Why We Are All ID Dummies

letter-447577_1280

Oh dear. At least one can say in favor of this posting that it’s accurately titled. Beyond that, it reminds me how important it is, including for rabbis, to hesistate to express opinions on subjects on which they haven’t educated themselves sufficiently or at all. Anyone interested in understanding why ID is not a “God of the gaps” argument should look here: http://www.discovery.org/scripts/viewDB/index.php?command=view&id=200

Oh dear, indeed. I wondered how long it would take before David Klinghoffer weighed in on my ID post. His is a welcome contribution. I have abiding affection for David, despite so very rarely agreeing with anything he writes.

I imagine that David believes that critiquing the post falls within his responsibilities as a staff member of the pro-ID Discovery Institute. Those willing to call a spade a spade will concede that at least part of the raison d’etre of said institute is to wrest back some of the ground lost to the improper use of science in the hands of people like Richard Dawkins, who prove that atheists can be as fanatically foolish as their theistic counterparts. About that, I suspect we are not in any disagreement. While I believe David completely missed the point – especially in regard to Rabbi Slifkin’s essay – I don’t want to be guilty of missing one of David’s. Intelligent design material should be read and digested, even by those who are skeptical as to whether it should be seen as science or not. My personal leanings are in the latter direction, but that issue isn’t half as important as how we conceive of G-d’s role in the world around us, both past and present.

On this, I will admit to being a maximalist. I believe that it is part of the mandate of every Torah Jew to see the Will of G-d in all existence, His presence in all phenomena. It does not matter whether one holds like the Rambam cited by Ramban at the end of Bo, or the Ramban himself; whether one embraces a “natural law” or sees it as an imaginary smoke-screen for the reality behind it. Les asar panui minei (there is no place void of Him) as the Zohar says.

This was Rabbi Slifkin’s point. ID’ers try to convince people that they have given evolution a free ride, that a Higher Intelligence is what the facts point to. (They should be commended for this, even if they may be wrong as to whether this is science or philosophy.) But they do it by pointing out where conventional evolutionary science falls short of explaining what we observe. Precisely at that point we must invoke G-d. The mindset to which ID is popularly addressed is one in which G-d can only be successfully invoked to explain what “conventional” or “natural” law cannot. It does not matter a whit whether it is a “gap” that commends turning to G-d or an “inference to the best explanation,” as the author of the linked piece prefers. In other words, it does not matter whether people turn to G-d because of something in the evidence that is not there, or because of some striking feature that is. Both of these imply that for many people, seeing the role of G-d would not be so crucial absenting those factors. To the frum Jew – those who accept his thesis on the compatibility of a G-d driven evolution and those who do not – G-d is seen at least as much in the readily “understood” or “comprehended” part of the universe as in what is not so understood. Where the atheist sees nothing but randomness, where those of other faiths see an autonomous natural law, the frum Jew sees the wondrous presence and wisdom of G-d. (For a view that I have particular dislike, consider the words of the director of the Vatican Observatory. “If they respect the results of modern science, religious believers must move away from the notion of a dictator God, a Newtonian God who made the universe as a watch that ticks along regularly. Perhaps God should be seen more as a parent or as one who speaks encouraging and sustaining words… The universe has a certain vitality of its own like a child does. It has the ability to respond to words of endearment and encouragement”)

Frum people who are unsure about whether to jump on the ID bandwagon don’t reject the central premise that G-d in fact is the Cause of life. Frum opponents of ID believe that just how Hashem accomplished His Creation is largely irrelevant. He is the proximal Cause of all phenomena. It simply does not matter whether He created the world in ten literal utterances six thousand years ago, or through an evolutionary process inherent in the conditions He set into place at some initial creation fifteen billion years ago, or whether He set an evolutionary process in motion and then tweaked the process through some Intelligent Design intervention at multiple places along the way. (Given the fact that He acts outside the limitations of time, I have absolutely no idea of what the real difference is between the second and third options anyway.) The bottom line is that the existence, shape and order of all things is the result of the active sustaining Will of Hashem.

