Go After the Majority

With the 150-year anniversary of The Origin of Species just a few years away, here’s a startling fact: most Americans don’t buy it. According to CBS News, 51% believe that G-d Created humans as they are now, 30% believe in G-d-guided evolution, and a mere 15% believe that it happened at random. Last year CBS found that 55% believed G-d Created man (as is), but that’s not a statistically-significant decline (four points is the margin of error of this year’s poll alone).

Considering that evolution has been delivered to public-school students, without any alternative, for generations, this is very surprising — especially to Jews, who might well have expected the numbers to be reversed. The American Jewish Identity Survey (done at CUNY in 2001) recorded that 44% of Jews describe themselves as “secular” or “somewhat secular,” compared to only 16% of the US population. Jews are more likely than any other group to somewhat or strongly disagree with the statement that “there exists a G-d who performs miracles” — more so than Buddhists, whose religion isn’t theistic per se, and more than Americans of no declared faith.

It is interesting that the line between evolution and theism is so clearly drawn — at least in the traditional Jewish view, there’s certainly nothing wrong with believing that it looks like evolution happened from a scientific perspective. But although more than two-thirds of Americans agree that it is possible to believe in both G-d and evolution, an equally large majority do not hold that belief in practice.

This is, perhaps, why the pro-evolution crowd insists upon rejecting Intelligent Design as merely a fundamentalist Christian belief dressed in scientific clothing. That’s foolish. Those who offer ridicule in place of reason, by offering the flying spaghetti monster as an “alternative theory” of Intelligent Design, (deliberately) fail to mention that it’s not an alternative at all — the theory of Intelligent Design does not speculate about the nature of the designer.

Intelligent Design says one thing, and one thing only: the development of intelligent life on this planet is simply too complex to be the result of happenstance. Whether that designer was G-d or a spaghetti monster isn’t for the science classroom. This is where I.D. diverges from “Scientific Creationism,” which is a contradiction in terms — science measures nature, not miracles. I.D. asks whether or not the probabilities add up for the spontaneous generation of life, and for the random production of man through nothing more than natural selection and fortuitous mutation. Questions about probabilities are, of course, hard, factual, scientific questions, regardless of the implications of the answers.

The fact that so many opponents of I.D. attempt to cast it in theological terms — even to the point of offering silly “alternatives” to a never-provided first option — indicates that they are simply unable or unwilling to address the (purely scientific) questions themselves. Why not? Why not defend the theory that despite violating every standard of probability used in every other scientific field, spontaneous generation is still more plausible than design?

One is, at least, inspired to wonder what they so fear they might find.

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11 comments to Go After the Majority

  • Ori Pomerantz

    One of the dirty secrets of science is that any scientific theory rests on unobservable philosophical underpinings. Newtonian Physics, for example, is based on the assumption that time and space are constant – an assumption that nobody in his right mind doubted in the 17th century. Astronomy assumes that the rules of nature are the same everywhere.

    Intelligent Design, if I understand it correctly, assumes that there is a designer, or at least the possibility of a designer. This designer couldn’t be aliens that evolved under the laws of nature we are familiar with. It has to be a supernatural entity, a.k.a. G-d. That term is not present, but so what – it’s not present in Megillat Ester either, but everybody can see it.

    What is missing from the debate is the fact that the other side is not really different. “There is a G-d who designed the universe” is a religious position, but so is “there is no G-d who designed the universe”. See, for example, http://www.churchoffreethought.org/cgi-bin/contray/contray.cgi?DATA=&ID=000011014&GROUP=009 .

  • Elie

    “The fact that so many opponents of I.D. attempt to cast it in theological terms—even to the point of offering silly “alternatives” to a never-provided first option—indicates that they are simply unable or unwilling to address the (purely scientific) questions themselves. Why not? Why not defend the theory that despite violating every standard of probability used in every other scientific field, spontaneous generation is still more plausible than design?”

    Intelligent Design has no defense… and no proof, or even preponderence of evidence, for it has no evidence… it is a philosophy, not a theory based in the scientific method. It’s an apples and oranges question.

