Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests


Ibn Ezra Agrees: An “Apikoros” (Heretic) Is One Who Rejects Intelligent Design

posted by David Klinghoffer

For those who were wondering about my immediately previous entry: When the classical Torah commentator Abraham ibn Ezra spoke of a “heretic” who challenges the simple in faith about God’s existence, but who gets an adequate response only from the discerning Jew who contemplates nature’s intelligent design, the word that Ibn Ezra uses for “heretic” is apikoros. In rabbinic Hebrew, there are other terms that convey different shades of heresy. You’ll find the original Hebrew here in an online version of Mikraot Gedolot on Exodus, 6 lines up from the bottom of Ibn Ezra’s section on the page.


If you recall, I told you last week that another great medieval sage, Yehudah Ha’Levi, clearly defined an apikoros as someone who rejects intelligent design. So too does Ibn Ezra. Perhaps they were secretly closet Evangelical Christians, suborned by the Discovery Institute, just like me, since we all know that all true Jews reject intelligent design. Don’t forget to add other rabbinic greats, MaimonidesRabbeinu BachyaMoshe Chaim Luzzatto, and Samson Raphael Hirsch, to your list of secret Christians.

Did I mention that Ibn Ezra, despite being a medieval rabbinic scholar, was hardly a stereotypical “frummie” black-hat type? Among other things he was the favorite rabbi of a later proto-modernist and skeptic, Baruch Spinoza.


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Turmarion

posted August 20, 2009 at 8:18 am


The song remains the same.
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.



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Turmarion

posted August 20, 2009 at 8:52 am


I’m not really clear after all these posts why the use of apikoros as the word for “heretic” in a given case is relevant. The issue is whether the idea in question is indeed heretical, not what the specific word is. And as we’ve pointed out, by your definition the Rabbinical Council of America is a bunch of heretics.
You’re intepretations of Ibn Ezra and Yehuda ha-Levi are misleading. As more than one of us has pointed out, the quotes you give from them could support theistic evolution as well as ID. Given that both of them lived long before modern science, there’s no way of telling where they’d come down now, anyway. Your invocation of Maimonides is also highly suspect, based on incomplete and misleading quotes from him. I’ve discussed this at great length, and as usual, you’ve had nothing to say about it.
If you look here, you see that while Hirsch did not accept common origin, he said that if it were proved, it was no threat to Judaism:
“This will never change, not even if the latest scientific notion that the genesis of all the multitudes of organic forms on earth can be traced back to one single, most primitive, primeval form of life should ever appear to be anything more than what it is today, a vague hypothesis still unsupported by fact. Even if this notion were ever to gain complete acceptance by the scientific world, Jewish thought, unlike the reasoning of the high priest of that notion, would nonetheless never summon us to revere a still extant representative of this primal form as the supposed ancestor of us all. Rather, Judaism in that case would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence than ever before to the one, sole God Who, in His boundless creative wisdom and eternal omnipotence, needed to bring into existence no more than one single, amorphous nucleus and one single law of “adaptation and heredity” in order to bring forth, from what seemed chaos but was in fact a very definite order, the infinite variety of species we know today, each with its unique characteristics that sets it apart from all other creatures. (Collected Writings, vol. 7 pp. 263-264)” (emphasis added)
Once again, you’re being deliberately misleading.
You give a list of supposedly anti-evolution rabbis–I give you some who have no problem with it: Aryeh Kaplan, Israel Lipschitz, Sholom Mordechai Schwadron (the MaHaRSHaM), Zvi Hirsch Chajes, and Natan Slifkin. We could go on like this all day, matching rabbi for rabbi, but the fact is that even in the Orthodox community, your views are a very small minority in Judaism.
By the way, if Spinoza liked Ibn Ezra so much, might that not indicated that just maybe Ibn Ezra’s views are open to wider interpretation than you seem to think?



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Anderson

posted August 20, 2009 at 9:34 am


I still don’t understand this argument. I could find plenty of medieval Christian leaders who would have dismissed as heretical a belief in something other than a geocentric universe. So what? They didn’t have access to scientific evidence that demonstrated otherwise.



