Two More Articles on Intelligent Design

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David Klinghoffer has an article on National Review Online, “It’s God or Darwin” (forwarded to me by R’ Yonason Rosenblum). Klinghoffer presents the case that the leading Darwinists are as anti-religion as the ID proponents are pro-religion — and in so doing debunks the idea that ID should be disqualified because it is a religious view.

To some extent, he overstates his case — he says that there is “no coherent reconciliation between God and Darwin.” That, at least from a Jewish perspective, is simply not true. Let us start from the Medrash which says that just as Adam was 20 years old immediately after he was Created, everything else also looks like it developed in a natural way. Presto: you have an intellectually coherent Jewish theory explaining why the appearance of evolution contradicts nothing in Judaism, regardless of whether or not it ever happened. N.B. It is not my intention to get into a discussion about dinosaur bones or whether this really makes sense in terms of G-d “hiding” Himself in this world, at this juncture. I merely mean to point out that one who believes this has an internally-consistent, coherent model that reconciles G-d with any evidence for Darwin you could possibly imagine.

What he succeeds in doing, on the other hand, is demonstrating that to exactly the same extent that one can impugn the motivations of ID proponents, one can impugn the motivations of the leading Darwin proponents as well — unless you view any religious view inappropriate in schools, except that of hostility to religion. He offers a quite thorough debunking of the view that the leading Darwinists are merely impartial scientists offering their objective opinion (even though, as we have seen here, many adherents of Darwinian evolution are themselves believers in HaShem).

And at the same time, Charlie Hall directs us to this article, an interview in HaAretz with Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb on Intelligent Design. Rabbi Weinreb is the executive Vice President of the Orthodox Union, and was formerly the Rav of Young Israel Shomrei Emunah of Baltimore. He is an outstanding thinker and Talmid Chacham, and, nonetheless, I disagree with him on this issue — I think he, too, has fallen victim to the Darwinists’ portrayal of ID as Creationism in disguise, rather than taking ID for what it is.

First he says that “Intelligent Design calls to our attention the amazing complexity of the universe. That is descriptive science and should be part of all courses in biology and chemistry.” So you would think, from that quote, that he thinks ID is appropriate. But then he says:

However, the conclusion that such complexity is proof positive of a Creator, as Judaism or other religions understand such a creator, is faith, not science, and as such has no place in the curricula of the public schools in the United States, where separation of Church from State is a fundamental national premise.

All well and good, except that ID is not “the conclusion that such complexity is proof positive of a Creator.” It is the conclusion that such complexity is too unlikely to have developed by chance for that to be presented as the explanation of our origins. Our origins could be “directed panspermia” for all ID says. Anything more than that does not belong in the science classroom, as Rabbi Weinreb says. But it is lousy science to deny students an applied case of probability and statistics, just because you don’t like what origin theories they might consider as a result.

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17 Responses

  1. tzura says:

    Seth Gordon points to a basic issue I have with ID.
    “In order to say whether or not something happened by chance, we need to develop a “null hypothesis”—a model of what the world would be like if the event did happen by chance—and then use the statistics to see how likely the null hypothesis is to be true.”

    With any given naturalistic mechanism, some kind of probability can be calculated. On the other hand, with ID , where no exact mechanism is specified, the probablity of all other possible processes become compressed into one.

    THe whole process reminds me of some chavrusas I’ve had, where all they do is knock down my phsat on a sugya, then just sit there with a very self-satisfied smile, but offer no viable pshat of their own.

    I agree with R. Menken, when he says, “The problem, I think, is giving ID a name. It’s not a theory worth a name, it’s an analysis of the numbers.” The only thing the analysis tells is that as of now, there is no complete naturalistic description of how life came into being. That leaves open the possibility that there was an intelligent designer (supernatural or not), or it could be that there are other naturalistic scenarios that we have not discovered or imagined yet. I prefer not to rely on a God of gaps, just as a matter of personal taste, but one would have to be a doctrinaire atheist like Dawkins to say that that gap does not exist. How this should translate into educational policy in US public schools is a darn good question.