    I like the idea of I.D., but will never have proof, nor is proof needed. It’s a philosophical position.

    I also like the evolutionary tapestry, which is by a preponderence of evidence so far, true.

    Elie

  • Netanel Livni

    Elie,

    Evolution is not truly scientific either in that none of the theories it presents are subject to experimental verification. It is simply one explanation of the current data and unlike other fields of science, it is one that can never be inductively established according to the scientific method.

    I, like you object to the teaching of I.D. in a science class, but I also object to the teaching of evolution in a science class.

  • Hanan

    “I, like you object to the teaching of I.D. in a science class, but I also object to the teaching of evolution in a science class.”

    Natanel, so when a student asks where we come from, what should the teachers response be? Perhaps we should also stop teaching about the Big Bank theory since I don’t believe it is subject to experimental verifcation either. I doubt that fundemantals would want THAT out of the classroom since they just conveniently use that to proove Genesis right. I am very much against ID but not evolution. Though there are problems with it, there is still a lot of “evidence,” as we call it, to support it. Will it ever be proven 100%, no, I don’t believe it will, but then again, the existance of God can’t be either, and the only thing Yaacov Menken has for it, is by him saying that “simply too complex to be the result of happenstance.” Sorry Yaacov, this is a science class. Personally, I’m in awe of how a chain reaction of atoms splitting can cause a nuclear explosion, does this mean we should introduce God into ourchemistry classes. If ID IS introduced, are educators prepared for questions that might come after wards like: “Well which God created life, was it the God of my Pagan next door neighbor, or perhaps the God of my Hindu best friend?” Do you honostly think that when students hear about ID theory they will just leave it at that and skip over to the next subject without asking a host of questions. Educators are not prepared for these sort of discussions as they are with the evolution, and more importantly, they shouldn’t be.

  • Yaakov Menken

    Hanan,

    One cannot dismiss or ignore evidence because it leads in uncomfortable directions. When I recorded that the generation of life is “simply too complex to be the result of happenstance,” that wasn’t some sort of vague feeling. Gerald Schroeder’s work with the numbers is one example of an extremely rigorous analysis, and he concludes that it would take a bunch of random monkeys 100 billion years to type a simple sentence by coincidence — far less complex than the most basic of life forms. Of course, any physics textbook can tell you that the laws of entropy pretty much preclude evolution by random mutation. Add up a few such items, and evolution is far less likely than intelligent design, whether or not we know the Designer.

    The proponents of “scientific creationism” suggested that we stick it into the science classroom for unscientific reasons — e.g. it promotes better moral character than does survival of the fittest. What you are suggesting is to exclude I.D. on exactly the same basis — unscientific reasons, regardless of the validity of the theory itself.

    The simple answer to your G-d question is that from a scientific perspective, we don’t know. According to Francis Crick it might have been space aliens. But that is also entirely irrelevant. You can’t present only one option simply because that’s the one that remains on comfortable ground. That’s the very opposite of scientific research.

  • Hanan

    “One cannot dismiss or ignore evidence because it leads in uncomfortable directions.”

    Noone is dismissing it because it leads to uncomfortable directions, thats not even what I said. I suggested that if you open the gates to ID then you better prepare for discussions of who that designer is. By you saying that it is “…entirely irrelevant” just shows how you are not looking at the greater picture of what introducing ID into the classrooms can lead to. It might be irrelevant to you but it won’t be to the students.

    The simple answer to your G-d question is that from a scientific perspective, we don’t know

    Its interesting that you can use that “we don’t know” clause for that, but we can’t use it for scientifically answering the “life on this planet is simply too complex to be the result of happenstance” issue. Don’t get me wrong, I am a full believer in God, but just because science stumbles on how complex life could have started, does not mean I want the introduction of ID as an answer to that in a scienctific environment, because…it has no business in being there. Statistically you’re probably right. Life is too complex for it have started just like that, but is that the only “proof” that ID proponents have to bring it in the classroom?