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LazerA

posted August 20, 2009 at 11:15 am


Turmarion wrote:
“You give a list of supposedly anti-evolution rabbis–I give you some who have no problem with it: Aryeh Kaplan, Israel Lipschitz, Sholom Mordechai Schwadron (the MaHaRSHaM), Zvi Hirsch Chajes, and Natan Slifkin.”
With the exception of Slifkin (who is extremely controversial in the Orthodox community precisely for this reason), none of the sources you have mentioned can really be said to endorse the form of theistic evolution that David is opposed to. Proponents of ID do not oppose evolution, they argue in favor of evolution guided by intelligence (presumably God).
While accepting naturalist evolution may not be fundamentally in conflict with the core principles of Judaism (as argued by Rav Hirsch in the essay you have cited), it is not the traditional Jewish perspective and is certainly not the mainstream position in the Orthodox Jewish world today.



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Glen Davidson

posted August 20, 2009 at 11:21 am


discern the handiwork of God in metals

Well, I’m impressed that you tie your religion to medieval ignorance about metals, David. Shows about how intelligent and open ID is, I’ll warrant.
So the Jew who denies that iron’s properties are due to physics, not intelligent design, is a heretic. One who learns about evolution and metallurgy, and who actually accepts the sensible inferences from the evidence, is at best a heretic, and perhaps just another dog who David never respects, listens to in good faith, or treats decently.
ID is about ancient prejudices. Nothing new there, of course, but it’s just as well that IDists explicitly paint themselves into that corner of obscurantist nonsense, rather than pretending to do science.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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Marian

posted August 20, 2009 at 12:02 pm


I think Ibn Ezra himself was considered pretty close to heretical by many of his contemporaries and some of those who came after him.



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David Klinghoffer

posted August 20, 2009 at 12:10 pm


Glen, I think the point is that God’s creativity is evident from animate and inanimate matter alike. The coming into existence of matter at all, at the beginning–try to explain that in purely material terms.



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Glen Davidson

posted August 20, 2009 at 12:17 pm


The coming into existence of matter at all, at the beginning–try to explain that in purely material terms.

Try to explain it without science. You know, explain, not use unobservable causes to wave away the question.
More importantly, what about metals indicates that they are the handiwork of God?
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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David Klinghoffer

posted August 20, 2009 at 12:28 pm


What about metals indicates a non-material reality? I just told you, Glen: their existence.



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Glen Davidson

posted August 20, 2009 at 12:45 pm


What about metals indicates a non-material reality? I just told you, Glen: their existence.

Imagine that. All I get from them is physics, and the fascinating story of how they are produced in Type 1a and Type II Supernovae (others too, but these are the main sources–1a especially is a great source of iron and other 1st-row transition elements).
But I guess we don’t even need specifics or ID in order to be certain of God. Just existence. Kind of makes the anti-science antics of ID superfluous.
Then again, that’s what Porphyry said (compressing here and further in this paragraph, of course) about the One and Plato said about the Good. And what Heidegger said about Being. Leaving me to wonder why iron isn’t a good enough reason for me to be a Heideggerian.
Oh well, if “logic” is now supposed to take me from the “existing and observable” to non-existent (or does this God exist? Differs in various philosophies, of course) and unobservable, words have become essentially meaningless. I used to think this had meaning:

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

But apparently an unperceivable being explains iron, not nucleosynthesis and electron behavior. I still don’t know how to do condensed matter physics with an unperceivable being, though.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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David Klinghoffer

posted August 20, 2009 at 12:55 pm


No, Glen, the existence of the material world in the first place, including metals and everything else. Why is there something instead of nothing. Enough, you seem to be purposefully misunderstanding me.



