Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Guest Post: Is the Purim story a model for Theistic Evolution?




The comparison of theistic Darwinian evolution with the providence behind the Purim story is faulty for the following reason. The classic commentators to Megillas Esther typically pinpoint which events in the story proved to be pivotal and directly providential. Examples include: the unlikely refusal of Vashti to appear at the feast, The fortuitous overhearing of the plot against the life of the emperor by Mordechai the sleeplessness of the emperor together with the merit of Mordechai read to him precisely when hamman pays the emperor an unusual early morning visit the stumbling of hamman upon Esther at the moment the emperor returns from his walk. etc.,etc. 

The commentators imply that the Divine providence behind the Purim story is not merely perceived through the ultimate salvation of the Jews from extreme peril at the hands of Hamman. It is the specific timing and manipulation of specific events and characters involved as the story unfolds which make the divine providence manifest in the Purim story. True, they aren't open miracles which defy any law of nature, but the Purim story serves to explicitly place G-d within the human world and serves to illustrate His active interest and ongoing involvement in human history and the fate of the Jews. It is not just a story about faith in the unseen hand Divine Providence. It is a story which serves as confirmation and vindication of that faith in the real world. The events cannot be adequately explained by an observer, without invoking a Providential hand. 

The Divine providence which Rabbi Slifkin is attributing to Darwinian evolution is abstract and completely imperceptible to any theoretical close observer. One only "sees" G-d's involvement in these events (or in their final result) as purely an expression of faith. From an observer's point-of-view, this faith is arbitrarily inserted by the believer and contributes nothing to the understanding of the events in practical terms. This is not how the commentaries describe the Providence behind the events of the Purim story. Thus, ID is more closely parallel to the Purim story inasmuch as it pinpoints those precise areas where the materialistic explanations fall short and an Intelligent force becomes manifest in the development of life. 

And just as the classic commentators certainly do not exclude the expression of faith that G-d is ultimately behind all events of history and all natural processes, even if they are not manifest, the proposition of ID similarly does not rule out such a faith. It merely analyzes if and when Divine providence upgrades to a more open and manifest level--when materialistic forces decisively fail to deliver a cogent explanation for the phenomena and it is scientifically compelling to invoke a non-material manipulation. But Rabbi Slifkin's charge that the ID approach is heresy reveals a deep misunderstanding of the cautious, critical method of identifying those demonstrable areas of a higher manifestation of Providence evident in the development of life.

(The above was submitted as an anonymous comment, but seems important in its own right. Comments to it will be open as usual. I very much appreciate the respectful tone that those who have contributed comments have adopted. This is not to say that vigorous critiques of our posts are not appreciated. They are and they allow us to achieve clarity, if not agreement. Also, as is usual on this blog, authors of our posts are unfortunately unable to guarantee a response, much as they would love to do it)

49 comments:

  1. What about a lottery, such as that used to divide Eretz Yisroel (in fact, Mishlei speaks about how every lottery is determined by H')? To use your words: "One only "sees" G-d's involvement in these events (or in their final result) as purely an expression of faith. From an observer's point-of-view, this faith is arbitrarily inserted by the believer and contributes nothing to the understanding of the events in practical terms."

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  2. Yissachar, no one says lotteries are supposed to act as evidence that G-d determines results. I would not attempt to prove whether G-d controls history, or even exists, by tossing a coin.

    As the Guest Poster said, "the classic commentators certainly do not exclude the expression of faith that G-d is ultimately behind all events of history and all natural processes, even if they are not manifest."

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  3. R. Tzvi, if you check R. Slifkin's book, he does argue that even with an evolutionary understanding, the natural world does act as evidence for God.

    On another note, can you figure out why Dr. Ostroff keeps ignoring the fact that R. Slifkin is presenting the model of theistic evolution, and keeps portraying R. Slifkin as an atheist who does not believe that God is involved in the creation and operation of the world? See the comments by Rafi and myself at the end of this post: http://slifkin-opinions.blogspot.com/2010/10/darwins-blind-watchmaker-thesis-trips.html.

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  4. The classic commentators to Megillas Esther typically pinpoint which events in the story proved to be pivotal and directly providential

    I don't know much about evolution, but certainly the general natural world is replete with examples that are clearly providential to the believer. I recently read an article that pointed out that the property of ice to float is quite odd. At less than 4 degrees Celsius, water suddenly becomes less rather than more dense.

    And so what? The article speculates that the entire earth would freeze over were it not so, as too much heat would escape from the polar seas without a layer at ice at top to provide insulation.

    Caveat #1 - I don't have the book in front of me and may have bungled the explanation.

    Caveat #2 - This point is itself neutral in regards to the dispute at hand. Nonetheless, I would not be surprised if those holding by theistic evolution could provide providential pivots.

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  6. Yissachar wrote: R. Tzvi, if you check R. Slifkin's book, he does argue that even with an evolutionary understanding, the natural world does act as evidence for God.

    Fine. But the Torah says that the mechanism through which the world's inhabitants developed into mature form was meta-natural and not the mechanism in effect now. So evolution is not why we are here.