As far as expressing “opinions on subjects on which they haven’t educated themselves sufficiently,” I am hard pressed to understand the target of his barbs. If it is me – I didn’t express an opinion. I cited the opinions of two authors who had written pieces on ID that were not the boilerplate presentations. If he meant the two authors themselves, he is even further off the mark. Dr. Aviezer’s mainstream scientific credentials will go head to head with anyone’s; Rabbi Slifkin has spent more time as a layperson in the serious study of science than any layperson I’ve met. I would be very surprised if David can match his grasp.

What really disturbs me about all the brouhaha concerning models and timetables for creation is that it is more tragic than pointless. It is tragic because so much confusion abounds. So much confusion abounds because for the first time in hundreds of years – perhaps ever? – we do not have Torah luminaries who have devoted themselves to taking on the challenge posed by general culture. (I do not fault them in any manner or form for this. They have enough on their plates. I can still feel sorry for us, and for the honor of Torah.) Those who oppose evolution as a matter of principle (certainly their entitlement) simply shrug their shoulders at the evidence for it (note: I wrote evidence, not proof), or even dismiss it entirely. They do not own up to the voluminous work supporting evolution. If evolution is incorrect, these phenomena need explanations – not appeals to outdated science, gross inaccuracies, and the citing of marginal figures. The same holds true in other areas, such as archeology and Biblical criticism. The standard conclusions are wrong – but the phenomena noted call for explanations, and no one in the Torah world cares enough to provide them. People who have studied too much to just ignore these phenomena then often find it more satisfying to go far outside Torah circles for enlightenment.

I recall Rav Bulman zt”l telling us about those in the nineteenth century who threw themselves into the work of answering the new Higher Criticism, especially Rav Yaakov Mecklenburg (HaKsav VeHakabbalah), the Netziv (Haamek Davar), and Rav SR Hirsch. The Malbim had started Artzos HaChaim – and could have written what would have become the Mishnah Berurah – but understood that he had to make clear the organic connection between Torah she-b’ksav and the Oral Law that was so cynically rejected by the Reformers.

Imagine if we had a Rav Dovid Zvi Hoffman today, doing for biology what he did for Biblical criticism. David and I might have more important things to argue about.

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10 Responses

  1. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “They already have Yated”

    The Yated or Hamodia doesn’t satisfy everyone’s needs! There are people in the broader Torah world who don’t fit neatly into any category.

    The same goes for organizations. I went to the Agudah convention Motzoie Shabbos keynote session last night , and as usual, there were important and thought-provoking speeches. Rabbi Frand spoke of the importance of minimizing machlokes(controversy), which is an important topic. At the end of his speech, he mentioned that people shouldn’t take the Agudah, or the work that it does for granted. I fully agree with him, as the organization accomplishes a lot of good for the Jewish people, and it may be under-appreciated.

    An organization or a newspaper tries to unite and include as many people as possible. But it is impossible to include everyone under the same tent,and compromises and a consensus must be reached. Thus there is a policy of “smol docheik v’ymein m’karev”. But there should be a place for people who don’t fit neatly into any particular group, and I think that this is an entirely legitimate need.

  2. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    JO wrote:

    – similarly, there ought to be a blog that similarly critiques news items in fulfillment its responsibility as purveyors of the Torah true point of view

    1) They already have Yated
    2) People who are interested in THE Torah-true point of view (stress on singular, and clear and known) shouldn’t be reading blogs, or have internet access altogether!

  3. Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

    JA wrote:

    What the article Klinghoffer linked to pointed to was something else entirely: evidence that NDS is not the best explanation for the evidence, but some other mechanism is.