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Glen Davidson

posted August 20, 2009 at 1:15 pm


You’re moving the goalposts, David. I’m well aware that you’re not addressing what Ibn Ezra actually wrote, and which I highlighted, namely: “he will be able to discern the handiwork of God in metals.”
He was not appealing to the “existence” of metals as evidence for God, he specifically (at least in translation) wrote of “the handiwork of God in metals.”
I keep moving back to that, because that was actually what I had addressed, not the fact that “existence” can hardly point to Being, the Good, or the One.
I play with the sorry “logic” that “existence” points to god, but I keep bring up our knowledge that metals are the “handiwork” of supernovae, not of any kind of “Designer.” That fact you keep avoiding, something I understand perfectly well.
You don’t understand what Ibn Ezra wrote, or what I wrote, or you’re quite deliberately changing the subject to avoid the fact that if a Jew is supposedly a heretic for not believing in Intelligent Design not only of organisms, but of metals as well. Your projection is predictable.
Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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Glen Davidson

posted August 20, 2009 at 1:17 pm


I should have written this:

You don’t understand what Ibn Ezra wrote, or what I wrote, or you’re quite deliberately changing the subject to avoid the fact that by your “argument” a Jew is supposedly a heretic for not believing in Intelligent Design not only of organisms, but for not believing in the Intelligent Design of metals as well.

Glen Davidson
http://tinyurl.com/mxaa3p



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Turmarion

posted August 20, 2009 at 4:07 pm


David, if you have time to discuss metallurgy with Glen, why don’t you have time to answer my questions?
LazarA: [N]one of the sources you have mentioned can really be said to endorse the form of theistic evolution that David is opposed to.
I guess it depends on interpretation, doesn’t it? I’m not an expert in Jewish theology, but most of the quotes I’ve read from those sources seem to me to be compatible with theistic evolution (henceforth TE to save time). I guess we’d have to get a panel of rabbinical scholars to decide, if they could–remember, two Jews, three opinions!
Proponents of ID do not oppose evolution
Well, that’s news. At least, they seem to me to be all over the spectrum, from YECers to those nearly subscribing to TE, and many areas in between.
[T]hey argue in favor of evolution guided by intelligence (presumably God).
Well, so do proponents of TE! The difference is that TE presumes that after the initial creation, God allows the forces and laws set in motion to play themselves out by “random” processes to achieve His goals, whereas ID (of the sort proposed by, e.g., Behe, who accepts most aspects of evolution) assumes that God “tweaks” the cosmos here and there. At any rate, if this is not your understanding of it, please say so.
Analogy: For TE, God is like Minnesota Fats. He makes one amazingly complicated trick shot, and then watches as all the pool balls follow their intricate paths to the designated pockets. For ID, God makes a shot that sinks some of the balls, then picks up some and drops them in by hand, then makes another complicated shot, then drops some more in by hand, etc.
Another analogy: For TE, the cosmos is like a super-complex chain of dominoes which is set in motion toppling by the one who placed them. After the initial domino is tipped, the rest take care of themselves. For ID, it’s like there are gaps in the chain and periodically the person who set the chain up has to step over to where the chain reaction has ended, tip another domino, and start it going again. In both cases, the former scenario has an elegance, simplicity, logic, and aesthetic beauty that the latter lacks.
While accepting naturalist evolution may not be fundamentally in conflict with the core principles of Judaism….
Thank you for at least acknowledging this! This is something that David studiously avoids doing.
[I]t is not the traditional Jewish perspective and is certainly not the mainstream position in the Orthodox Jewish world today.
It’s not the traditional Jewish perspective for the same reason that the spherical Earth and the heliocentric cosmos aren’t the traditional Jewish perspective–at that time, not enough was known of the relevant science. As to the “mainstream position in the Orthodox Jewish world today,” I don’t claim to know it, not being Jewish, but there are some sources I’ve seen that would dispute this. In any case, the issue is this: As John West did in the articles David sent me awhile back, you are arguing against TE not on scientific or philosophical bases, or because it’s incompatible in principle with Judaism (you acknowledge that it is compatible, in principle), but on theological grounds; that is, on the grounds that you don’t think God does things that way. That is your prerogative.
However, it has two problems. One, for those who do not share your perspective on how God does things, it is certainly not going to be persuasive. Two, as with West, it concedes that contrary to the constant protestations of IDers, it really is about the religion, not the science or even the philosophy. Which is what we’ve pretty much thought all along.
David: I think the point is that God’s creativity is evident from animate and inanimate matter alike. The coming into existence of matter at all, at the beginning…the existence of the material world in the first place, including metals and everything else. Why is there something instead of nothing.
You couldn’t state the TE view better if you tried! That there is something instead of nothing is exactly the evidence a TE advocate sees for God–no need for ID’s continual fiddling on His part in the cosmos and in evolution, especially given that there’s no evidence for it.
It’s really rather amusing that both in your statement on the Collins thread, which I keep re-posting, and here, you are in effect making a TE argument and saving those of us who advocate TE the effort! Out of thine own mouth dost thou condemn thyself!