    On another note, can you figure out why Dr. Ostroff keeps ignoring the fact that R. Slifkin is presenting the model of theistic evolution, and keeps portraying R. Slifkin as an atheist who does not believe that God is involved in the creation and operation of the world?...
    October 20, 2010 4:53 AM


    Dr. Ostroff is very methodical. He wants to clear step one before going to step two. The fact is that Dr. Ostroff has shown that Rabbi Slifkin has repeatedly said (Science of Torah, pg. 193; Challenge of Creation pg. 297)" that Torah is consistant with "the blind watchmaker thesis." Now, the blind-watchmaker thesis, as explicitly defined by those who created the term and advocate the concept, asserts that we are here by mindless, unguided, purposeless processes that did not have us in mind.

    Here are two passages from Dawkin's "The Blind Watchmaker" (available online)

    "All appearances to the contrary, the only watchmaker in nature is the blind forces of physics, albeit deployed in a very special way. A true watchmaker has foresight: he designs his cogs and springs, and plans their interconnections, with a future purpose in his mind's eye. Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind's eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker."

    "A bat is a machine, whose internal electronics are so wired up that its wing muscles cause it to home in on insects, as an unconscious guided missile homes in on an aeroplane. So far our intuition, derived from technology, is correct. But our experience of technology also prepares us to see the mind of a conscious and purposeful designer in the genesis of sophisticated machinery. It is this second intuition that is wrong in the case of living machinery. In
    the case of living machinery, the 'designer' is unconscious natural selection, the blind watchmaker."

    So by definition theistic evolution, which is what RNS really advocates--and certainly the Torah's depiction of Creation as depicted by our baalei mesorah over the millenia--is not consistant with "The Blind Watchmaker Thesis." To make such a claim is to be self-contradictory. It's ridiculous. It's like saying atheism is compatible with monotheism.

    So, alright. You consider this just a technicality. Rabbi Slifkin is technically misusing the term. He means something else.

    Nevertheless, we have not yet heard a recantation of this claim from either Rabbi Slifkin or his defenders.

    I can understand the embarassment.

    But if we are to be methodical--and if RNS is to be honest and straightforward--RNS will admit that he has misused the term, and recant his self-contradictory and ridiculous claim that the blind watchmaker thesis is consistant with the Torah. Then, Dr. Ostroff maintains, we can go on to the next step.

    From his past postings, I am confident that if confronted with this, Rabbi Slifkin will admit that he was mistaken in this particular claim, and probably dismiss it as insignifcant. But it's not insignifcant to someone like Dr. Ostroff who wishes to be methodical. And it will be significant to anyone who who reads RNS's original claim, understands the real meaning of his terms, and thinks that words have meaning.

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  7. "Fine. But the Torah says that the mechanism through which the world's inhabitants developed into mature form was meta-natural and not the mechanism in effect now. So evolution is not why we are here."

    That's a different point, addressed in a previous comment thread. My point is that the claim made in THIS POST is incorrect. I am glad that you concede that.

    "Now, the blind-watchmaker thesis, as explicitly defined by those who created the term and advocate the concept, asserts that we are here by mindless, unguided, purposeless processes that did not have us in mind. "

    We're going in circles here. You know full well that this is not what R. Slifkin believes. And you know full well that a major purpose of his book is to distinguish between the scientific aspect of evolution, and the inferences drawn by Dawkins. R. Slifkin says openly that the metaphysical inferences of Dawkins' approach are not consistent with the Torah. But that does not mean that the scientific parts of Dawkins' approach are not consistent with it!

    Dawkins would also say that the apparent purposefulness in the survival of Am Yisrael and their return to Israel was not the result of any foresight or planning. But this would not mean that his description of the physical, historical processes was wrong. Dawkins would also say that the allocation of Eretz Yisrael via the lottery was not the result of any foresight or planning. But this would not mean that his description of the lottery process was wrong.

    I don't know why you don't get this point. Dr. Ostroff is not being methodical - he is being dishonest.

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  8. R. Zvi, let me ask you this: Is a physicist's explanation of how a lottery works, incompatible with the idea of God directing it? Is a meteorologist's explanation of how the weather works, incompatible with the idea of God directing it?

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  9. Yitz said...
    ... certainly the general natural world is replete with examples that are clearly providential to the believer. I recently read an article that pointed out that the property of ice to float is quite odd. At less than 4 degrees Celsius, water suddenly becomes less rather than more dense....

    Yitz, in 1962 Rav Avigdor Miller, זצ"ל, wrote in his revoltionary Rejoice O Youth! (p. 30):

    "The Evolutionists have blinded themselves against the evidence of the organic world. But the inorganic world is full of marvels of plan and purpose which can open one's eyes to the Truth, and which cannot be explained away by the fanciful explanations of the Evolutionists."