    People with emunah who are not troubled by any seeming tension between Torah and science don’t need ID to tell them that HKBH is the Creator. Those with emunah who are nonetheless troubled are ill-served by the promise of some mechanism that will be discovered one day that will supplant current evolutionary thinking. They want explanations for the voluminous evidence that points to the development of organisms over time, and the established utility of evolutionary theory to successfully predict findings, which is the hallmark of good scientific theory. The former don’t need any scientific theory; the latter are not satisfied with shrugged shoulders and assertions that answers will come in the future. They are best served by a harmonizing of evolution with Torah – precisely what Rabbi Slifkin did – and very much does assume that it did not occur without HKBH designing and executing it. Neither group needs ID.

    “Both of these imply that for many people, seeing the role of G-d would not be so crucial absenting those factors.”

    They imply what is self-evidently true: If the mechanism of evolution is random mutation, belief in God is a matter of faith, and there is no particular reason for an agnostic to be led to see God’s hand. That is Dawkins case. If evolution is teleological, intelligent design is the natural conclusion. It has nothing to do with whether God is crucial to a believer but rather how easy or difficult it is to deny God’s presence.

    But Rabbi Slifkin was not speaking to agnostics. He pointed out what is undeniably true – HKBH’s majesty is not in the slightest diminished by learning of naturalistic mechanisms for the operation of any part of the universe. As their architect and sustainer, these laws and phenomena only speak of His glory. If ID’s contentions could somehow be verified, we will have arrived at no different conclusion: that HKBH is the Creator.

    Yes, agnostics are not going to see the Yad Hashem in the natural world, and the current ferment about ID is therefore good news. Every individual whose complacency is shaken, who sees the shallowness in the smugness of Dawkins et al, is another person who might make room for the discovery of the Divine. About this we do not disagree. Ferment, however, does not imply that the ID’ers will prevail. And if tomorrow, arguendo, there would appear theories and evidence that convincingly address the issues raised by ID’ers, Rabbi Slikfin’s model will still be there, usable by all who find it permissible to conceive of a universe substantially older than 6000 years.

    Avraham Avinu was not a frum Jew until he looked around and decided there must be an intelligent designer.

    Indeed there was an Intelligent Designer. Yet we do not promote emunah built on retracing Avraham’s steps. Our seforim emphasize that we cannot take that route. We believe based on mesorah. Avrohom’s argument was true and correct – but we do not have all of that argument in hand. If we wish to convince not ourselves but others – those who do not feel part of our mesorah – then we had better be able to deal with all the quibbles and criticism. There is enough of that out there that ID may not yet meet that challenge. Every single contention of ID has its challenges and challengers, coming from the majority of the scientific community. There are indeed reasons to suspect bias against ID. But until ID’ers manage to overcome the resistance, Rabbi Slifkin’s approach is still the way to go.

  4. Jewish Observer says:

    “David believes that critiquing the post falls within his responsibilities as a staff member of … ”

    – similarly, there ought to be a blog that similarly critiques news items in fulfillment its responsibility as purveyors of the Torah true point of view

    (c’mon guys, you can let this one through …)

  5. Moshe S. says:

    >

    You are confusing intelligent design with Intelligent Design. Slifkin is not against the former. Avraham concluded that there was an intelligent designer from the entirety of the universe, not from cellular biology. It is the ID movement that would say that Avraham’s conclusion was theologically suspect, since the phenomena that he observed are indeed explicable in terms of natural law.

    The relevant paragraph from the article that David Klinghoffer refers to is:

    Design theorists infer a past intelligent cause based upon present knowledge of cause and effect relationships. Inferences to design thus employ the standard uniformitarian method of reasoning used in all historical sciences, many of which routinely detect intelligent causes. We would not say, for example, that an archeologist had committed a “scribe of the gaps” fallacy simply because he inferred that an intelligent agent had produced an ancient hieroglyphic inscription. Instead, we recognize that the archeologist has made an inference based upon the presence of a feature (namely, “high information content”) that invariably implicates an intelligent cause, not (solely) upon the absence of evidence for a suitably efficacious natural cause.