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Alchemist

posted August 20, 2009 at 8:36 pm


IDCreationism reaches new depths of absurdity in attempting to prove a modern point by invoking a medieval rabbi who lived a thousand years prior to modern science. Apples and oranges. Of course, what else can be expected to have escaped from the Seattle Discovery Institute of Absurdity?



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Mergatroid

posted August 20, 2009 at 10:29 pm


Alchemist, you misrepresented David’s purpose of sharing his article. It wasn’t about arguing for design, it was about arguing for a certain definition of heresy.



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David Klinghoffer

posted August 20, 2009 at 11:24 pm


Thank you, Mergatroid. Yes, my point wasn’t to demonstrate ID’s scientific bona fides — that’s not my issue, it is for others to take up — but rather its Jewish lineage. Frankly, the latter concerns and interests me a lot more.



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Turmarion

posted August 21, 2009 at 10:11 am


Since Origin of the Species wasn’t published until 1859, neither evolution nor ID has any kind of religious or philosophical lineage. Yes, some ancients had some ideas that might have been similar in some respects to evolution or ID, but that’s not the same thing. The only thing relevant in determining the proper stance of Judaism, Christianity, or any other religion or philosophy toward evolution or ID is what members or leaders of said religions or philosophies have said since 1859. No amount of prior stuff either way is relevant.



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Mergatroid

posted August 21, 2009 at 10:32 am


Screw Lamarck then, right, Turmarion?



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Mergatroid

posted August 21, 2009 at 10:35 am


@Turmarion: ” ID has (no) kind of religious or philosophical lineage. ”
Well, “I.D.” doesn’t, but “i.d.” does. You’ve got the Discovery Institute on your mind too much.



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LazerA

posted August 21, 2009 at 2:04 pm


Turmarion wrote:

“It’s not the traditional Jewish perspective for the same reason that the spherical Earth and the heliocentric cosmos aren’t the traditional Jewish perspective–at that time, not enough was known of the relevant science.”
I have no major complaint with this statement. I would point out that there are no traditional sources which ascribe to a flat Earth, indeed there is an explicit statement in the Talmud that the earth is spherical. The spherical shape of the earth was widely known and accepted by all educated people since ancient times. Indeed, the geocentric model is based upon this assumption. (The earth is the central sphere of all the cosmic spheres.)
Personally, and in this I differ from David, I believe that the scientific discussion of the validity of the theory of evolution is, for the most part, not relevant to Judaism. While I am skeptical about many aspects of evolution, I don’t see the scientific implications of the theory as being in conflict with Judaism. The theory of evolution, per se, does not significantly impact on any major Jewish theological principles. The one area it seems to significantly conflict with is the Biblical narrative of Creation, which, traditionally, has always been accepted in an at least semi-literal fashion. However, here too there are a number of ways to resolve the problem.
At the same time, Jewish sources have traditionally put great emphasis on the Argument from Design. While Judaism does not stand on this argument, which is not found in Scripture, and only minimally in Talmudic sources, it has become an important part of the traditional Jewish outlook. It is in this area that Theistic evolution comes into conflict with the traditional Jewish perspective in a manner that evolution via Intelligent Design does not. While Theistic evolution does not fundamentally deny design, it does largely negate the Argument from Design as a way of proving or perceiving God’s existence (being that, according to Theistic evolution, the design perceived in creation could also be the result of natural laws – and not design at all).
As you appear to have noticed, I am not attempting to convince anyone on this topic. I am only attempting to make clear the actual traditional Jewish perspective on this topic. I don’t believe the primary path, or the primary challenge, to Jewish faith lies in these issues.
Of course, the ideology of modern atheism or secular naturalism, which is largely dependent on Darwinism, is a quite different matter. These ideologies are, obviously, fundamentally in conflict with Judaism. Darwinism has certainly played an important role in the development of these secular ideologies, and proponents of these ideologies have therefore attempted, successfully for the most part, to equate skepticism about evolutionary theory as nothing but religious obscurantism. These ideologies see evolution as an ideological tool, and it is partly for this reason that many religious people are convinced that evolution is fundamentally in conflict with belief in God and religion. After all, many of the world’s leading experts on evolution assert that this is so.