    Among his examples, he writes on p. 32,

    "Consider the marvelous behavior of water. The colder the water becomes, the denser and heavier it is. Thus, the cold layers of water sink to the bottom, with the coldest of all at the lowest level. Accordingly, when water reaches the freezing point and hardens into ice, the ice should then sink to the bottom. Thus the bottom of the rivers and ponds would freeze first and the upper layers next, until the entire river or pond was frozen solid, and all life wuld perish i these bodies of water. The resultant catastrophe would involve more than the loss of food supply from fish, for the rivers and ponds would become dead and would become unfit for use as water; and they would be incurably polluted as a result of losing the living things which keep them fresh. But, miraculously, when the water is cooled to 4 degrees, it suddenly reverses its process of becoming denser and sinking lower. Instead, thenceforth, the colder it becomes the lighter it becomes, so that ice forms not at the bottom but at the top, where it covers the water and shields it against the cold. The bottom of the water is never colder than 4 degrees, thus 1) protecting the living organisms and 2) keeping openthe bodies of water....the rivers and ponds would be frozen so solidly that they would not thaw out completely. The spring rains and melting snows would not be carried away by the rivers, and the contients would turn into marshes."

    Rav Miller, too, was not the first to speak about such marvels of nature. But I highly recommen his writings.

    Nonetheless, I would not be surprised if those holding by theistic evolution could provide providential pivots.

    Yes, such as the above. Back on p. 12, Rav Miller, זצ"ל, wrote:

    "Could not the Evoltionists claim that G-d directed the course of Evolution...?--Now we have come full circle. If miracles of nature are to be ascribed to G-d, why protract thses miracles over aeons of time instead of the six days of Creation? Once they admit the presense of the Living G-d, th entire structure of Evolution topples over."

    Of course, theistic evolutionists will declare that the "overwhelming evidence" nonetheless "forces" them to conclude that willy nilly, evolution, including that of man from earlier forms of life, did occur. But that claim would contradict the Torah as explained by our baalei mesorah for millenia, and is subject to examination by informed thinkers who will not a priori rule out meta-physical occurences--i.e., those informed thinkers not beholden to, or swayed by, current attitudes of academia.

    October 20, 2010 9:59 AM

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  10. Yissachar, you know I get your point, incuding the fact that a physicist's explanation of how a lottery works is not incompatible with the idea of God directing it, and a meteorologist's explanation of how the weather works is not incompatible with the idea of God directing it.

    (Although, of course, the explanaton of an aeons-old evolving world developing man from earlier forms of life is incompatible with the Torah's description as explained by our baalei mesorah.)

    But still,

    "If RNS is to be honest and straightforward--RNS will admit that he has misused the term ["blind watchman thesis," and recant his self-contradictory and ridiculous claim that the blind watchmaker thesis is consistant with the Torah. Then, Dr. Ostroff maintains, we can go on to the next step.

    From his past postings, I am confident that if confronted with this, Rabbi Slifkin will admit that he was mistaken in this particular claim, and probably dismiss it as insignifcant. But it's not insignifcant to someone like Dr. Ostroff who wishes to be methodical. And it will be significant to anyone who who reads RNS's original claim, understands the real meaning of his terms, and thinks that words have meaning."

    I believe Dr. Ostroff is ready to address your point once the first point is settled. He is being methodical, not dishonest.

    Whoever does not straightforwardly admit that the blind watchmaker thesis is incompatible by definition with theistic evolution, and writing otherwise in a book was a mistake, is being dishonest.

    Will you admit it?

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  11. So if a physicist's explanation of how a lottery works is not incompatible with the idea of God directing it, and a meteorologist's explanation of how the weather works is not incompatible with the idea of God directing it, then WHY is a biologist's explanation of how life developed incompatible with the idea of God directing it?!

    (And don't say "Because Dawkins said so." Dawkins has no authority to say that. If Dawkins said that meteorology proves that we are mistaken to be praying to God for rain (and he certainly would say that), this would STILL not mean that a meteorologist's explanation of how the weather works is incompatible with the idea of God directing it.)

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  12. R. Lampel, I would like to give Dr. Ostroff the benefit of the doubt, but getting caught on semantics is not the behavior of a methodical person. R. Slifkin is very clear about what he means with the words he uses.

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  13. Yissachar asked: WHY is a biologist's explanation of how life developed incompatible with the idea of God directing it?!

    It's not. It's incompatible with how Hashem told us He did it.

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  14. So if a physicist's explanation of how a lottery works is not incompatible with the idea of God directing it, and a meteorologist's explanation of how the weather works is not incompatible with the idea of God directing it, then WHY is a biologist's explanation of how life developed incompatible with the idea of God directing it?!

    (And don't say "Because Dawkins said so." Dawkins has no authority to say that. If Dawkins said that meteorology proves that we are mistaken to be praying to God for rain (and he certainly would say that), this would STILL not mean that a meteorologist's explanation of how the weather works is incompatible with the idea of God directing it.)

    Blogger Rafi said...

    R. Slifkin is very clear about what he means with the words he uses.

    Clear that he means the opposite of what they mean. So far, still no admission of mistaken terminology. Refusal to accept correction of one's irresponsible use of terms is not rational behavior.

    October 20, 2010 3:06 PM

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  15. Clear that he means the opposite of what they mean. So far, still no admission of mistaken terminology.

    No problem. Let's spell it out the terminology clearly.

