re naive but is not interested in criticizing you, because he is too busy criticizing scientists.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 23, 2009 at 5:00 pm


Mergatroid: Here’s another theistic evolution post. You can read all of them by clicking on “theistic evolution” in the tag cloud on the right.
The theistic evolutionary case for approving Darwinism is based on precisely the sort of erring fetishization of nature that got the generation that worshiped the Calf into such tragic trouble. The Jewish mission, in Rav Hirsch’s view, is precisely to reverse such errors.
David here says that if you accept evolution by natural selection, without occasional miracles, you are worshiping nature.
I think the best response was from Turmarion:
OK, so we shouldn’t worship intermediate causes. I can buy that. So what does that have to do with theistic evolution? Are you saying that God never works through intermediate causes? In effect, are you saying that God works in the world only via miracles?
Of course, by definition miracles are vanishingly rare (“miracle” means “marvel” or “wonder” in Latin). 99.9%+ of the time God works through (gasp!) intermediate causes. If there is a problem with seeing Him as working through such causes in evolution, then I submit that there is a problem with seeing Him working through such causes in the ways in which most believers see Him as answering prayers, or for that matter ordering the cosmos.
Example: God, if He so chose, could heat the world miraculously by directly creating light and heat for Earth. Instead, He chose to do so by creating the sun. Does that mean we should worship the sun? Of course not. But is it a choice between worshiping the sun and asserting that it doesn’t really provide light and heat for Earth, since it’s God that does that directly? Don’t be ridiculous! Likewise, it’s absolutely absurd to set up some dichotomy by which either you believe God created species directly or you accept evolution and reject God. Come on! If this is your level of philosophizing, I see why you refuse to debate or discuss the philosophical issues!
In any case, I can, if nothing else, sort of admire the chutzpah (if not the soundness) of trying to use the account of the Golden Calf to argue against evolution! I guess those who believe in evolution are now idolaters, too?



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davidf

posted August 23, 2009 at 8:38 pm


Gabriel–my posting is on the “No such thing as Atheism or Secularism” thread sitting there if you wish to respond.
Here–you are all tied in knots and you ignore my refutations because you want to twist and turn uncontrollably. Duh–evolution posits no designer–this was the original Greek argument and Darwin simply restated the same old pagan belief without a single discovery. Thus, DavidK is correct to observe that Judaism insists on God as Creator and to see a significant creative capacity in a blind natural force contradicts Judaism. Further, people who wish to hedge and say that God is the ultimate creator but evolutionary forces explain life are trying to look “respectable” in the eyes of their materialist friends. If there is some other possible *basic* formulation –I would like to hear it–either life is designed or it has evolved without requiring a designer. Your contempt for miracles is curious given your apparent belief in evolution since one can believe in God as creator for good reason and find in God no miracle *or* one can see fit to deny God and explain reality by a series of miracles–millions, surely billions of highly unlikely real-life miracles. As someone who values science–I lack the kind of faith that is necessary for so many miracles to happen so routinely and if you insist that the existence of God is a miracle–fine–I will take one miracle to explain while you are stuck with billions of separate miracles. BTW, this kind of argument was always refuted by the ancients because they never were forced to come to terms with the kind of miracles modern science has revealed to us. The Greeks firmly predicted an eternal universe–they mocked the Jew for saying that the universe began in an instant, billions of years ago, from matter smaller than a mustard seed–therefore, ignorant of a “Big Bang”–they never needed to explain that miracle. They figured a cell was made of simple stuff and not the kind of molecular machine discovered by modern science. So they pinned the Jews with belief in miracles while they were the supposedly sane and rational ones. Well, the tables have certainly turned.
Of course astrology was a once real science in its day–again–we are battling tautologies and this is senseless, Gabriel. And yes, alchemy was once a science. I have never argued against probabilities–where are you going–spinning on and on, twisting and changing the subject. If someone wants to tell you that your lifespan will specifically be influenced by some irrelevant matters–this has nothing to do with probability. By contrast as I explained, if someone wants to tell you, a specific individual, will have a probability of a certain lifespan based upon the lifespan of your parents–this is a real factor but since the set is only one–it hardly matters if one dies prematurely against an alleged probability. So as a group–sure–probabilities work (another tautology–I am pleased you grasp this one) but no one here is arguing against probabilities–only silly individual projections of one’s “real age” based not on odds but on lifestyle choices without regard to many other factors which would easily cancel out those influences. DavidK could easily add here that at no time in history has a society been so wrapped up in junk science and there is so much myth and silliness at large–it is good to get a handle on what is solid and what is rather dopey. Perhaps we have a lot of common ground here but it reminds me I have not read what you actually believe regarding the topic of life-is it designed or is it all a cosmic accident–in your opinion?