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Turmarion

posted August 21, 2009 at 3:01 pm


Mergatroid: As a matter of fact, Lamarck was wrong. Also I trust that whether I type ID, id, I.D., or i.d., most of the posters here understand that I mean “intelligent design”. My understanding was that most writers were using caps, but whatever.
My statement was far, far too compact, and thus misleading. What I probably should have said is something like this: Evolution, like any other scientific idea, had immediate and more distant antecedents, of course. However, since it is a scientific theory, though, it had no religious or philosophical antecedents, properly so-called. Example: Democritus, on philosophical grounds, believed in the existence of atoms. Aristotle disagreed with him. In the last couple of centuries, the existence of atoms has been confirmed on empirical grounds. Thus, Democritus is not really part of the intellectual history of modern atomic theory except in the sense of coming up with the concept. If empirical methods had failed to find atoms, Democritus would have been rejected (as most of Aristotle’s physics has indeed been rejected). The establishment of atomic theory as true had nothing whatsoever to do with Democritus’s theories or philosophy, but with experimental physics. And of course, what we call “atoms” are very different from the entities that Democritus posited.
Same way with religion. One might argue, e.g., that some religions encouraged study of nature as a way of honoring God and thus helped advance science, but the discoveries made thereby had nothing to do with religious beliefs (see the Galileo case).
Thus, I contend that it is a category error to try to say that any ancient philosopher or religious figure was “for” or “against” modern concepts such as evolution, intelligent design, the theory of relativity, or anything like that. Some ancients may have put forth some ideas that are similar in some ways to aspects of modern ideas; but to try to connect them directly is misleading. Non-scientific analogy: Would Julius Caesar have supported the Republicans or the Democrats? Would Confucius, if he’d been raised in a Christian society, been a Presbyterian or a Methodist? I hope the absurdity of these questions is evident. Likewise trying to say that any ancient is for or against ID or an any other modern concept.
LazarA: I would point out that there are no traditional sources which ascribe to a flat Earth
This is true, but at places the Torah seems to imply a flat Earth–e.g. in the implicit cosmic model of Genesis, with a flat earth floating over a watery abyss, or statements about the “ends of the Earth”. Nothing explicit, though.
[I]ndeed there is an explicit statement in the Talmud that the earth is spherical. The spherical shape of the earth was widely known and accepted by all educated people since ancient times. Indeed, the geocentric model is based upon this assumption.
Of course, the Talmud was written later. As to the rest, you make an excellent point which I wish were better and more widely known. Indeed, all educated people from at least the third millennium BC knew quite well that the Earth was spherical. An excellent book about this is Jeffrey Burton Russell’s Inventing the Flat Earth.
I don’t see the scientific implications of the theory as being in conflict with Judaism. The theory of evolution, per se, does not significantly impact on any major Jewish theological principles. The one area it seems to significantly conflict with is the Biblical narrative of Creation, which, traditionally, has always been accepted in an at least semi-literal fashion. However, here too there are a number of ways to resolve the problem.
OK, we can agree on this.
t the same time, Jewish sources have traditionally put great emphasis on the Argument from Design. While Judaism does not stand on this argument, which is not found in Scripture, and only minimally in Talmudic sources, it has become an important part of the traditional Jewish outlook.
This was one of the issues with my own faith, Catholicism. When something, as you put it, becomes part of a traditional outlook, it’s really hard to let it go, even if the faith does not stand on it. For example, though there never was a theological reason that the vernacular couldn’t be used for Mass (after all, Latin was not the original language of Christian liturgy), the cessation of use of Latin caused some groups to leave the Church altogether. Though the faith did not stand on the use of Latin in the liturgy, the traditional outlook of these groups just couldn’t allow for the change.
It is in this area that Theistic evolution comes into conflict with the traditional Jewish perspective in a manner that evolution via Intelligent Design does not. While Theistic evolution does not fundamentally deny design, it does largely negate the Argument from Design as a way of proving or perceiving God’s existence (being that, according to Theistic evolution, the design perceived in creation could also be the result of natural laws – and not design at all).
Well, I see your point, but I think that theistic evolution sees design in the fact that a universe exists at all, and that such a universe seems uniquely suited to life. It also sees those very natural laws as resulting from God Himself. In any case, I think it’s like Latin liturgy for Catholics; it may be hard to give up the Argument from Design, or at least the version of it you speak of; but given the scientific evidence, and given that as you say, Judaism doesn’t stand on said argument, from my perspective theistic evolution need not conflict with Judaism as such.
Of course, the ideology of modern atheism or secular naturalism, which is largely dependent on Darwinism, is a quite different matter.
See, this is where I disagree. Going all the way back to the French Revolution and the Enlightenment, atheism and secular nationalism was making an ideology out of reason. Had evolution never existed, militant atheists and secularists would have found something or other to use as an ideological cudgel. Have some such militant atheists and secularists used evolution as an ideology? Probably–but abusus non tollit usum–”the abuse [of a thing] doesn’t take away its [proper] use.” The abuse of evolution by some doesn’t mean it’s not scientifically true, or that it is inherently inimical to religious faith.
In any case, I want to give you kudos for a thoughtful, detailed, and measured response–something I can’t seem to get from David.