    Dawkin's blind watchmaker thesis and R. Slifkin's theistic evolution are scientifically equivalent, as both see the same natural mechanisms; but they are theologically opposite, as they disagree as to whether God directs the process.

    R. Slifkin makes it clear that when says the "blind watchmaker thesis" is compatible with God, he uses the term in its scientific sense, and disputes its common theological sense.

    Is such a sophisticated use of the term "irresponsible"? Maybe, but only in the sense that he gives his opponents an easy way to confuse the issue.

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  16. Oh, and to YITZ, if you ever see this comment:

    The maximum density of water is at 4 °C, which is one of 67 anomalous properties of water. Pretty amazing.

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  19. Shouldn't post when I'm tired. LOL

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  20. Yissachar asked: WHY is a biologist's explanation of how life developed incompatible with the idea of God directing it?!

    Zvi Lampel: It's not. It's incompatible with how Hashem told us He did it.


    This is not the first time that I'm asking you not to change the subject. Whether evolution is compatible with the Pesukim/ mesorah is not the subject of our discussion. It was discussed in previous posts and comments. The subject of our discussion is whether evolution is innately incompatible with the idea of a Creator.

    But I am glad, very glad, to hear you acknowledge that a biologist's explanation of how life developed is not incompatible with the idea of God directing it. Let's say it again, so we can be clear: R. Zvi Lampel agrees that biological explanations of how life developed are not incompatible with the idea of God directing it.

    So what you are saying is that there is no innate theological problem with this point of R. Slifkin, and Dr. Ostroff was wrong to claim that there is. Your argument is just that R. Slifkin wasn't clear that this is what he meant, and that he used a misleading terminology of "blind-watchmaker" evolution. Well, I don't think that there is anyone in the world who misunderstood him. The entire chapter in his book, "Evolutionary Mechanisms," is dedicated to showing that he is referring to a process created and directed by God.

    On a previous post, Rafi already cited one quote from the book:
    "So far, we have only discussed the argument that the blind-watchmaker thesis need not be incompatible with the concept of God. Theistic evolution fully agrees with the Darwinists, except that it claims that God is behind the whole process."

    I found another:
    "While the evolutionary process may well appear to be random from our perspective, it can simultaneously be directed from God's perspective. Later, we shall explore how so-called blind-watchmaker evolution is not only compatible with God, but can even be seen as evidence for His role as a desginer of life." (p. 298, second edition).

    So, R. Lampel, you already conceded that there is nothing innately problematic (i.e. aside from mesorah/textual issues) about saying that God works through evolution. As for your claim that R. Slifkin wasn't clear that he means that-- this is patently nonsense, as evinced by the quotes above.

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  21. Nice quote, Yissacher, shkoyach.

    Your quote hints to a response to our anonymous blog-post author. The fact that evolution happened through natural means does not minimize God's role in creation, chv"sh. It is the profoundest display of God's wisdom that He created the beauty, complexity, variety, and order that is life through the subtle, consistent principles of chemistry. What could be a greater example of kullam be-hokhma asita?

    And one other thing: let us, all of us, do our best to keep the discussion civil. We are all fighting le-shem shamayim for what we perceive to be truth and ought to respect each other for it.

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  22. Zvi - I only had a vague idea of the miracle as Rav Miller articulated it. thanks

    Rafi - thanks for the 67 anomalous qualities link.

    Zvi, Rafi, and Yissascher - thanks for great dialogue. There is much thought and effort behind this and I appreciate it.

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  23. And one other thing: let us, all of us, do our best to keep the discussion civil.

    I second that. Let's keep in mind that attacks and hyperbole lower the credibility of the offender rather than his intended target.

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  24. Yissacher said...

    R. Tzvi, if you check R. Slifkin's book, he does argue that even with an evolutionary understanding, the natural world does act as evidence for God.

    So, R. Lampel, you already conceded that there is nothing innately problematic (i.e. aside from mesorah/textual issues) about saying that God works through evolution.


    Might I just add that Yissachar here is changing the subject of the post.
    The subject of the post was to dismantle Rabbi Slifkin's charge that ID is heretical because it implies a denial of G-d's ability to work through the mechanisms of nature.
    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2010/10/anti-evolution-heretics.html

    He summarized his position as follows:
    It is surprising, therefore, to find anti-evolutionists insisting that Darwinian evolution is ultimately blind and unplanned and denies God. Are they saying that if these processes were really responsible for evolution, then God could not be involved? This is certainly kefirah - rank heresy. And once one takes that approach, it means that God's role in the Purim story, the Israel lottery, and the State of Israel would also be denied, chas v'shalom. How ironic that the opponents of my work should be the ones to be the genuine kofrim!

    There is another possibility. Maybe these anti-evolutionists are not saying that God could not work via Darwinian mechanisms of evolution. Maybe they agree that God certainly could work through these evolutionary mechanisms, but they are simply saying that, according to the scientists who propose evolution, God was not involved.