    That there is no complete scientific answer, however, is really only suprising to the general public, who often tend to assume that the answer to life’s big questions have been discovered by some scientists, somewhere. I think that there is a certain paternalistic attitude that is general to pre-college (even some college) education that fudges uncertainties. It’s only in graduate education when students really start to deal, in an educational setting, with the fact that not everything is known, be it in science or any other field. Those involved in scientific research are all personally involved in studying phenomena that are as of yet not fully described. As I’ve mentioned before, being scientific is ultimately about having a certain attitude, that there are non-supernatural mechanisms at work in observable phenomena. Whether this attitude is extrapolated to ultimate truth, or simply held as an exrtremely useful mental tool, is up to the individual.

    Scientists are trained to make modest, testable, naturalistic hypotheses. It is also reinforced socially. Any colleague that espouses a lot of “far out” untestable ideas will be viewed as a kooky curiosity. Any scientist who writes a popular book and reaches too far with too many grandiose claims and opinions will surely be joked about back in lab. They can be an exciting read but bad science. I think this is why many were not happy with Crick making grand claims of directed panspermia. I personally think that he couldn’t deal with just saying, “I can’t explain as of now how life came about,” and stop there.

  2. Seth Gordon says:

    You would wipe out all of modern medicine if you decided that even a one in 10,000 possibility should be attributed to chance. With that declaration, you decide that those cured by chemotherapy merely “lucked out”, cigarettes don’t cause cancer, and, for that matter, washing your hands doesn’t halt the spread of germs. Because there’s a vanishingly small possibility that any of those statements is true, also.

    In order to say whether or not something happened by chance, we need to develop a “null hypothesis”–a model of what the world would be like if the event did happen by chance–and then use the statistics to see how likely the null hypothesis is to be true. We can be confident that smoking causes cancer because we know what the cancer rate is in both smokers and non-smokers. A credit card analyst can suspect that a certain transaction is fraudulent because the card issuers have copious records of both legitimate transactions and transactions that turned out to be fradulent. Etc., etc., etc.

    There’s no such hypothesis-development in ID. Rather, the ID folks assume that if abiogenisis or macroevolution occurred, it must have depended on some particular sequence of events, and–oh, look!–that particular sequence of events is incredibly unlikely, therefore ID must be true. But, as 1.5 Opinions, Akiva, and JewishAtheist point out, the ID proponents have neglected to prove that their unlikely sequence of events is the only way evolution could have happened.

    Incidentally, one of the arguments in favor of macroevolution is the following:

    We can construct a “phylogenetic tree” by comparing the forms that different organisms take. Now we can sequence DNA, and we know what changes in an organism’s DNA would have no biological effect. (For example, because of the way the genetic code works, there are some single-point changes to a gene that will make it produce exactly the same protein as before.) We can therefore construct another tree, based on how similar organisms are in this aspect of their DNA.

    (Publishers of reference works use a similar technique to protect themselves against copyright infringement. A map publisher, for example, might misspell the names of a few inconspicuous side streets on the map; if another map comes out with the same misspellings, the publisher of the first map has proof of plagiarism.)

    Our null hypothesis is that any similarities between these two trees is coincidental, but the odds of such a coincidence are less than 1 in 10^38. For more details, see here.

  3. AlanDownunder says:

    We study nature by constructing testable theories about nature which we tentatively accept while ever our theories have predictive value and while ever they remain unfalsified or rendered in need of modification by repeatable observations of nature. This is an essentially modest endeavour where we accept our obvious inability by such process to pin down, analyse, predict or coerce the supernatural. However much the supernatural might unpredictably box us around the ears, we are unequipped to derive any scientific value from the experience. We call our modest endeavour methodological naturalism, or science for short. We allow that our endeavour can tell us nothing about God either way. We have no scientific basis for qualitatively distinguishing biological science from any any other science. But however useful, our biological science provokes reactions.

    One kind of reaction is “Even if you are as modest as you claim, your theory collides with specifics of my faith so it must be wrong”. All we can say to that is “Well that’s a conversation stopper. We don’t suppose there’s much point in mentioning that many among us are of the same religion as you, some even of the same denomination, and don’t perceive the collision that you do.”

    The other kind of reaction is to our co-ption in argument by philosophical naturalism, or atheism for short. This is exacerbated in the US context by the establishment clause. The teaching of science in schools gets to be perceived as, or under some dud science teachers becomes indistinguishable from, the teaching of atheism. When this happens it rankles when the apparent or real endorsement of atheism is constitutional but endorsement of religion is unconstitutional.