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Your Name

posted August 23, 2009 at 2:47 am


@Turmarion: “Same way with religion. One might argue, e.g., that some religions encouraged study of nature as a way of honoring God and thus helped advance science (I AGREE – Merg), but the discoveries made thereby had nothing to do with religious beliefs ” ( I DISAGREE.)
Example: Coming from a religious family, Mendeleev naturally viewed the world as an orderly system amenable to scientific investigation. (Why would an atheist believe this to be true?) It is said he first got the idea of the periodic table in a dream, and the next day began working out the pattern. As he was building the table, his belief that the pattern he saw emerging would continue led him to take the intellectual leap of leaving spots blank in the table, in faith believing that elements would be discovered to fill the blank spots. He predicted the existence of gallium, germanium and scandium, for instance, and even was able to predict some their properties by interpolating from other known elements in similar positions on the table.
Another example. Why did so many scientists (not all, but many) believe that the appendix was a vestigial organ? Was it just due to observation? Or was it due to their belief in unguided evolution, which ought to produce some useless organs over time. Meanwhile the religious folks were holding out in faith that some good functions could be found in the appendix. Seems like they were right:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/08/090820175901.htm
“Evolution Of The Human Appendix: A Biological ‘Remnant’ No More”
But damn, we’re getting off topic. The topic was how Ibn Ezra would define a heretic, vis a vis one’s belief in design. I’m dubious as to the efficacy of this approach. I mean, lets say that some readers here — some JEWISH readers, that is — conclude that an ancient great rabbi would consider them a heretic. Now what? Is he going to force himself to believe in design to avoid that stigma, or is he going to say, “well screw that! Who needs to listen to bozos telling me I’m a heretic?!” I’m afraid that the latter answer will occur much more often. I suggest a different approach.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 23, 2009 at 4:12 am


As he was building the table, his belief that the pattern he saw emerging would continue led him to take the intellectual leap of leaving spots blank in the table, in faith believing that elements would be discovered to fill the blank spots. He predicted the existence of gallium, germanium and scandium, for instance, and even was able to predict some their properties by interpolating from other known elements in similar positions on the table.
He arranged them by similarity in chemical properties and by increasing atomic mass. These chemical properties were the summation of two hundred years’ experiments. It was not a “faith based” table. It was a classification scheme that happened to have unfilled slots, whose properties could be predicted–not unlike the fossil record, in a way.
And the discovery of argon very nearly destroyed the whole scheme. Argon’s chemical properties were in a class by itself; and that was fine, as the periodic table just needed to add one more valence column (valence 0). But argon’s atomic mass put it between valence 1 and valence 2, instead of before 1 and after 7. It made sense for the columns to go 0,1,2…7,8 and then back around to 0. But it made no sense whatever to go 1,0,2,3…
Some physicists and chemists said at the time that while the periodic table was a good guess, it had had its run and it clearly didn’t tell the whole story.
And that is right. Because you need to arrange by atomic NUMBER. When helium, neon, and krypton were discovered their masses put them between 7 and 1, and argon was considered an awkward exception; but when protons were discovered and elements were arranged by the number of protons, every element went into its proper place.
What would have happened if Mendeleev had the order 1,0,2… to the inscrutable motives of an intelligent designer? In that case, no one would have learned anything.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 23, 2009 at 4:25 am