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Turmarion

posted August 23, 2009 at 8:43 pm


I’ve been away from the computer for most of the weekend, but thanks for the quotation, Gabriel! :) Glad a post of mine was of help!
Actually, if you cut out the last two paragraphs about astrology, this was a pretty good and thoughtful post. It just went headlong into the goofy zone at that point. Ah, well…no surprise around here.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 23, 2009 at 11:01 pm


Davidf:Here–you are all tied in knots and you ignore my refutations because you want to twist and turn uncontrollably.
You’ve asked for some evidence of evolution, correct? I asked in return–what will you consider proof? You’ve never answered. Until you answer, there is no point in continuing the discussion. Proclaim victory if you like, but until you say, IN ADVANCE,what sort of evidence you will accept, then there isn’t anything to say. I’m not going to go through a bunch of scientific literature that’s not my field, and post things from it, and just have you sit there and say “not good enough”, whatever it is.
So, tell me what you consider evidence. Then we can talk about it. But perhaps not here, since THIS post has a different topic. Perhaps in the “atheism or secularism” thread.
Duh–evolution posits no designer…
Wrong. Evolution posits that inherited variation leads to differential survival and reproduction. Science ignores, but does not rule out a priori, the possibility of the supernatural. You are trying to add the two together and declare evolution an inherently atheistic enterprise, but that’s something you made up.
Your doctor never checks you for demonic possession, therefore medicine denies God. That is what you are saying about evolution.
If there is some other possible *basic* formulation –I would like to hear it–either life is designed or it has evolved without requiring a designer.
The second one, obviously. But chance had little to do with it. The fact that you can’t imagine anything besides God or randomness is a failure of your imagination, and not the fault of science you don’t understand.
I have never argued against probabilities–where are you going–spinning on and on, twisting and changing the subject. If someone wants to tell you that your lifespan will specifically be influenced by some irrelevant matters–this has nothing to do with probability.
The SUBJECT of David’s post was astrology vs “real age”.
And are you really suggesting that smoking and being overweight have no correlation with shorter lives, and are “irrelevant matters”? Whatever. You WERE arguing against the idea of probability, but you didn’t realize it. But if you want to talk about probability we don’t have to.
Perhaps we have a lot of common ground here but it reminds me I have not read what you actually believe regarding the topic of life-is it designed or is it all a cosmic accident–in your opinion?
Life was not designed, and neither was it a “cosmic accident”; and that’s not just my opinion, but that of the scientific community in general. I have no idea why you think that the two possibilities you listed are the only ones.



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Your Name

posted August 24, 2009 at 1:20 am


@Gabriel: “The fact that you can’t imagine anything besides God or randomness is a failure of your imagination, and not the fault of science you don’t understand. ”
Isn’t that exactly the problem with most evolutionary scientists and the appendix, or junk DNA? It was a failure of imagination as to possible functions for these things, due to a commitment to a certain Theory.
( http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090820175901.htm )



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 24, 2009 at 1:36 am


Isn’t that exactly the problem with most evolutionary scientists and the appendix, or junk DNA? It was a failure of imagination as to possible functions for these things, due to a commitment to a certain Theory.
Are you seriously saying that “everything must have a purpose, even if no one can figure out what it is, because an inscrutable designer whose powers and limitations we can’t describe must have planned it that way” is somehow MORE scientific than saying “these things appear to have no function”?
Why does Amoeba dubia have 220 times as many genes as humans do? How do you answer a question like that from a design perspective?
Of course you can’t; you can’t be bothered to do any science of your own.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amoeba_dubia