    Noone is saying that you can’t present one option to anything due to comfortability, but certainly it has to have some scientific merit to it besides Schroeder’s monkey theory. And certainly, if you’re a proponent of multiple theories in the class room, then you certainly should allow Crick’s alien theory, Pagan theories and while we are at why not just throw in the epic of “Enuma Elish” cause that might bring some scientific information for some students. And as a rabbi once told me, we might all be living in a giant Matrix of some kind, so lets just teach that also. If ID is introduced under a pretense that “we are merely offering another explanation”, than all of those other theories are fare game too.

    Now lets say ID is introduced, would it still be alright with you to teach that man came from apes? After all, ID is merely saying that complex life diden’t just, “poof” come into existance. That a designer STARTED it all off. If the scientific community humors your request and allows the possiblity of a designer to play a role in how life started, that doesn’t mean that you have any problems with the rest of evolution does it?

  • Netanel Livni

    Hanan,

    We have evidence for many things that can not be made to fit into the scientific method. Maybe I am using the word science in its most specific meaning while you are using it in its most general sense. Evolution, if you wanted to argue it is a science, would have to qualify as one of “soft sciences” (I would say “softest science”) in that it is not subject to experimental verification. To teach it with the same scientific authority as Newtonian physics or organic chemistry insults the real achievements of true scientific methodology. BTW, I would say the same exact thing about the big bang.

    I would not presume to be able to read the thoughts of the average science teacher, but in my admittedly subjective recollection, the average lesson in evolution always carried with it a few snide remarks about G-d and religion. All I am saying that unless teachers are able to give the data over in its proper weight and context, it should not be taught in science class at all.

  • Yaakov Menken

    Hanan,

    “Statistically you’re probably right. Life is too complex for it have started just like that, but is that the only ‘proof’ that ID proponents have to bring it in the classroom?”

    If it is a science classroom, then we teach that which is probably right, or we don’t teach it at all. We certainly do not teach that which is probably wrong because we’re afraid of where a discussion of the truth might lead us. That’s indefensible. It’s not only classically unscientific, but exactly the sort of thing the Darwin (ok, Dawkins) proponents accuse the fundamentalists of doing.

    Either we teach that which is most likely right, or we follow Netanel’s thinking, and get all of this sort of speculative thought out of the classroom.

  • Charles B. Hall, PhD

    I’m an Orthodox Jew and a working scientist.

    I see two problems with teaching “Intelligent Design” in science classes. The first is that it isn’t science. It is not possible to use it to predict the results of experiment and observation. (To Netanel Livni — there is much science that isn’t experimental; probably the best example is that we know that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer in humans despite the fact that there has never been an experimental study that shows that. It would be unethical!) The scientific method itself neither requires that there be a “designer” or prohibits it. Rather, it tries to explain observed facts and predict future observations.

    The second reason is that the idea that there is a “designer” is not something that should be subjected to scientific inquiry! If we as believers really want to argue that ID should be treated as science, we have to be prepared to accept the consequences. And those consequences are that the existence of God would then be potentially subject to scientific investigation. Chas v’shalom! But we can’t have it both ways. If ID is science then it can be tested, if it isn’t then it doesn’t belong in science classes.

    I think we are just going through a fad right now. For centuries, philosophers tried in vain to “prove” the existence of God through logic and other philosophical arguments. They failed. Now, as the scientific method has replaced philosophy as the way in which questions that religion does not address can get answered, it is natural for us to try to fit God into a scientific context. That, too, will fail. The reason is simple: Both philosophy and science are human constructs, both of which are inadequate to represent the true nature of the divine.

    Better than teaching ID in science classes would be to do a better job of teaching what science actually is and is not. It answers “how”, not “why”. And also better than teaching ID in science classes would be to admit that it is ok even according to the most stringent interpretation of the First Amendment to teach about religion and why it has been important for all of human history — long before the existence of philosophers or scientists. That can be done without any indoctrination and without violating the US Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

    There is a false dichotomy that a lot of people posit that one must accept a pretty literal biblical view, or a scientific perspective, but not both. But “The law of the excluded middle does not apply to Torah”: It is possible in Torah for two apparently contractory positions to both be true. We see this in halachah repeatedly; it is true here as well. It may be a challenge to our understanding, but it is one we can use for our own growth in our appreciation of God and God’s creation.