    We have no objection to making state endorsement of atheism as unconstitutional as state endorsement of religion but that wouldn’t save us from “Your theory collides with specifics of my faith so you must be an unconstitutional atheist”.

    ID? If the establishment clause did not exist, ID would not have been concocted. In order to specifically infiltrate just biology class, ID strikes at the root of all science – at methodological naturalism itself. ID makes the religious among us mutter darkly about the 9th Commandment and “lying for Jesus”. We smiled when we read the Kitzmiller decision by that Lutheran, Judge Jones. But never mind us believers – you should hear what the atheists among us say. Oh that’s right, you do. A pity.

  4. JewishAtheist says:

    It is certainly true that the events leading up to each person’s parentage, etc. are often very unlikely. But given 5 billion people (is it 6?) it becomes probable that something “like that” will happen.

    And given billions of years, and billions of billions of amino acids floating around the Earth, it becomes probable (or at least possible) that something like RNA or some sort of RNA-precursor will happen.

    The fact is, nobody has any idea how to compute the probability of RNA forming on Earth billions of years ago. There are tons of variables and we can only make the wildest guesses about them. We also don’t know how many Earth-like planets are out there, and there could be billions of those, as well. (If it had been somewhere other than Earth, intelligent beings there would be saying, “Look how improbable! It happened here!”) It’s not fair to conclude that the rise of RNA is too improbable, considering.

    Especially since the only thing we do know for sure is that RNA did happen, G-d or no G-d.

  5. Yaakov Menken says:

    1.5,

    I refer you back to the Sisson memo, because he has addressed this claim as well.

    The usual “mainstream science” response is that this math is irrelevant because no hypothesis has yet been offered that provides sufficient detail regarding how DNA arose, and how it evolves, such that mathematical analysis can be applied. But this response fails because the probability of an outcome can be calculated without knowledge of the process that produced the outcome. For example, fraud detection statistical analysis is used to spot non-random patterns in such areas as credit-card purchases, bank account transactions, data reporting fraud in scientific papers, and other fields, without knowledge of how the perpetrator obtained the information used to carry-out the fraud. Moreover, the inability of science to propose a mathematically-testable hypothesis despite the passage of fifty-two years since the discovery of the DNA code legitimately causes doubt that we should continue to have faith that someday, science will propose a hypothesis that, when analyzed statistically, plausibly could be explained by “chance.”

    It is certainly true that the events leading up to each person’s parentage, etc. are often very unlikely. But given 5 billion people (is it 6?) it becomes probable that something “like that” will happen. But when the probability is 10-120, then even with millions of years to work with, it remains vanishingly unlikely. We live and die based upon the statement that probabilities far greater than that are not different from zero — in other words, despite a far greater likelihood that something happened by chance, we decide it’s not chance and respond accordingly.

    You would wipe out all of modern medicine if you decided that even a one in 10,000 possibility should be attributed to chance. With that declaration, you decide that those cured by chemotherapy merely “lucked out”, cigarettes don’t cause cancer, and, for that matter, washing your hands doesn’t halt the spread of germs. Because there’s a vanishingly small possibility that any of those statements is true, also.

    But we don’t live our lives by numbers like that.

  6. 1.5 opinions says:

    As Akiva pointed out, it is absurd for anyone, Nobel laureate or otherwise, to claim to calculate the probability of a certain evolutionary step occurring by chance. It is even more absurd to use the fact that this step has occurred as evidence against evolution. Proteins formed. So did RNA and DNA. There is 100% probability that those events occurred, whether by the hand of Hashem, random interactions, or both.

    Take a simple example. Think of all the random events and coincidences that went into producing you. Well, let’s see. My genetic makeup was one of millions and millions possible from my two parents. They happened, based on external factors, to decide to have a child 9 months before my birth. My parents met during the Vietnam war. That brought my dad into the army and into my mom’s locale. That war had to do with fear of communism, which had to do with the Soviet Union. Oh, and Karl Marx. And his parents. Maybe they met randomly in a shop? The point is, if you calculated the probability of your own birth occurring “randomly,” I suspect the 10^-120 figure wouldn’t be far off. Is that proof that Hashem arranged the world for millennia for me to be born? I’d like to think so. But, I can also track back my own existence through random interactions of people and world events–without any one, I would not be here.

