Friday, October 22, 2010

Creator or Blind Watchmaker?

Darwin's Blind Watchmaker Thesis is the current scientific consensus explanation that accounts for the origin of the species. It claims that the diversity and complexity of life (e.g. eyes, wings, and the mammalian brain) is an accidental result of an unguided purely natural process.  R. Slifkin claims that evolution’s Blind Watchmaker Thesis is compatible with traditional beliefs about G-d. There are four problems with this claim.
  1. Is evolution as defined by the scientists true? Scientific evidence for this claim has not been produced to the level of confirmation standard in the hard sciences. Only when the scientific evidence has been produced, need we ask if it is compatible with Torah,
  2. As a religious Jew,  R. Slifkin’s view of science is actually something quite different from the scientific consensus. His view is that G-d guides evolution---contradicting the scientific consensus of accidental unguided evolution. Indeed, contra R. Slifkin, evolution’s Blind Watchmaker Thesis is incompatible with Torah.
  3. If R. Slifkin allows himself leeway to contradict the scientific consensus then the same leeway should be allowed  to those who believe in the historicity of the Torah’s account of creation. Yet R. Slifkin consistently insists that we are bound by the vaunted objectivity of the scientific consensus.
  4. Both theistic and atheistic forms of evolution are committed to scientific naturalism, something that contradicts the Torah’s account of the meta-natural Creation Week ending with the first Sabbath of creation.
The last objection is critical because it shows R. Slifkin’s claim to be in violation of fundamental principles of Torah. When we make kiddush every Friday night, the one thing we are not doing is celebrating evolution’s Blind Watchmaker Thesis.

Tables 1 and 2 (here) compare the Torah's meta-natural creation week with Science's Blind Watchmaker Thesis (Table 1) as well as with R. Slifkin's approach (Table 2).

The tables are tentative. I hope that readers might comment on them (producing prooftexts where they disagree). While I am unable to commit to respond to all of the comments, I will PG try to read all of them, and I'll change the tables in response to pertinent new information. I truly appreciate all our readers for taking the time to comment to this post and all the previous ones.

11 comments:

  1. YSO, I am glad to see that you are retracting your previous claim that R. Slifkin is advocating some sort of Godless approach, and that theistic evolution was the invention of Rafi on the earlier thread. Although I suppose that an explicit admission that you distorted his view is not going to happen.

    But you still claim that theistic evolution contradicts the scientific consensus. That is simply baseless. It contradicts the personal beliefs of some prominent evolutionists, that's all. There are plenty of other evolutionists who do believe that God is behind it all. Don't confuse science with certain scienTISTS. Science itself has nothing to say on whether or not God is behind the scenes with biology, just as it has nothing to say on whether or not God is behind the scenes with lotteries, the history of the Jews, or the weather.

    Dr. Ostroff, does theistic meteorology contradict the scientific consensus? After all, many scientists would say that the weather is governed by blind, random processes. But you believe that God determines it. So is it problematic to study/ teach meteorology? And the same for astronomy, history, and every other branch of science.

    Yet R. Slifkin consistently insists that we are bound by the vaunted objectivity of the scientific consensus.

    I don't recall R. Slifkin ever insisting what other people must or must not believe (correct me if I am wrong). Unlike yourself.

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  2. Dear Yissachar. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I never said that R. Slifkin does not believe in G-d (he obviously does) so there is nothing for me to retract. I wrote the post in an attempt to achieve clarity via rational discussion rather than via propaganda or force. Do you object to that?

    I did not notice prooftexts to back your comments such as a popular college-level biology textbook (one that might be used at the best universities) that define evolution in the sense of Rafi-theory or theistic evolution (of course, I know what that is). That would give weight to your comments.