    Yet the reason who nobody would say that the archeologist had committed a “scribe of the gaps” fallacy is that he is not positing the creation of something from nothing. But the ID advocate is positing the creation of information-rich DNA from nothing. The God-of-the-gaps problem does not only refer to the gap in scientific knowledge, it also refers the gap in the operation of natural laws in the universe.

    If the Creator can use ordinary naturalistic laws to create so much, why the need to posit that there are some cases where He didn’t use them?

  6. Yoel Ostroff says:

    There is a core issue of Torah at stake here which is whether it is permissible to substitute naturalistic Darwinian explanations for the first chapter of the Torah. To put it as succintly as possible, we do not make kiddush on Shabbos to commemorate the evolution of “modified monkeys” by chance naturalistic processes.

    It is not just a question of Teleology (Who is the Designer), but it is also an issue of the Agency of creation (chance naturalistic processes or meta-natural creation solely via Divine fiat).

    For sources in the Rambam see the (currently ongoing) Slifkin-Coffer debate at:

    http://www.toriah.com/wiki/index.php?title=Slifkin_-_Coffer_Debate

    (Click on “Discusion” if you want a brief summary of the sources).

    It is interesting that Intelligent Design Theorists have the same problem with their liberal colleagues that I have with R. Adlerstein’s position.

    http://www.toriah.com/wiki/index.php?title=Religious_Darwinist_-_an_Oxymoron%3F

    (Though I respect what ID is trying to achieve, I feel it is only the very bottom rung of the ladder to a full understanding of the real account in Genesis – meta-natural creation).

  7. Baruch Horowitz says:

    “If evolution is incorrect, these phenomena need explanations – not appeals to outdated science, gross inaccuracies, and the citing of marginal figures… The standard conclusions are wrong – but the phenomena noted call for explanations, and no one in the Torah world cares enough to provide them.”

    This is a general issue regarding intellectually rigorous defenses of Torah in general, or a particular hashkafa in particular. I think that it is better not to offer any argument, than to offer a weak one.

    Much depends on the proper forum, as it is understandable that we would not want to expose innocent people to questions that they might not have had. But those who do think about such things, need to be able to satisfy their intellect, while at the same time be able to move on, and benefit from experiential aspects of Yahadus.

    Whether Emunah(belief) or Hashkafa(ideology) issues, I see drawbacks in the long run in using less than fully intellectually acceptable methods, such as critiquing a publication and not permitting the author to respond; quoting Torah sources, but not fully, or only selectively; not printing letters to the editor; or altering, for ideological reasons, a picture in a biography. Our Torah is a Torah of Truth(Toras Emes), and it is strong enough for us to be able to respond in an intellectually honest manner. Perhaps the publications that use the above-mentioned methods to protect more insular communities, should refer people to other outlets where further discussion would take place, to protect themselves from legitimate criticism.

  8. Nachum Lamm says:

    “…we do not have Torah luminaries who have devoted themselves to taking on the challenge posed by general culture.”

    Don’t you mean “we do not have *charedi* Torah luminaries…”? (Almost by definition.) There are quite a few Torah luminaries devoted to that subject.

    “Frum opponents of ID believe that just how Hashem accomplished His Creation is largely irrelevant. He is the proximal Cause of all phenomena. It simply does not matter…”

    It certainly does matter to many “frum opponents of ID” who believe firmly in the truth of science while believing in God. It’s not either/or.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    It’s not so unusual for a debater to go after the opponent’s weakness. This in itself does not suggest that the opposing argument is true in other respects. So if ID proponents make a tactical decision to focus on gaps, that could be all it is.

