Friday, August 5, 2016

Dinosaurs, Scientism and Propaganda

R. Slifkin has dinosaurs on his mind again (see Strengthening Emunah: Via Denying Dinosaur Eras, etc., July 31, 2106). He writes:
Unlike the Discovery seminar, however, Emunah: A Refresher Course also included extensive pseudo-scientific material attempting to prove that there was no era of dinosaurs; the universe is only 5776 years old, and dinosaurs lived just a few thousand years ago, concurrently with contemporary species. Likewise, there was extensive presentation of kashyas on evolution, arguing that it is false and nonsense. This material all appeared to be from computer scientist Jonathan Ostroff, well known to long-time readers of this blog as a Young Earth Creationist with bizarre debating tactics and even more bizarre beliefs. Rabbi Saperman [sic.] apparently rates Ostroff as some kind of scientific expert and unhesitatingly accepts all his material. He appears to believe that convincing people that modern science is all wrong will strengthen people's emunah.
R Slifkin calls the beliefs of his opponents "bizarre" and the like. For other egregious accusations see "Slifkin and Mental Illness "(e.g. calling his opponents an "idiot", "dishonest", "scurrilous", and the like). What is he trying to achieve? Surely he does not mean to demonize his opponents, rather than answering their questions.  That would smack of Arlinsky style tactics used by the atheistic left, which he surely does not intend?

Also, notice that I actually quote R. Slifkin -- rather than attributing to him what he does not say. Whereas, R. Slifkin does not quote what R. Sapirman actually says.  

Let's start with his comment on dinosaurs. Dinosaurs of the kind you find on the front of R. Slifkin's book are supposed to be tens of millions of years old. R. Sapirman's book refers to researcher Mary Schweitzer's discoveries [who is, interestingly, an evangelical]. Here is how her discovery was reported by the pro-evolution camp [Discover Magazine, April 2006]:
Ever since Mary Higby Schweitzer peeked inside the fractured thighbone of a Tyrannosaurus rex, the introverted scientist's life hasn't been the same. Neither has the field of paleontology.   
Two years ago, Schweitzer gazed through a microscope in her laboratory at North Carolina State University and saw lifelike tissue that had no business inhabiting a fossilized dinosaur skeleton: fibrous matrix, stretchy like a wet scab on human skin; what appeared to be supple bone cells, their three-dimensional shapes intact; and translucent blood vessels that looked as if they could have come straight from an ostrich at the zoo. 
By all the rules of paleontology, such traces of life should have long since drained from the bones. It's a matter of faith among scientists that soft tissue can survive at most for a few tens of thousands of years, not the 65 million since T. rex walked what's now the Hell Creek Formation in Montana.
“I  got goose  bumps,”  recalls Schweitzer.  “It was  exactly like  looking  at  a  slice  of modern bone.  But,  of  course,  I couldn’t believe it. I said to the lab technician: ‘The bones, after all, are 65 million years old. How could blood cells survive that long?’ ”  A “good kashya,” but it drives Schweitzer crazy when creationists suggest that  this may be evidence for a recent  creation.  

Now, why can R. Slifkin not report the kashya accurately? Good questions make for good science, after all. 

(1) This problem for the theory of evolution was discussed by R. Coffer  in more detail over here (2008), with more detail from the literature such as the Smithsonian and Nature. R. Slifkin is welcome to re-engage in the debate with R. Coffer. The evidence today of soft tissue and blood cells in supposedly ancient dinosaurs is now even more established than it was in 2006. By the way, what experiment can R. Slifkin quote that demonstrates that the T. rex on the cover of his book is, say, 65 million years old. Even a proof that that his dinosaur is at least 6.5 millions years old or even at least 0.65 million years old would also be acceptable. 