  • BTA

    Rabbi Menken, you state in the comments above:

    “One cannot dismiss or ignore evidence because it leads in uncomfortable directions. When I recorded that the generation of life is “simply too complex to be the result of happenstance,” that wasn’t some sort of vague feeling. Gerald Schroeder’s work with the numbers is one example of an extremely rigorous analysis, and he concludes that it would take a bunch of random monkeys 100 billion years to type a simple sentence by coincidence—far less complex than the most basic of life forms.”

    Your statement of the generation of life, while perhaps not the result of a vague feeling, most certainly was NOT the result of a scientific inquiry, which after all is the theme of Intelligent design. Schroeder’s work is far from “rigorous.” I and many others are tired of Rabbis trotting out Schroeder’s books and statements and peddling them as scientific justification for your religious stances. Schroeder may have a PhD at the end of his name, but his quasi-religious arguments bear no relation to what he did as a geologist. Has anything he’s written with respect to “intelligent design” been peer-reviewed by scientists (as opposed to Rabbi peer-review)? Has he published on these topics in any respected scientific journal or even magazine? Of course not. This is because his work has been totally discredited as unscientific bunk. With all due respect, your assessment of Schroeder’s work (which has been regurgitated in countless iterations by Aish, Kelemen, and Slifkin, et al.) as “rigorous” is off the mark and irrelevant. Let’s hear about Schroeder when he gets published after peer review by scientists.

    Also you are guilty of “picking and choosing” when it comes to Schroeder. To my understanding he is only addressing the likelihood of initial amino acids in the early earth’s soupy atmosphere evolving into the complex life forms we see today with his Million Monkey examples. (Or as Dennis Prager says “bacteria to Bach”).

    However, Schroeder accepts evolution in principle, he just seems to think something “extra” is necessary. Of course, he also accepts carbon dating (something his geologist background is actually relevant to) yet your Everything Torah book wants to refute that based on the effect of the Flood on carbon isotopes. As far as I’m aware, Schroeder has no problem with humans evolving from apes, for example; he just claims that there must have been a push along the way to accelerate progress. Of course, his model is based on incomplete evidence, as this field is constantly progressing. In the most recent Scientific American, November issue, for example, new evidence is discussed for Earth cooling hundreds of millions, if not billions, of years earlier than previously thought. Thus, with a cooler earth earlier, amino acids could have coalesced even sooner into primitive life forms. And- you guessed it- with all that extra time, the calculations become a lot more appealing in terms of the probability that life evolved in the time frame given.

    I think you said it best: “One cannot dismiss or ignore evidence because it leads in uncomfortable directions.”

    BTA

    P.S.- Your example of how few people believe in evolution in America is misleading and a clear example of the fallacy
    of appeal to popularity. When judging a scientific model, who cares what “51%” of Americans believe? We all know that the mean IQ in america is 100. Thus, “50% of americans” could be those who range from 60-100, just following the bell curve for intelligence. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:6sigmaIQrange.png

    The folks in the article you cite likely believe Jesus is god. Are you therefore persuaded of that claim? In short, the the belief systems of the majority of Americans is irrelevant to this debate. And, if the whole point was to show how unpersuasive evolution is even when taught, why not do a poll of industrialized Western European countries and let’s see how many believe that god made man exactly as he is with no evolutionary influence. For more data, do a poll of the Arab world. I think you’ll find 95% believe “G-d Created humans as they are now.” Also, if you want to “go after the majority,” I’d say go after the majority of scientists when it comes to science and religion. Only 10% of “Eminent Scientists” believe in God! In fact, there is a negative correlation between religiosity and IQ. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religiousness_and_intelligence

    I don’t beleive that inverse correlation applies as much to Jews, since our intelligence has been shown to have increased somewhat due to our religious designation. However that increase, ironically for your premise, occurred *through a process of selective mating and thereby favorable adaptation in response to anti-semitic environmental pressures*! That’s right- Jews evolved to be slightly more intelligent than average. This is borne out by our disproportionate representation in Nobel Prize winners, prominent scientists and the like. http://www.lagriffedulion.f2s.com/dialogue.htm

    Thus, the Title of your article “Go after the majority”, and your reasoning disturb me. Intelligent Design is one step away from teaching christianity or islam in schools.