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 24, 2009 at 1:41 am


Honestly, can you see ANY correlation whatever between the size of the genome and the species it belongs to?
http://www.genomenewsnetwork.org/articles/02_01/Sizing_genomes.shtml
Why does one species of frog happen to have twice as many as humans, while boa constrictors have half as many? Are frogs so much more complicated than snakes that they need twice as much genome?
Tell you what, why don’t you get Discovery Institute off its butt and out there finding out all the “functions” of all the junk DNA, instead of waiting around for biologists to do it for you?
See, that’s the thing–none of you “intelligent design” lot made a single one of these discoveries that you claim prove your point. You’re a bunch of parasites on science.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 24, 2009 at 1:44 am


Explain please, from a design perspective, why humans need 2.9 billion base pairs to make 30,000 genes, but a flower (Arabidopsis thaliana) only needs 125 million to make its 25,000 genes?
Oh, that’s right, you can’t.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 24, 2009 at 1:50 am


Why can’t cdesign proponentsists READ a science article before they crow about it vindicating them?
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090820175901.htm
Using a modern approach to evolutionary biology called cladistics, which utilizes genetic information in combination with a variety of other data to evaluate biological relationships that emerge over the ages, Parker and colleagues found that the appendix has evolved at least twice, once among Australian marsupials and another time among rats, lemmings and other rodents, selected primates and humans.
They used EVOLUTIONARY THEORY to work out the function of the appendix, genius.
They didn’t use “intelligent design”.



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Your Name

posted August 24, 2009 at 1:56 am


“See, that’s the thing–none of you “intelligent design” lot made a single one of these discoveries that you claim prove your point. You’re a bunch of parasites on science.”
Actually, you’d be surprised to find out how many biologists are indeed believers in design, but operate undercover, for fear of losing their jobs.



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Your Name

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:12 am


“They used EVOLUTIONARY THEORY to work out the function of the appendix, genius.”
Read more carefully next time, my fellow genius. They used evolutionary theory to EVALUATE BIOLOGICAL RELATIONSHIPS, but they used OBSERVATION (finally) to see how the appendix functions in humans.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:49 am


but they used OBSERVATION (finally) to see how the appendix functions in humans.
This is mind-bogglingly stupid. Of course they “observed” something, that is what scientists ALWAYS do!
Suppose I used to the law of gravitation to find a new planet, and you didn’t believe in gravity. Let’s say I calculated where to find it, and pointed a telescope at it, and took a picture.
And then you said, “You didn’t use gravity, you used OBSERVATION”.
That is no stupider than what you just said.
To figure out what the appendix did, these scientists used evolutionary relationships. I posted the relevant part of the article and that is clearly what it said. You want to pretend it didn’t happen and play word games, fine, but everyone can read what it said for themselves.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:54 am


Your Name:Actually, you’d be surprised to find out how many biologists are indeed believers in design, but operate undercover, for fear of losing their jobs.
You’d be surprised to find out how many Baptists really believe in evolution, but operate undercover for fear of getting kicked out of their churches.
I got my statistic from exactly the same place you got yours.



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Your Name

posted August 24, 2009 at 4:36 am


My understanding of the article is that they discovered the fucntion of the human appendix by observation. They used evlutionary theory to trace the theoretical evolution of the appendix.



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Mark

posted August 24, 2009 at 9:15 am


(Note, that last comment “My understanding…” is not from the same “Your Name” as the previous few posts, which was from me. I’ll go by Mark, just to distinguish.)



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Turmarion

posted August 24, 2009 at 12:51 pm


bradley–I’m not seeing anything on the thread you mention. You can email me directly at belit_hyboriana@yahoo.com, if you wish.