    So, if the best that ID proponents can muster is a post facto, nonsense probability, they are on weak scientific footing.

    Here’s my suggestion. In the pocket in which you keep the note saying that Hashem created the world just for you, add a little note detailing the myriad historical improbabilities that led to your own existence–to add to your awe of what Hashem has done for you personally. In the pocket in which you keep the note saying that you came from dust and will return to it, add a little note detailing all the myriad historical improbabilities that led to your own existence–to add to your humility, knowing that at each step, it could have been different.

  7. Charles B. Hall says:

    I’ve previously expressed my view of the false dichotomy between science and God and won’t add further. But I wanted to comment on two other aspects of David Klinghoffer’s article.

    The first is his comment,

    ‘When science at last finds mechanistic explanations for every presumed miracle, where will that leave God?’

    Notwithstanding the fact that many scientific explanations aren’t mechanistic but descriptive and predictive, science will never explain all natural phenomenon even in a non-mechanistic manner. Every scientific discovery brings more questions — and thus everything added to our understanding of HaShem’s universe adds even more to the long list of things we don’t understand. Before, we didn’t even know we didn’t understand them! This is a point that I make to humanist atheists, but it does apply here. I am reminded of HaShem’s response to Iyov. While we have learned a lot about the natural world than would have been imagined a century or two ago, we also know that it is far more complex than ever imagined and we are like Iyov, not in a position, never in a position to explain it all. For the believing scientist, it should be humility-inducing; for David Kinghoffer, he can be assured that his question will never need to be addressed. For myself, I can say that this inherent inability to ever explain everything is one of the things that makes science so exciting. There is always more to discover. And there always will be.

    (Yes, I see a parallel here to Torah study.)

    The other issue is the stark dichotomy between David Kinghoffer’s attitude and Prof. Weinberg’s. It is painful to see such an important Jewish writer express such open hostility toward science, and it is painful to see such an important Jewish scientist express such open hostility toward religion. The attitude of both will discourage Jews who are sympathetic to our tradition from pursuing scientific careers and will push Jews interested in science away from that tradition. This is all completely unnecessary, and bad for both science and for our religion. Rabbis Menken and Weinreb are far better spokespeople for the two sides of this controversy.

  8. JewishAtheist says:

    Natural selection only works once there are two things between which to naturally select. The “Darwin” crowd says that chance was sufficient to form life. The “ID” crowd says chance was insufficient to form life.

    The “Darwin” crowd says nothing about what happened before the first lifeform formed. Evolution is the theory of what happened since then.

    BTW, a majority of believers in Darwinian evolution also believe in God. Even among scientists, 40% of professional biologists believe in “theistic evolution,” (as opposed to naturalistic or atheistic evolution) which you would have us believe is identical to ID. It’s obviously not identical, or those scientists would be onboard. If you believe in theistic evolution, say so. Don’t wiggle-waggle with this ID nonsense.

  9. Yaakov Menken says:

    JA,

    Natural selection only works once there are two things between which to naturally select. The “Darwin” crowd says that chance was sufficient to form life. The “ID” crowd says chance was insufficient to form life.

    That’s not necessarily supernatural — Crick was an athiest, yet he proposed “directed panspermia” simply because chance was insufficient to explain the complexity of DNA.

  10. Sammy Finkelman says:

    Imagine if I propose, as the Onion did in jest, a theory of Intelligent Falling. I then go around criticizing the theory of gravity, saying for example that we don’t even know how gravity could work at a distance, that nobody has observed a so-called “graviton,” and that Einstein’s theory of gravitation doesn’t even mesh with quantum theory! Obviously, I would conclude, there must be an intelligent being which makes objects be attracted to each other. Hence, we should teach the theory of Intelligent Falling (IF) along with the theory of gravity. /

    This is very possibly – although maybe not 100% – the problem is it is not rigorous and it would be difficult to make rigorous – a good proof. There are problems or very important gaps in physics – although if we limit it just to gravity, there is the idea that maybe gravity is merely a distortion of geometry.

    Physics does not deny that this coul be aproof of the existence of God and intelligent design – in facvt it is quite seriously proposed as the answer to the question of why certain constants are exactly what they are. Ways around it are for instance proposing an infinity of universes with different rules of nature, or that maybe the laws vary and we just happen to be here.