    Now, that may well be true for many (but certainly not all) scientists, but what difference does it make? After all, these same scientists would say that God was not involved in the events of the Purim story, the lottery via which the Land of Israel was divided, the survival of the Jewish People over millennia of persecution, and the creation of the State of Israel. But we do not see that as reason to deny the existence of these phenomena, or the historical/ scientific processes via which they occurred! We simply say that the physical, material processes are as described by scientists and historians, but we see God behind it. If there are scientists/ historians who claim that their material explanations of these phenomena rule out a Creator, then we dispute their metaphysical conclusions, but not their explanations of the physical phenomena!


    This post dismantles the first paragraph's parallel drawn from the Purim story cogently. it also explains why ID is not excluding the ability for a believer to insert his faith in G-d being behind the purely natural mechanisms.

    Reb Zvi is only confirming Rabbi Slifkin's second paragraph describing what one of the main anti-evolutionist objections to evolution really is. I don't think this is a concession worthy of gloating over as some big victory.

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  25. What on earth do you mean? It shows that one of Dr. Ostroff's main objections to R. Slifkin, echoed here by R. Lampel, is entirely baseless; and he may even be falsifying R. Slifkin's position.

    (Incidentally, I am not at all convinced that the point about Purim is correct; R. Slifkin argues in his book that evolution, by virtue of its extraordinary results, can be seen as revealing God, just like the events of Purim.)

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  26. Reading the post again, it seems that the author doesn't appreciate the difference between ID and theistic evolution.

    TE sees God at every point in the process, guiding natural law in a superficially random way, until He achieved amazing biodiversity at the end of the process. ID, on the other hand, only sees God at certain steps, when ID claims that for evolution to continue natural law must have been temporarily overridden. The Purim story certainly has more in common with TE than ID.

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  27. >>"R. Slifkin argues in his book that evolution, by virtue of its extraordinary results, can be seen as revealing God, just like the events of Purim.<<"

    That's Rabbi Slifkin's eccentric view of the role of Providence in the Purim story. He basically tailors the role of providence to conform to TE in order to make the parallel.
    The post pointed out that the classic view of the role of Providence is not only in the beneficial result but that it is manifest in the pivotal events themselves.

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  28. >>"TE sees God at every point in the process, guiding natural law in a superficially random way, until He achieved amazing biodiversity at the end of the process."<<

    That "superficially random way" is where the TE parallel to Purim fails.

    And I'm not so sure ID demands any supernatural intervention which temporarily defies any single natural law.
    Can you quote an ID theorist who claims such?

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  29. That "superficially random way" is where the TE parallel to Purim fails.

    I disagree. I couldn't think of a better parallel. In TE, each "random" mutation, which can be explained by a natural cause, was planned by God to achieve a final result. That is exactly how we view every event in the Purim story. God's providence was manifest through a natural, hidden process. How else do you understand the concept of a hidden miracle, a fundamental idea of Purim?

    Perhaps you are right that no laws are actually broken by ID. IDers famously avoid spelling out how their alternative theory works, but their point is that natural mechanisms alone can't account for specific phenomena like "irreducible complexity." I'll revise my distinction with your criticism in mind:

    TE says that all steps of evolution can likely be explained by natural mechanisms, and God gets the credit for having the infinite wisdom to devise such mechanisms and for guiding the entire process. ID implies that God's providence is manifest only in parts of the process where natural mechanism is an insufficient explanation.

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  30. >>"God's providence was manifest through a natural, hidden process."<<

    This sentence is an oxymoron.
    You can't have G-d's providence manifest while simultaneously calling it hidden. You have to choose.
    Rabbi Slifkin's eccentric view that the providence in Purim only need be manifest in the result while all the events themselves are only hidden providence-- is not a view shared with the classic commentators to the Purim story-- as the post spells out quite clearly.

    How else do you understand the concept of a hidden miracle, a fundamental idea of Purim?

    I'm glad you finally asked this question.
    Instead of making up your own ad hoc definition in order to have it fit with your theology,
    I understand it by contrasting with it's opposite-- As the Ramban defines it in his commentary to Chumash:

    "Open miracle" means open defiance of the laws of nature when G-d intervenes in human affairs.
    "Hidden miracle" means obvious, manifest intervention by G-d into human affairs, but only through natural processes.
    There may be a slight difference in degree of G-d's providence being manifest between these two types of miracle, but both can be quite unmistakably manifest. Not hidden.

    To seal the point, I'll take the Ramban's examples in Parshas Bechukosai:
    When only those who live by the Torah receive natural bounty and prosperity and only the wicked suffer sudden natural tragedies and devastation, you have a "Hidden miracle". That's only "hidden" because none of the laws of nature need be broken.
    But the bottom line is that G-d's manipulation in their routine lives is quite open and manifest. No objective observer could claim otherwise.

    All this is simply not true for TE's view of the development of life, and quite true for ID's view of the development of life.

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  31. Instead of making up your own ad hoc definition in order to have it fit with your theology,

    Rabbi - if your objective is to persuade people that don't already agree with you, then you would do well to treat them with respect.

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  32. By the way, The Rambam in very end of his letter on the Resurrection conforms with the Ramban's dichotomy between these two types of miracles, but without using the terms "hidden" and "open".
    http://rambam.merkaz.com/Class%2013%20-%20Letter%20on%20Resurrection.pdf

    "Hidden miracle" does not mean that G-d's providence is hidden and imperceptible. Only that the miracle conforms to natural law. Nothing more.
    That is your mistake.
    Unless you have a classic Jewish source which contradicts the Ramban and says it does?