  10. ja says:

    “It does not matter a whit whether it is a “gap” that commends turning to G-d or an “inference to the best explanation,” as the author of the linked piece prefers. In other words”

    It matters a great deal. The former is something that current theorizing may eventually account for; the latter is a statement that current theorizing has missed the mark and a different model will be needed to explain the evidence.

    “In other words, it does not matter whether people turn to G-d because of something in the evidence that is not there, or because of some striking feature that is.”

    You’ve missed the essential aspect. “Striking feature that is (evidence for God)” means pointing to specific phenomena that are not explained by neo-darwinian synthesis. For anything like this, future developments may explain the phenemona we now see in terms of NDS. What the article Klinghoffer linked to pointed to was something else entirely: evidence that NDS is not the best explanation for the evidence, but some other mechanism is. That is not a god of the gaps approach, nor is it a failure to appreciate that God can work through any mechanism He pleases.

    “Both of these imply that for many people, seeing the role of G-d would not be so crucial absenting those factors.”

    They imply what is self-evidently true: If the mechanism of evolution is random mutation, belief in God is a matter of faith, and there is no particular reason for an agnostic to be led to see God’s hand. That is Dawkins case. If evolution is teleological, intelligent design is the natural conclusion. It has nothing to do with whether God is crucial to a believer but rather how easy or difficult it is to deny God’s presence.

    “Frum opponents of ID believe that just how Hashem accomplished His Creation is largely irrelevant. ”

    so do many supporters of ID. The evidence is what it is. All these critiques of ID are missing how much ferment there is in the field right now.

    You are saying that frum Jews can go on believing what they always did. That’s fine. But there are a lot of other people in the world. Avraham Avinu was not a frum Jew until he looked around and decided there must be an intelligent designer. According to Slifkin, his conclusion was “theologically suspect.” But if the evidence points to design, one is a fool to deny it just because Slifkin is arguing that faith is “purer” if you prove that you see God in random mechanisms of evolution too (and this is the theological argument against ID).

    “He set into place at some initial creation fifteen billion years ago, or whether He set an evolutionary process in motion and then tweaked the process through some Intelligent Design intervention at multiple places along the way. (Given the fact that He acts outside the limitations of time, I have absolutely no idea of what the real difference is between the second and third options anyway.)”

    It is clear that you have missed the main points in the article Klinghoffer linked to. He is not arguing for evolution with tweakings of design. The only interesting question is the question of teleology. Everything else is trivial. He is critiquing NDS as a model of evolution – not asserting that evolution happens with tweaks, but saying that evolution happens in a different way than the dominant theory asserts.

    “As far as expressing “opinions on subjects on which they haven’t educated themselves sufficiently,” I am hard pressed to understand the target of his barbs.If it is I – I didn’t express an opinion.”

    Sure you did; you praised the articles. I cannot understand why you praise an article that claims that chazal’s approach to proofs of design is “theologically offensive” What is Slifkin claiming? When R Akiva argued from design, was that theologically offensive, because he didn’t see that God could work through nature, or is it only offensive to argue that way today, now that NDS is the regnant model of evolution?

    “Rabbi Slifkin has spent more time as a layperson in the serious study of science than any layperson I’ve met. I would be very surprised if David can match his grasp.”

    I have been relatively impressed with Slifkin up till now. Evolutionary theory is a specialized field. He is not up on the science. Dr Aviezer is a physicist. He doesn’t address criticisms of NDS (and one can’t tell from the article if he is acquainted with them) and he is actually, without realizing it, arguing at the end of the piece for a version of ID that is consistent with what Klinghoffer writes and links to – namely that God set a process in motion. The anthropic principle that Dr Aviezer supports asserts that there are certain parameters to creation that were set in place that support the existence of man, and post Creation, nature takes its course. All ID suggests is that teleology is at work. ID proposes that God set a process of evolution in motion whose end result is man, and this can be detected from what we see today. There is no need to posit that there is periodic intervention in creation. He’s debunking a straw man, which is what Klinghoffer told you in fewer words.