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DavidF

posted August 24, 2009 at 4:46 pm


Gabriel, for the purposes inherent in the evolution debate–the notion that evolutionists deny a designer is the foundational premise. The fact that scientists, in their day to day operation, fail to formulate any notion about either natural selection as a designer substitute or the reality of God as Creator is OUR point. We are here to defend God as Creator SPECIFICALLY because evolutionists hawk their theory as a counter to the reality of God in the world. If you, Gabriel, are removed from the party line of the evolutionists–fine–just don’t deny that this is the reason d’etre of their attack.
You flubbed DavidK’s point about Real Age and you introduce an unrelated matter–probability. While probability makes sense–probability is not exactly a science. This is my point that you fail to address and force me to make a second time. It is fine to say that being overweight can be a risk factor–fine. To say that being overweight has a predictive factor on a probability index is nonsense. Smoking is normally a straight-forward risk factor–my brother has a wife who had a mother who had parents who lived a long time and smoked a whole lot of cigarettes–therefore in her case–she just died recently at 84–her mom and father also smoked like crazy and they had long-lives–so for them–one risk factor did not cancel larger ones. Overweight means zero set against more important risk factors. The Real Age quiz fails to get at most of the factors that have higher probability values. “Exercise” needs to be qualified much better–for example. But let me throw you a bone here. What does probability say about the Jews surviving without a homeland for over 1800 years, dispersed throughout the earth, under constant persecution? Probability theory would almost guarantee very few Jews living today–and yet we are about 15 million with power and influence far greater than our numbers. What are those odds?



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Turmarion

posted August 24, 2009 at 10:43 pm


Keepin’ it real.
David, in his post on Francis Collins: “On the other hand, that life has an evolutionary history including billions of years of change — that is unassailable as science and unobjectionable to me as a Jew.” Please explain to me how this is one whit different from theistic evolution. David, you said on that same post that you’d like to see someone debate Collins or ask him some pointed questions; yet you resolutely avoid all such questions and attempts at debate here. This one, which seems to me a statement of what almost anyone would refer to as theistic evolution, is especially egregious.
In that regard, your statement on the last thread that theistic evolution cannot be compatible with both science and religion is a mere assertion without explanation, as I addressed there. That is not an answer.
Finally, you still have never given a real response to what we’ve been asking you about Maimonides (at your request, I recapped and expanded on this a few threads ago, remember?). We’re still waiting. Also, I’m still waiting to hear you speak to the issues of randomness [I’ll modify this since you suggested the West articles, but you haven’t answered my critique of them yet] and alien intelligence vis-à-vis the “image of god”.
I know this is getting repetitive, but I think anyone reading this will agree that I’m not using nasty language and that I’m being perfectly polite. Don’t you think the civil thing is at least to acknowledge the questions, even if for some reason you don’t want to answer them? And if you don’t want to answer them, you might at least give us an idea why not.
I might also point out that in the this article which you linked to awhile back, you’re on record as saying, “Normally, I think it’s best for friends of ID to avoid a defensive posture and generally let critics say what they want without our always feeling obliged to respond.” (emphasis added) You obviously hew closely to that ethos, but is that anything like the real debate, discussion, or dialogue you claim to want? Is this how you view what you’re doing–assert and assert and assert, ignoring all calls for answers, responses, or dialogue? If this is how you view things, why have a blog with responses at all?