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  33. >>"Rabbi - if your objective is to persuade people that don't already agree with you, then you would do well to treat them with respect."<<

    Sorry, got a little carried away. No disrespect intended.
    But I do find it somewhat disrespectful of Rabbi Slifkin to accuse someone with heresy merely on the basis of his own eccentric definition of a classic Jewish theological concept.

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  34. Rabbi K - your explanation of the Ramban's definition of hidden miracle is certainly a chiddush for me, so thank you. Is this taken entirely from his commentary on p. Bechukosai? I would like to learn from the source if you could be kind of enough to post the references.

    How indeed does this fit with Purim? The events were not unmistakably manifest, but rather occurred over a very long period and the providence was only revealed retroactively - no?

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  35. "Hidden miracle" does not mean that G-d's providence is hidden and imperceptible. Only that the miracle conforms to natural law. Nothing more. That is your mistake.

    I don't see how this is any different from TE. The miracle of life's development conforms to natural law too. Who said that God's providence is imperceptible? (Please don't quote hacks like Richard Dawkins, R' Slifkin disputes his philosophy as strongly as anyone on this blog.)

    In fact, R' Slifkin argues (CoC 2006, end of chapter 21) that the ability of natural law to produce life testifies to a Designer behind the laws themselves. ID can do nothing that ambitious; it sees God in the gaps of natural law.

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  36. I also note that the Purim miracle was just one example in R. Slifkin's post. The main point is that God often interacts with the world through natural mechanisms. Purim is a good example of that, independent of whether TE qualifies for "hidden miracle" status (and you haven't convinced me that it doesn't).

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  38. I cannot speak for ID. It's a fascinating project to quantify the different levels or definitions of miracles vs. nature (open, hidden, etc.) and relate them to Maasei Breishis, the blatant miracles in our history (stick-to-serpent, splitting of the sea, etc.), the miracles of Purim and Chanukah, and the נסיך שבכל יום עמנו.

    I would suggest that the uniqueness of Purim's miracle was in the ונהפוך הוא aspect, and similarly with Chanukah through which

    (a) the Jewish people were saved

    (b) through the blatant reversal of the ordinary results of natural course of events : רבים ביד מעטים, וכו,

    (c) without however any change in the nature of things (vs. splitting seas, etc.,).

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  39. Rafi said:

    Dawkin's blind watchmaker thesis and R. Slifkin's theistic evolution are scientifically equivalent, as both see the same natural mechanisms; but they are theologically opposite, as they disagree as to whether God directs the process.

    R. Slifkin makes it clear that when [he] says the "blind watchmaker thesis" is compatible with God, he uses the term in its scientific sense, and disputes its common theological sense.

    Rafi, the term “blind watchmaker thesis” is specifically addressing the theological sense. The word “blind” in “the blind watchmaker thesis” is the modifying word that defines the purpose of the phrase. It is addressing the question, “Is the universe the work of a “watchmaker”—someone who intentionally put together a mechanism that will go on working without his future involvement?” And it is answering, “No! It is not! It is the work of a blind watchmaker—who does not know what he is doing.

    We may debate whether one can say that as a rule a “watchmaker thesis,” or a “seeing watchmaker thesis, or a seemingly blind watchmaker thesis is not theologically incompatible with Judaism. But to say that the “blind watchmaker thesis” is not theologically incompatible with Judaism is not merely unclear. It is not an issue of causing confusion. It is a blatantly clear, total self-contradiction and an absurdity.

    Yes, I know what RNS means. But his “reconciliation” or “explanation” is not a modification of the the thesis, but a denial of it. His thesis simply does not support--in fact it contradicts--his statement that "the blind watchmaker thesis" is not incompatible with Judaism.

    Try these:

    Sunday Sabbath observance is not incompatible with orthodox Judaism, with the caveat that it’s done on Saturday.

    Or:

    The worshipping of idols is not incompatible with Judaism, with the caveat it’s directed to Hashem.

    Why the reluctance to simply admit that the statement, despite the double-talking “explanation,” is an absurd, blatant self-contradiction (not merely an unclarity or a confusion)? Admit it, already!

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  40. similarly with Chanukah through which...the Jewish people were saved...without however any change in the nature of things (vs. splitting seas, etc.,).

    Of course, the miracle of the oil was a change of nature, and one may argue that the military victory was also a neis nigleh.

    צ"ע

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  41. Why the reluctance to simply admit that the statement, despite the double-talking “explanation,” is an absurd, blatant self-contradiction (not merely an unclarity or a confusion)? Admit it, already!

    Why the insistence that I see this exactly the way you see it?

    As you say, R. Slifkin is very clear. I don't think anyone ever misunderstood him. He even calls it the "so-called" blind watchmaker thesis, and even turns it on its head to use it for evidence that the laws of nature themselves were Divinely designed.

    This is a semantic argument that isn't getting anywhere. I really don't care what terms R. Slifkin uses or whether his opponents can construe them as self-contradictions, absurdities, or oxymora. TE is still a powerful idea in its own right.