Coming from a religious family, Mendeleev naturally viewed the world as an orderly system amenable to scientific investigation. (Why would an atheist believe this to be true?)
I can’t speak for all atheists, but for myself I believe that the universe is “an orderly system amenable to scientific investigation” because it has so far been so, in my experience. Even the chaotic and indeterministic aspects of the universe have been investigated with great success.
I “believe” in science because it works. Newton’s laws can predict eclipses and put satellites need to be. Maxwell’s equations predicted relativity WITHOUT HIM EVEN REALIZING IT; they also tell you why the sky is blue and not barf green, and you can use them to build radios and TVs.
When purple unicorns start materializing in my apartment; when the skyt is blue today and chartreuse tomorrow and fuschia the day after; when matter behaves as waves on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but particles on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, and as monads on Sunday; when dogs speak in human voices and are chased by cats up trees, I will cease to believe that the universe is an orderly place and that science can make sense of it.
Maybe it will happen tomorrow, but it’s not the smart way to bet.



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Your Name

posted August 23, 2009 at 8:55 am


… and amazing luck got us all this.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 23, 2009 at 4:26 pm


… and amazing luck got us all this.
I’m not one of those atheists who thinks religious believers are necessarily stupid. But it seems many of them cannot grasp the concept that there could be anything other than a) God or b) chance.
Put 100 oxygen atoms and 200 hydrogen atoms in a hat. Shake them up. Draw them out three at a time. EVERY SINGLE ONE comes out as HOH.
Clearly this a miracle, right? Think of all the possible combinations, each equally likely: HHH, HHO (2 ways), HOH, OOH (2 ways), OHO, OOO. The chance of NOT getting HOH is 7/8. If you do that 100 times, the chance of NEVER getting HOH is (7/8)^(100), so the odds of all 100 coming out as HOH is 1 in 1.6 million.
Clearly God intervenes miraculously every time oxygen and hydrogen form water, because it could never happen all the time, like it does, by mere chance.
I hope everyone sees the fallacy. There are other explanations besides God and chance. We call these explanations “natural laws”. The laws of physics tell you that the chances of getting hydrogen and oxygen to make water is about 1 in 1; even though chance is involved at every step of the process, chance is constrained by natural law.



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Your Name

posted August 24, 2009 at 1:58 am


And amazing luck got us all this natural law.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 24, 2009 at 2:52 am


And amazing luck got us all this natural law.
Who said that? The laws were always there.
Oh, you think God made the laws? But where did He come from? Oh, you say He was always there? But my idea is simpler…
Having stretched out your neck, you hand me Occam’s Razor to cut your head off, poor thing.



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Your Name

posted August 24, 2009 at 9:18 am


“Oh, you think God made the laws? But where did He come from? ”
If that is your extent of theological insight, you’re worthless as a disputant in these debates, just like Dawkins.



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Brian Beckman

posted August 24, 2009 at 10:30 am


“Who said that? The laws were always there.”
But standard cosmology extrapolates backwards in time only to the Big Bang (or within a Planck time of it, or through uncertainties like ‘inflation,’). Cosmology makes no statement about the form or even existence of the laws of physics before then.
“Oh, you think God made the laws? But where did He come from? Oh, you say He was always there? But my idea is simpler…”
But standard cosmology usually invokes the ‘anthropic principle’ as an explanation of ultimate origin (before the Big Bang, to account for the particular form of physics we have had since then. I do not see any complexity difference, in the Occam’s sense, between the near-empty tautology of the anthropic principle and the idea that there is a single, transcendent, eternal God who wanted it this way.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 24, 2009 at 12:26 pm


Cosmology makes no statement about the form or even existence of the laws of physics before then…
…because they could have had no effect on the universe after the Big Bang. Anything that happened “before” the universe has, by definition, no effect on what came after. St Augustine said the same; time is a property of the universe and it is meaningless to ask what God was doing “before”.
But standard cosmology usually invokes the ‘anthropic principle’ as an explanation of ultimate origin
Wrong. Cosmology and the “anthropic principle” have nothing to do with each other. Some scientists think about it and some don’t. It’s philosophy, not science.