  • Yaakov Menken

    Dr. Hall asserts that science “answers ‘how’, not ‘why’,” but scientists are avoiding an answer to ‘how’ simply because of the ‘why’ questions that might follow. This begs the question. It is also entirely unclear that there is any predictive value to evolution that cannot also be found in ID. Anything you might predict from one — but not the other — has yet to be proven.

    No one has ever, for example, managed to create a species from another — not that this would necessarily contradict ID, but the ability to do so is certainly implied by evolution. With all our newfound abilities to splice genes, we still can’t duplicate in the lab what nature, according to evolution, did at random. So it might be best to remove both evolution and ID from the science classroom, as Netanel suggested, since neither qualifies more than the other.

    BTA claims that Jews “evolved” within the last 5000 years to be more intelligent — this is a classic example of conjecture without proof, and is, if anything, an absolute contradiction of evolution. Repeatedly, our best and brightest were slain while those able to run fast survived. We should be a nation of below-average intelligence and physical prowess; it is safe to say that if either of those are untrue, both are.

    I am sorry that the facetious nature of my opening remarks escaped BTA, but I obviously was not suggesting that we follow the American majority in just about anything. The self-selective nature of secular higher education, in particular, hardly needs elaboration. What is curious is the number of prominent secular scientists who have, after achieving the pinnacle of their profession, adopted belief in G-d — besides Gerald Schroeder, another notable example is Arno Penzias, who shared the Nobel Prize for discovery of the Big Bang.

    BTA also states that the “Everything Torah book wants to refute [carbon dating] based on the effect of the Flood on carbon isotopes.” I have no idea where he got this from — I, for one, am unable to find it in the pages of my book. From what I understand, the earth itself would have had to return to molten lava for that to happen, so I very much doubt that I wrote something of that nature.

    He has not merely confused my book with that of some other author, but has apparently also confused the chemistry and math departments (or two different offices in the physics department). Peer review is done when one conducts an experiment which produces data, leading to results and conclusions. Others must replicate the experiment and emerge with similar data in order to confirm the results. No one has suggested a structured peer review of 1+1=2, or even a far more complex series of mathematical equations — since any knowledgeable individual can do it at home.

    Schroeder did not conduct an experiment — he used the mass of the universe and Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity to demonstrate that a being outside a sphere with the mass of our universe would, in about five and a half days, reach the same point in time concurrent with what was, in the middle of the sphere, about 15 billion years. You can duplicate this on the back of a napkin (not that I have, but ‘peer review’ has been done dozens of times by people who did). That calculation is, from my perspective, merely a cute factoid — it fails to explain the division of the days in Genesis, because every living thing would, by the same calculation, have come into existence after five days had elapsed.

    Far more serious is his “Million Monkeys,” or his determination of the likelihood that monkeys would type a simple sentence during the entire history of our universe. His math is not hard to duplicate, and, yes, it relates to “the likelihood of initial amino acids in the early earth’s soupy atmosphere evolving into the complex life forms we see today.” And what is most important is that no one in the field challenges the accuracy of his conclusion — they realize it is almost inconceivable that it happened by chance, but fall back on this anyway, since there is no other ‘natural’ explanation of how we got here.

    What both BTA and Dr. Hall fail to appreciate is that ID is not inherently religious, no matter how often it may be portrayed as such on either side. “Evolution with something ‘extra'” (as BTA describes Schroeder’s view) is, of course, ID. ID simply posits that we did not get here by chance, based upon the cold, mathematical reality that it remains vanishingly improbable — even with hundreds of millions more years posited since Schroeder did his calculation.

    The consequences of that, and the attempts to posit who that Designer might be, obviously lie outside the science classroom. But we cannot teach something inaccurate simply because the alternative has implications that science cannot analyze.

    Yaakov Menken