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  42. Dear Rafi, I did not see R. Slifkin write the words "so called". Could you please provide the prooftext?

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  43. The worshipping of idols is not incompatible with Judaism, with the caveat it’s directed to Hashem.


    But that is not true. Even if it's directed to Hashem, it's still rated as idol-worship. Whereas you yourself conceded that one can see God as working through biology. Meteorolists would describe weather patterns as "blind," and historians would describe the processes of history as "blind." You and I would describe lotteries as "random", even though we would clearly mean "only superficially random, but really directed by God."

    So there is no innate problem with theistic evolution. Your complain is only that R. Slifkin's phraseology is misleading. But you yourself admit that you know what he really means - what the whole point of his book is to stress - that it is directed by God. I don't think that there is a single person in the world who thought that he meant anything else (with the possible exception of Dr. Ostroff). So if there is nothing innately problematic with saying that God works through biology, and nobody misunderstood R. Slifkin as saying otherwise, what exactly is your objection?

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  44. "While the evolutionary process may well appear to be random from our perspective, it can simultaneously be directed from God's perspective. Later, we shall explore how so-called blind-watchmaker evolution is not only compatible with God, but can even be seen as evidence for His role as a desginer of life." (p. 298, second edition).

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  45. Rabbi K - your explanation of the Ramban's definition of hidden miracle is certainly a chiddush for me, so thank you. Is this taken entirely from his commentary on p. Bechukosai? I would like to learn from the source if you could be kind of enough to post the references.
    October 21, 2010 4:57 PM

    I'm sorry for the delay in commenting.
    here is the reference in the Ramban's commentary to Bechukosai you requested:

    אבל אלו הברכות שבפרשה הזאת הן כלליות בעם, והן בהיות כל עמנו כולם צדיקים, ולכך יזכיר תמיד בכאן הארץ, ונתנה הארץ, לבטח בארצכם, שלום בארץ, מן הארץ, לא תעבור בארצכם וכבר בארנו כי כל אלה הברכות כולם נסים, אין בטבע שיבואו הגשמים ויהיה השלום לנו מן האויבים ויבא מורך בלבם לנוס מאה מפני חמישה בעשותנו החוקים והמצות, ולא שיהיה הכל הפך מפני זרענו השנה השביעית.

    ואף על פי שהם נסים נסתרים, שעולם כמנהגו נוהג עימהם, אבל הם מתפרסמים מצד היותם תמיד לעולם בכל הארץ. כי אם הצדיק האחד יחיה, ויסיר ה' מחלה מקרבו, וימלא ימיו, יקרה גם זה בקצת רשעים. אבל שתהיה ארץ אחת כולה, ועם אחד תמיד, ברדת הגשם בעתו, ושובע, ושלוה, ושלום, ובריאות, וגבורה, ושברון האויבים, בעניין שאין כמוהו בכל העולם, יוודע לכל כי מאת ה' הייתה זאת.
    ועל כן אמר (דברים כח י): וראו כל עמי הארץ כי שם ה' נקרא עליך ויראו ממך.

    והיפך זה יהיה בקללות, בעונשי הארץ שאמר (פסוק יט): ונתתי את שמיכם כברזל, ועונשי החולי כמו שאמר (דברים כח נט): וחלאים רעים ונאמנים, שיקולל המאכל ויחליא, ויתפרסם הנס בהיותו תמיד קיים בכולם. על כן כתוב (שם כט כא): ואמר הדור האחרון בניכם אשר יקומו מאחריכם והנכרי אשר יבא מארץ רחוקה וראו את מכות הארץ ההיא ואת תחלואיה, שלא יתמהו באיש ההוא אשר רבצה בו כל האלה (שם פסוק יט), כי כן יהיה פעמים רבים כמנהגו של עולם בכל האומות שיבואו מקרים רעים באיש אחד, רק בארץ ההיא יתמהו וישאלו כל הגויים על מה עשה ה' ככה לארץ הזאת (שם פסוק כג), כי כולם יראו וידעו כי יד ה' עשתה זאת ויאמרו (שם פסוק כד): על אשר עזבו את ברית ה' אלוהי אבותם.

    What I believe is clear from the Ramban above is:
    1) These occurrences of consistent fortune and success for the righteous and calamity and misfortune for the wicked are all within the laws of nature. This is why they are called "hidden" miracles.
    2) They are called miracles--nisim-- precisely because they loudly announce the Hand of Divine Providence. All can clearly see G-d's justice in meting out reward for the righteous and punishment for the wicked.
    3)The Ramban constantly makes reference to pesukim which describe NON-JEWISH observers recognizing that this is G-d's hand involved in rewarding and punishing the Jews.

    So this "hidden miracle" is not at all the kind of event which seems "superficially random" to the observer and requires the believer to artificially insert his belief that G-d is ultimately behind the process and guiding it.

    How indeed does this fit with Purim? The events were not unmistakably manifest, but rather occurred over a very long period and the providence was only revealed retroactively - no?