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Turmarion

posted August 25, 2009 at 1:57 pm


DavidF: It is fine to say that being overweight can be a risk factor–fine. To say that being overweight has a predictive factor on a probability index is nonsense. Smoking is normally a straight-forward risk factor–my brother has a wife who had a mother who had parents who lived a long time and smoked a whole lot of cigarettes–therefore in her case–she just died recently at 84–her mom and father also smoked like crazy and they had long-lives–so for them–one risk factor did not cancel larger ones. Overweight means zero set against more important risk factors.
This shows considerable ignorance about statistics.
Simple example: The chance of a fair coin toss coming up heads is 50%. This is in the aggregate: that is, for an infinite number of tosses, heads come up exactly 50% of the time. As the number of tosses approaches infinity, the observed ratio approaches the theoretical. Thus, it wouldn’t be too surprising to toss two or three or even five heads in a row; but if I toss a coin 500 times, it would be odd to get 400 heads, and if I toss a coin a million times, the ratio will be very close to 500,000 heads and 500,000 tails. This is the paradox, though: no matter how many tosses I make, the probability of any given toss is still 50%.
In other words, no one can ever predict an individual fair coin toss. Also, no number of previous tosses affects the next toss. Thus, if I had tossed the unlikely (but possible) sequence of 500 straight heads, contra the layman’s intution that the next toss must almost certainly be tails, the chance is still, in fact, 50-50.
This is how actuarial tables work. For example, say that long term observation has shown that lifetime smokers have an average life expectancy of, say, 65 years, opposed to 75 for otherwise similar nonsmokers. This means that if you look at all the smokers and how long they lived and averaged it up you’d get 65–ditto the nonsmokers and 75. However, if you looked at an individual (such as your brother’s grandparents-in-law), you could not predict how long they’d live. Thus the old canard “My fill-in-the-blank-kin smoked all his/her life and lived to 90, so this stuff about smoking being bad for you is garbage!” is a fallacy. It would be like denying that there’s a 50-50 chance of getting heads on a coin toss because one tossed a coin five times and happened to get a run of four heads. Do you see?
Another example: no one can tell how an individual hand of cards will come out, but it is possible to determine with great accuracy how likely a straight or a flush or a full house and so on are. If that weren’t true, no one would bet on poker!
As to multiple risk factors, of course one needs to take into account various factors, which Real Age tries to do. Of course, neither Real Age nor anything else can tell an individual what his “real” age is or when he’s going to die. What it can do, if properly structured, is to say something like “Given your lifestyle and risk factors, this is what your age is equivalent to (on average),” or, which is to say the same thing, “This is how long you’ve got as a probability. To take an extreme example, if you’re 100, the great probability is that you’ll be dead within the year, no matter what your risk factors–but this is a high liklihood, not a certainty!
In any case the point is that you seem to be arguing that actuarial or statistical methods are invalid based on individual outcomes, which gets it precisely backward.
What does probability say about the Jews surviving without a homeland for over 1800 years, dispersed throughout the earth, under constant persecution? Probability theory would almost guarantee very few Jews living today–and yet we are about 15 million with power and influence far greater than our numbers. What are those odds?
Of course, for an ill-formulated question like this, no odds can be figured. Unless you define what a “people” is and what you mean by “dispersion” and the extent and level of perscution (as well as defining it) and look at lengths of time for which a people persists and then compare Jews with say, Parsis or Manichaeans or Mandaeans or some such type of inter-group comparison, you couldn’t meaningfully answer this question. I suppose you’re getting at “This is so unlikely that only God could have brought it about,” and religiously speaking, I’d actually agree with you. However, this is not an argument that can invalidate statistics for the reasons I’ve explained. Heck, if you wanted to play the Devil’s advocate, one could say that just because something is vanishingly improbable doesn’t make it impossible–otherwise, none of us would exist, given the vast number of possible sperm-egg combinations!



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 25, 2009 at 8:40 pm


Turmarion, as usual, leaves me with little to add here.
Probabilities are not, in themselves, science, but they are a very important part of the scientific toolbox; and at the subatomic level it is ONLY possible to talk about probabilities, as we have learned over the last hundred years.
The reason we know this is because if quantum mechanics were not fundamentally probabilistic, quantum experiments would work out differently than they do.



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DavidF

posted August 26, 2009 at 6:36 pm


Gabriel–thanks for agreeing with my point that probability is not science. Turmarion–bad response here from you. To say as I said to Gabriel–everyone sane understands statistics, odds and probabilities–the question here is what happens when someone misuses probabilities by highlighting a couple of factors while ignoring more important ones? This is why the Real Age quiz is junk science. Got it? Probability, statistics, fine. Smokers live shorter lives as a group– fine. People who are slightly overweight–on the other had–not a good predictor. People who live past 60–you missed this point on probabilities–tend to have a much better chance of living to 85 and beyond.
The bottom line here–who cares? This is not worth arguing about. What about the topic?