    What I see is something else entirely. For example Douglas Futuyma's widely used college evolutionary biology textbook describes the scientific consensus on the Blind Watchmaker Thesis as follows:

    By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous. Together with Marx's materialistic theory of history and society and Freud's attribution of human behavior to influences over which we have little control, Darwin's theory of evolution was a crucial plank in the platform of mechanism and materialism--of much of science, in short--that has since been the stage of most Western thought.

    Now I agree with you that the scientific consensus here is materialistic philosophy -- not hard science. Where are the detailed Darwinian pathways that demonstrate that primitive life can arise from dead chemicals and then develop into eyes, wings and brains? None that I know of. Hence objection #1 in my post.

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  3. It's amazing how you guys constantly try to change the subject when you are cornered. I am not dealing with objection #1 or objection #4. I am dealing with #2 and #3. And you didn't remotely respond to what I said. Futuyma is (a) a person, not a consensus, and (b) first describing a physical phenomenon (undirected purposeless variation, just like he would described the weather as undirected and purposeless) and then making a metaphysical statement - which is unwarranted and disputed.

    I repeat my question, which you ignored, and this time I request that you answer it:

    Dr. Ostroff, does theistic meteorology contradict the scientific consensus? After all, many scientists would say that the weather is governed by blind, random processes. But you believe that God determines it. So is it problematic to study/ teach meteorology? And the same for astronomy, history, and every other branch of science.

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  4. FWIW, I also solicit Dr. Ostroff to answer Yissacher's question.

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  5. I second Yitz's FWIW.

    The point here is that we distinguish between science and theology, and you seem determined to conflate them.

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  6. Dear readers, according to the posted comments "Futuyma is (a) a person, not a consensus" and "The point here is that we distinguish between science and theology, and you seem determined to conflate them."

    I wish that what you were saying is true. But it is the textbooks themselves that reflect the scientific consensus as I described it. You might want to look at the ten or so biology textbooks quoted here to see that they indeed reflect the regrettable scientific consensus that Man is the result of a purposeless and natural process that did not have him in mind."

    I also notice that you do not provide pro-theistic quotes from college-level biology textbooks. Gentlemen, where are your prooftexts? Ten or so relevant quotes from first class college-level textbooks would prove your point.

    I believe that the question on meteorology is handled in a post by SC.

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  7. YSO:

    Even if you were correct in your assertion that there is a scientific consensus that there is no God, I still fail to see how that would implicate Rabbi Slifkin's views. Rabbi Slifkin never subscribed to such an alleged scientific consensus. This is the main point, which you have never addressed. Please do.

    As to this alleged consensus: I will readily admit that I have never studied any science book. However, your co blogger, YC, does refer to a scientist who YC says subscribes to the view of theistic evolution. In http://toriah.org/Torah/RSC/RSC-MaasehBeraishis.pdf, YC states that cell biologist Ken Miller subscribes to this view in his book Finding Darwin's God.

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  8. Upon rereading your post, I see that you agree that Rabbi Slifkin subscribes to theistic evolution, so my first point above is moot.

    Regarding your challenge to find a college level science textbook refering to God, of course we will not find one, whether it is a book about evolution, any other scientific topic, or any other subject. The reason is obvious. The notion of God is unrelated to any scientific topic or other college subject.

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  9. Dear Nachum, the biology textbooks are full of pro-atheistic dogma -- that we are here by unguided processes that did not have us in mind (see here). That is what evolution's blind watchmaker thesis is all about. So do you accept the textbook definition of evolution?

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  10. No. And I would add that no science textbook should address the issue of God. It should only address the data and extrapolate from the data. I'm not at all interested in some scientists' dogma re the existence or non existence of God.

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  11. Without getting into the argument, I've read enough about evolution, science and Torah to have arrived pretty firmly at a conclusion that evolution-- whatever its drawbacks-- is a far better and more accurate explanation of the development of life than anything found in Torah or our mesorah. As a theoretical matter, I'm open to being convinced otherwise with reasonable evidence, but as a practical matter, I think it unlikely. That said, where do you see my place in Judaism?

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