Over Yom Tov I had the pleasure of meeting a young man (let’s call him Zev) who follows this blog. After introducing himself he asked me if I was interested in discussing some of my positions on the blog and I agreed. He then began to pose several challenges in rapid succession. I did my best to respond to him in the limited time we had but there was one particular issue which I took special interest in and which I insisted on discussing with him at length. Unfortunately our discussion was cut short so I’d like to revisit it here.
About three years ago I wrote a series of posts on this blog describing what, in my opinion, was most disturbing about Rabbi Slifkin’s approach to science and Torah in general and evolution and ma’aseh bereishis in particular. I argued that accepting the notion that life evolved naturalistically over hundreds of millions of years effectively cripples one’s ability to discern the presence of the Creator from the beriah. Rabbi Slifkin responded that he discerns the presence of the Creator from the fine-tuned laws of nature and I countered by asserting that the denial of patent design in biological nature is logically inconsistent with the claim of patent design in the laws of nature. In short, I accused him of maintaining an incoherent theology. Zev challenged my rejection of “Rabbi Slifkin’s theology” by quoting none other than my very own rebbi, Rav Avigdor Miller!
On page 30 of Rejoice O Youth, Rabbi Miller writes as follows:
Youth: What is the ray of hope [of convincing evolutionists that the universe cannot be attributed to chance naturalistic mechanisms and therefore clearly testifies to a Designer – sc] of which you speak?
Sage: 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…
Rabbi Miller then goes on to discuss physical properties such as the force of gravity, the atmosphere, and rates of evaporation. Although there are an endless number of possible permutations, the physical laws that govern the aforementioned phenomena all cooperate with each other to allow for an infinitely complex, fully functioning world. They are “finely tuned” for our specific universe despite the fact that the probability of them being so conveniently aligned is statistically nil. This is popularly referred to as “the argument for Intelligent Design from the fine-tuning coincidences in the universe” and is endorsed by Rabbi Slifkin in his book The Science of Torah (pp 39-46) and The Challenge (pp 49-57).
Based on the aforementioned quote from Rejoice O Youth, Zev felt that my accusation against Rabbi Slifkin was in conflict with Rabbi Miller’s statement that even if one denies “design” in the phenomena of life, there is still a “ray of hope” that he will discern it from the laws of nature.
The truth is, Zev is in error. Just before this quote, Rabbi Miller writes (Rejoice, ibid):
I fear that even this (the argument from the fine-tuned laws of nature - sc) will be ignored by them. If they have the hardiness to ascribe to accident all which we have discussed hitherto, they are quite impervious to argument. Men who are not biased are powerfully impressed when they are told of an animal which is able to shoot a suffocating stench against its enemies (skunk), or an animal that is able to present javelins against its enemies (porcupine)… If men are so irresponsible as to ascribe to accident these intricately planned devices, then I fear nothing could move them.
So, any attempt to persuade an avowed evolutionist of design in the universe is most-likely futile. If they are capable of ascribing the intricately planned phenomena of life to chance naturalistic processes, they are equally capable of ascribing the laws of nature to naturalistic processes, as they in fact do. (Stephen Hawkings’s most recent book claims that all of the laws of physics can be accounted for by the presence of the Law of Gravitation. As he writes: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.”)
What does Rabbi Miller mean by “a ray of hope”? Nothing. It is a form of speech. He didn’t actually believe that there is any hope that an evolutionist can discern the trappings of design in the phenomena of the universe. Which brings me to the topic of this post.
In a recent post entitled A Breathtaking Endeavor, Rabbi Slifkin writes:
…upon seeing it [the space shuttle Endeavor], I …feel a powerful emotion of awe…Why was it such an awesome sight?... it was what the shuttle represented… for people my age, the space shuttle was mankind's most glorious technological achievement… The space shuttle is the pinnacle of man's technological prowess, which in turn is the result of his three-pound brain. Which in turn is the single most complex entity in the known universe - the single greatest and most remarkable element of creation.
In The Challenge Of Creation, I quoted the following from mathematician Morris Kline:
“A study of mathematics and its contributions to the sciences exposes a deep question. Mathematics is man-made. The concepts, the broad ideas, the logical standards and methods of reasoning... were fashioned by human beings. Yet with the product of his fallible mind, man has surveyed spaces too vast for his imagination to encompass; he has predicted and shown how to control radio waves which none of our senses can perceive; and he has discovered particles too small to be seen with the most powerful microscope... Some explanation of this marvelous power is called for.”
Who would predict a universe in which the laws of nature are able to produce a being that can figure out a way to leave its home planet? Baruch Oseh Maase Bereishis!
Evolutionists Rabbi Slifkin! Evolutionists claim that the human brain is the end product of biological evolution over hundreds of millions of years. Actually, it's even worse than that. Evolutionists make the astonishing claim that the human brain began as a chimpanzee brain a mere 7 million years ago and evolved naturalistically to encompass mathematical concepts, ideas, logical standards and methods of reasoning!
Does Rabbi Slifkin believe in Evolution? If so, what stirred him to proclaim Baruch Oseh Maaseh Bereishis when considering the human brain?
What is wrong with Rabbi Slifkin’s theology? The answer is, it makes no sense.