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Turmarion

posted August 26, 2009 at 8:30 pm


DavidF: the question here is what happens when someone misuses probabilities by highlighting a couple of factors while ignoring more important ones? This is why the Real Age quiz is junk science.
I don’t know enough of how Real Age is set up to judge it. The only way to know would be to do an empirical study. Have several hundred people take it, see what their life expectancy base on their “real ages” is, then track them (assuming they make no lifestyle changes) and see what happens. If the observed results are nothing like the predictions, then yes, it’s junk science. If they track pretty closely, then it’s a reasonably accurate predictor. Short of doing this, we can’t say either way.
Now, the types of actuarial tables that insurance companies use are quite accurate. If they say, e.g., that 10% of demographic group X will be dead by the end of the year, and you look at such a group of, say, 500, sure enough there will almost always be about 50 out of the group dead. You can’t say which ones, but the numbers are very robust.
So, I’m not sure what you’re getting at. If weight is the only issue, it is complex. Mildly “overweight” people actually live longer than mildly “underweight” people. Morbidly obese people do seem to have a shorter life expectancy, as do extremely thin people. The devil’s in the details–the definitions of such terms as “overweight”, “underweight”, “obese”, “morbidly obese”, etc. are highly controversial. Body weight index is also a factor. An accurate actuarial test should indeed take note of the subtleties and complexities here. Again, I don’t know if Real Age does so or not.
If you’re arguing the invalidity of the statistical method, as you seemed to be doing, you don’t have a leg to stand on. Sure, statistic are not science in the sense that all objects fall at the same acceleration, period; but if you don’t think they aren’t highly accurate in the aggregate, then have a shot at going to Vegas and making a fortune in the casinos. Unless you’re a card counter, I wouldn’t bet on it!
Anyway, the whole original point was that David was putting Real Age into the same category as crystal balls and Tarot cards. In principle, at least, this is a grievous error. At least Real Age uses established methods. Whether it does so with sufficient accuracy is another issue, but it’s still not “fortunetelling”.
Analogy: The results of a clinical drug trial may be ambiguous and there may be debate about the drug’s efficacy and safety, especially if the trials were not done rigorously. However, this does not mean that taking the drug for a certain condition is in principle no better than having a shaman shake a rattle over your head. If the drug fails, it’s not the fault of the procedure–it’s just that the procedure wasn’t properly followed. The shaman, by contrast, makes no pretense to any kind of testable outcomes. Not the same thing at all.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 26, 2009 at 10:19 pm


Davidf:thanks for agreeing with my point that probability is not science…
Algebra and geometry aren’t sciences either. They are a part of the language of science, just as probability and statistics are.
This is why the Real Age quiz is junk science. Got it?
It’s not “junk science”–it’s not science at all! It’s a set of correlations, which, we all know, are not the same as causations–though a hard and fast distinction between the two is very difficult.
The bottom line here–who cares? This is not worth arguing about. What about the topic?
I thought the original topic had something to do with astrology; which is a pre-scientific superstition, but David Klinghoffer, and you, if I’m reading you correctly, find it more compatible with Judaism than evolution by natural selection.
Well, it tells me how much you all REALLY care about science. Dismiss actuarial tables as “fortunetelling” despite that they have exactly the same basis as the house odds at roulette or blackjack, and are also the foundation of a multi-billion-dollar industry; dismiss biological science, because you think it conflicts with your holy book, and speak well of a Babylonian superstition because it fits in with your holy book–much of it written by people who had recently been living in Babylon.
Oh, and the Jews aren’t quite as unique as you might make out. You and I would both agree that the reign of Hezekiah is historically established, and I am not willing to believe that Jews sprang from the ground in Judah at that time, so let’s take 1000 BC as a date when we can both agree that there were such a people as Jews living in Judah.
So who’s been around for about that long, give or take a few hundred years? Arabs, obviously. Samaritans (according to their own traditions), but not doing too well now. Chinese. Irish. Basques. Assyrians, whose latest persecution and diaspora took place in 2003 in Iraq at the hands of Muslims. Persians. Armenians, who have been rolled over by nearly every powerful neighbor they ever had.
There are more persistent cultures than you might think.
I wouldn’t know how to begin to calculate the probability of the Jews surviving their history with their identity intact, but it’s happened more than once. However, I also don’t know what the probability of my great-grandfather surviving World War I was; but survive it he did or I’d not be here. Every series of events, considered a priori, is equally unlikely.
The fact that you and I were born, out of all the potential genetic combinations our parents were capable of producing, is the most unlikely fact of all, considered in retrospect.



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