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Brian Beckman

posted August 24, 2009 at 10:48 pm


“Wrong. Cosmology and the “anthropic principle” have nothing to do with each other. Some scientists think about it and some don’t. It’s philosophy, not science.”
The term ‘cosmology’ is usually taken to mean a broad discipline that includes philosophy, science, religion, and more. See, for instance, the wikipedia article:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosmology



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Brian Beckman

posted August 24, 2009 at 11:24 pm


“time is a property of the universe and it is meaningless to ask what God was doing “before”.”
Correct. In General Relativity, time is just another independent variable, like any of the space dimensions or any of the quantum numbers yadda yadda. The directionality or “arrow” of time appears to be a mere epiphenomenon of statistical physics. Microphysics is invariant to time reversal (if you also change electric charge and parity or ‘handedness’ of beta decay).
The bigger point is that a ‘transcendent’ being would be able to observe all times simultaneously. Such a concept is normative in monotheistic theology, so far as I know.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 25, 2009 at 8:53 pm


If that is your extent of theological insight, you’re worthless as a disputant in these debates, just like Dawkins.
I wasn’t arguing theology. I was arguing against those who wish to misuse God to argue about science.
If you want make “God did it” a scientifically supported statement, you need to follow scientific methodology, or you’re not doing science.
If God exists, God runs this universe as He sees fit, and maybe it doesn’t make sense to you, but insisting that God has to do things in a way that makes sense to you is, in my view, a kind of idolatry.



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Mark

posted August 25, 2009 at 10:18 pm


“If God exists, God runs this universe as He sees fit, and maybe it doesn’t make sense to you, but insisting that God has to do things in a way that makes sense to you is, in my view, a kind of idolatry.”
I totally agree. So why does Dawkins do it all the time? And Dobzhansky?



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Mark

posted August 25, 2009 at 10:45 pm


Here’s just a sampling of Dobzhansky’s “Oh, God would never do it that way!” kind of thinking. (And remember, I agree that a creationist’s “God must have done it this way” is just as bad.)
“What a senseless operation it would have been, on God’s part, to fabricate a multitude of species ex nihilo and then let most of them die out!”
“They fancy that all existing species were generated by supernatural fiat a few thousand years ago, pretty much as we find them today. But what is the sense of having as many as 2 or 3 million species living on earth?”
“Was the Creator in a jocular mood when he made Psilopa petrolei for California oil fields and species of Drosophila to live exclusively on some body-parts of certain land crabs on only certain islands in the Caribbean?”
“But what if there was no evolution and every one of the millions of species were created by separate fiat? However offensive the notion may be to religious feeling and to reason, the anti-evolutionists must again accuse the Creator of cheating. They must insist that He deliberately arranged things exactly as if his method of creation was evolution, intentionally to mislead sincere seekers of truth.”
I’m sure other readers can find plenty of examples from Dawkins.



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Gabriel Hanna

posted August 25, 2009 at 11:07 pm


Mark, I’m sure they can, but Dawkins doesn’t even believe in God. Dawkins is certainly not trying to claim that supernatural explanations are acceptable science. Dawkins has a problem with the very idea of God. Dawkins would help the cause of science a great deal if he’d shut up once in a while.
That’s not my concern here. People who want to say “God did it” is a valid scientific inference are violating the methodology that makes science work.



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Mark

posted August 25, 2009 at 11:39 pm


“That’s not my concern here.”
That /was/ your concern in your first and third paragraphs of your 8:53 post. (not including the italics) Oh, and Coyne is guilty of the same thing.
And I agree with you on the “God did it,” attitude, /usually./ I have no problem with “God did it” attitude when I look at the amazing fine-tuning this universe has. “Luck did it,” the never-spoken mantra of atheists, seems like a huge leap of faith to me.



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