    This whole idea is called the anthropomorphic principle See for instance:

    Greg Moses: Bush Teaches Intelligent Design in Prison
    As I understand it, the anthropomorphic principle states that chances of us being
    here are narrow enough to indicate some bias in the order of things. …
    http://www.counterpunch.org/moses08042005.html – 37k – Cached – Similar pages

    ——————————————————————————–

    It isn’t derided. But this is discussed at a fairly high level, so on the other hand it is isn’t taught in schools. But the opposite isn;t taught either’- that there is some naturalistic explanation

  11. Akiva says:

    > But it is lousy science to deny students an applied case of probability and statistics

    The problem here is that there is no meaningful way to calculate the probability.

    (Well, there is — it’s 100%, since we are here — but anything else is just speculation)

  12. JewishAtheist says:

    ID doesn’t claim to be a completely different theory of origins; it claims to look at probabilities.

    It’s called Intelligent Design. Design happens at the origin.

    The only thing ID says is that once one analyzes the probabilities, science is unable to explain our origins through evolution by chance.

    Evolution doesn’t say evolution happened by chance. That’s where natural selection fits in.

    ID merely says that there are too many steps along the evolutionary path whose probability for chance occurrance is so close to zero that the difference is insignificant.

    If you’re right, perhaps my impression of ID is off. I was under the impression that ID does not include descent with modification, not that it was a form of theistic evolution. Either way, though, it’s still not science. Science deals with naturalistic explanations, not supernatural ones.

  13. Yaakov Menken says:

    JA,

    Please check the previous threads on this topic — we did that discussion already. What you claim ID says isn’t at all the same thing as what ID itself says, and that’s the problem. ID doesn’t claim to be a completely different theory of origins; it claims to look at probabilities.

    “Intelligent Falling” would require that science be unable to explain why things fall. That’s untrue. The only thing ID says is that once one analyzes the probabilities, science is unable to explain our origins through evolution by chance. ID does not contradict any of the relationships between species. ID merely says that there are too many steps along the evolutionary path whose probability for chance occurrance is so close to zero that the difference is insignificant. In other words, it looks like it happened that way — but with intelligent input, for otherwise it would not have happened.

    In fact, Dr. Shmuel seems to have found the perfect balance. The problem, I think, is giving ID a name. It’s not a theory worth a name, it’s an analysis of the numbers. So fine, teach evolution, he is saying, but be honest along the way. If the current analysis of the likelihood of chance formation of a needed protein is one in 10-120, then say so — and leave it to the students to reach their own conclusions.

  14. shmuel says:

    As a frum physician I don’t beleive that ID should be taught in the science class. It is not a scientific theory open to scientific investigation. However, what should be done is have current evoultionary theory be taught as a scientific theory. That means pointing out the different areas of scientific concern that causes the entire theory to be put into question. The interested student will then be able to weigh and consider the evidence for and against the theory and can investigate other areas of possible answer. This should lead him to ID or creationism which can be studied with the proper teacher and in the proper setting.

  15. JewishAtheist says:

    Evolution is a scientific theory because it is falsifiable and makes meaningful predictions. ID is NOT a scientific theory because it meets neither of those requirements. ID consists entirely of criticizing evolution, as if disproving one makes the other true.

    Imagine if I propose, as the Onion did in jest, a theory of Intelligent Falling. I then go around criticizing the theory of gravity, saying for example that we don’t even know how gravity could work at a distance, that nobody has observed a so-called “graviton,” and that Einstein’s theory of gravitation doesn’t even mesh with quantum theory! Obviously, I would conclude, there must be an intelligent being which makes objects be attracted to each other. Hence, we should teach the theory of Intelligent Falling (IF) along with the theory of gravity.

  16. Michoel says:

    I just reread your post and maybe you’re right. But I think that is not what he means.

  17. Michoel says:

    “he says that there is “no coherent reconciliation between God and Darwin.” That, at least from a Jewish perspective, is simply not true.” For you to say that it is “simply” not true, to to overstate your own case. Many talmidei chachamim (see in R. Shafran’s follow up to his article) would agree with Klinghoffer. The stress is on the word “coherent”. Not to say that one is necissarily an apikores for trying to resolve the too. (IMO, very good arguments could be made to say that one who believes in Darwinism is an apikores, but that is not for now.)