    The author of the post refers you to the classic commentators to Megillas Ester.
    I would recommend seeing the Yosef Lekach/Vilna Gaon commentary for the details. These commentaries-and many midrashim of Chazal--pinpoint numerous events in the narrative which scream out Divine Providence at work.

    The Mishna in Meseches Megilla has a dispute regarding what is the minimum text for the mitzvah of Megilla reading. The most lenient opinion holds it starts in the 6th perek when Achashveirosh cannot sleep and asks to be read the royal records. The Mishna calls this section "Tokfo shel Nes".
    I see this as a clear indication that at least this event in the Purim story is marked as a "hidden miracle" for precisely the reasons we have been discussing.
    The hand of Providence is clearly manifest and is not remotely "superficially random" as Rabbi Slifkin characterizes TE.

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  46. I also note that the Purim miracle was just one example in R. Slifkin's post.

    That is true. But this post seems to have more modest objectives: It was to establish that Rabbi Slifkin's trophy example, the Purim story, which he refers to in ALL versions of this book (Science of Torah, Challenge 2006,2008,2010) as a model for TE, is in fact more of a model for ID.
    As such, Rabbi Slifkin's charge of heresy against the concept of ID is really a charge of heresy against the Ramban's concept of hidden miracles. How odd.

    The other examples in Rabbi Slifkin's post are "johnny-come-lately"s. They don't appear in any but the most recent versions of CoC. I suspect this is precisely because he himself realizes the weakness of relying solely on the Purim Story for supporting TE.

    The main point is that God often interacts with the world through natural mechanisms. Purim is a good example of that, independent of whether TE qualifies for "hidden miracle" status (and you haven't convinced me that it doesn't).

    I'm sorry, I don't believe it is appropriate to fudge these profound theological concepts into a cholent just like that. The Torah is not a free-for-all where one can just take this idea here and borrow that idea there and roll it all up into "conceptual support" for a third idea that you personally ascribe to.
    I think it is clear that all rabbinic Judaism ranks the Purim story as a miracle. It is a candidate for reciting Hallel if not for some technical reasons. The Megilla records that many non-Jews converted to Judaism as a result of Mordechai's sudden meteoric rise to power and influence.
    By contrast, TE-- accurately described by Rabbi Slifkin as "superficially random", where the believer has to insert his faith arbitrarily, comes nowhere close to this hidden miracle status of Purim. The parallel of TE to Purim is an utter failure.
    Once you acknowledge this important point, we can move on.

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  47. וכבר בארנו כי כל אלה הברכות כולם נסים, אין בטבע שיבואו הגשמים ויהיה השלום לנו מן האויבים ויבא מורך בלבם לנוס מאה מפני חמישה בעשותנו החוקים והמצות, ולא שיהיה הכל הפך מפני זרענו השנה השביעית.


    Note that the Rambam makes a similar point [to the one above of the Ramban] in Maamar Techiass HaMeisim: The [ultimate] amelioration of matters brought to people loyal to Hashem, and the [ultimate] losses brought to those who rebel, is a continuous miracle, and the greatest one of all:

    וכבר זכר בתורה שהוא מופת מתמיד, ר"ל תיקון העניינים עם העבודה, והפסדם עם המרי. אמר "והיו בך לאות ולמופת ובזרעך עד עולם." ומפני זה אמרו "אין מזל לישראל", רצו לומר שתיקונם והפסדם אינם לסבה טבעית ולא על מנהג המציאות, אלא נתלה בעבודה ובמרי. וזה אות יותר גדול מכל אות. וכבר בארנו שזה בדין צבור ובדין יחיד, כמו שיראה מן המעשה ההוא והוא נאות לאומרו "ובזרעך עד עולם. "

    ומן המאמר המפורסם באומה "ראה אדם ייסורין באים עליו יפשפש במעשיו".והוא העניין בעצמו הוא המכוון ג"כ באומרו "אשר חלק ה' אלהיך אותם לכל העמים תחת כל השמים, ואתכם לקח ה'.. להיות לו לעם נחלה כיום הזה". ר"ל שענייניהם אינם נוהגים עניין מנהג שאר האומות, אבל ייחדם השם בזה המופת הגדול שיהיו פעולותיהם תמיד נקשרות בתיקון ענייניהם או בהפסדם.

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  48. Sorry I've been away.

    By contrast, TE-- accurately described by Rabbi Slifkin as "superficially random", where the believer has to insert his faith arbitrarily, comes nowhere close to this hidden miracle status of Purim.

    Why is the insertion of faith arbitrary? Do we not believe that God is borei u-manhig le-khol ha-beru'im?

    I concede that the parallel to Purim is not as strong as the parallel to the weather. But I do not concede that TE is not a hidden miracle. If natural mechanisms are capable of producing the wonders of life, that surely points to a powerful Wisdom that devised and guided the mechanisms.

    And indeed, most Americans who accept evolution believe that God governed the process. The atheists chose to blind themselves a priori.

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  49. That belief in God governing the process may be a result of their a priori belief in God as boreh umanhig.
    Miracles, by definition do not rely on that a priori faith! On the contrary, they engender that faith.
    I do not see how TE engenders that faith.
    ID does a much better job at that.

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