(2) Now what about the R. Slifkin's warm embrace of Darwin's theory. How about the eye of the dinosaur on R. Slifkin's front page. How did that come about? What experimental evidence can R. Slifkin cite that demonstrates that random and natural processes can show how we get from a an organism without and eye to one with an eye. What we seek is a detailed Darwinian pathway, not hand-waving speculation. For an example of something that might at least be a first step, consider the material in David Berlinski's article A Scientific Scandal (Commentary, 2003). 
Just such a demonstration, I noted in my essay, is what the biologists Dan-Erik Nilsson and Susanne Pelger seemed to provide in a 1994 paper. Given nothing more than time and chance, a "light sensitive patch," they affirmed, can "gradually turn into a focused-lens eye," and in the space of only a few hundred thousand years-a mere moment, as such things go.   
Nilsson and Pelger's paper has, for understandable reasons, been widely circulated and widely praised, and in the literature of evolutionary biology it is now regularly cited as definitive. Not the least of its remarkable authority is derived from the belief that it contains, in the words of one of its defenders, a "computer simulation of the eye's evolution." 
If this were true, it would provide an extremely important defense of Darwin's theory. Although a computer simulation is not by itself conclusive-a simulation is one thing, reality another-it is often an important link in an inferential chain. In the case of Darwin's theory, the matter is especially pressing since in the nature of things the theory cannot be confirmed over geological time by any experimental procedure, and it has proved very difficult to confirm under laboratory conditions.  
The claim that the eye's evolution has been successfully simulated by means of Darwinian principles, with results falling well within time scales required by the theory, is thus a matter of exceptional scientific importance. And not just scientific importance, I might add; so dramatic a confirmation of Darwinian theory carries large implications for our understanding of the human species and its origins. This is no doubt why the story of Nilsson and Pelger's computer simulation has spread throughout the world. Their study has been cited in essays, textbooks, and popular treatments of Darwinism like River Out of Eden by the famous Oxford evolutionist Richard Dawkins; accounts of it have made their way onto the Internet in several languages; it has been promoted to the status of a certainty and reported as fact in the press, where it is inevitably used to champion and vindicate Darwin's theory of evolution.  
In my essay, I suggested that Nilsson and Pelger's arguments are trivial and their conclusions unsubstantiated. I also claimed that representations of their paper by the scientific community have involved a serious, indeed a flagrant, distortion of their work. But in a letter published in the March issue of COMMENTARY, the physicist Matt Young, whom I singled out for criticism (and whose words I have quoted here), repeated and defended his characterization of Nilsson and Pelger's work as a "computer simulation of the eye's evolution." It is therefore necessary to set the matter straight in some detail. I hope this exercise will help to reveal, with a certain uncomfortable clarity, just how scientific orthodoxy works, and how it imposes its opinions on the faithful.
In the end it turned out that there was no actual computer model in Nilsson and Pelger's paper. Dan-Erik Nilsson denied having based his work on any computer simulations. Nilsson and Pelger never state that their task was to "set up computer models of evolving eyes" for any reason whatsoever. What they report is a rather trivial result (with some errors) that is irrelevant to demonstrating how the eye evolved by random mutation and natural selection. 

So the famous Oxford evolutionists Richard Dawkins (the one who argues for the evolution of the eye in the Blind Watchmaker) got it all wrong. Berlinki's article makes for enjoyable reading. Please see the full exchange for the details. It gives an idea of what a detailed Darwinian pathway would have to look like: a sequential sequence of step-by-random-steps with an estimate of likely probability over the proposed time frame. 

Talking about the blind watchmaker, supposedly "bad designs" are the hall-mark of evolution. R. Slifkin [Challenge p. 303-304] mentions the "poorly designed" Panda's thumb makes sense in light of Darwinian evolution as it is too inefficient a limb to be the work of a wise Creator (see here). But as it turns out: 
The way in which the giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, uses the radial sesamoid bone — its ‘pseudo-thumb’ — for grasping makes it one of the most extraordinary manipulation systems in mammalian evolution. ... The radial sesamoid bone and the accessory carpal bone form a double pincer-like apparatus in the medial and lateral sides of the hand, respectively, enabling the panda to manipulate objects with great dexterity.
[Endo, H., Yamagiwa, D., Hayashi, Y. H., Koie, H., Yamaya, Y., and Kimura, J. 1999. Nature 397: 309-310. Emphasis added]

(3) Thus, can R. Slifkin provide a detailed Darwinian pathway for Panda's thumb, free of hand-waving speculation. R. Slifkin also thinks that evolution can easily turn a land-based animal like the precursor of a cow into a whale. Well that is quite as tale (see Whale Evolution and Skepticism). What does it take, in an engineering sense, to transform a car into a submarine? Quite a bit. I am an Electrical Engineer by training, so I think I am allowed to say: quite a bit of intelligence.  Here are some points made by David Berlinksi:

  • The suggestion that Darwin’s theory of evolution is like theories in the serious sciences —quantum electrodynamics, say—is grotesque. Quantum electrodynamics is accurate to thirteen unyielding decimal places. Darwin’s theory makes no tight quantitative predictions at all. 
  • The astonishing and irreducible complexity of various cellular structures has not yet successfully been described, let alone explained. 
  • A great many species enter the fossil record trailing no obvious ancestors and depart for Valhalla leaving no obvious descendants. 
  • Tens of thousands of fruit flies have come and gone in laboratory experiments, and every last one of them has remained a fruit fly to the end, all efforts to see the miracle of speciation unavailing.

Let's end with one of Rabbi Sapirman's quotes by Richard Leowntin, at the time Professor of Zoology and Professor of Biology at Harvard University:
We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counterintuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.... (Richard Lewontin, "The Demon-Haunted World," The New York Review of Books, January 9, 1997, p. 28., emphases added)
So what we have is evolutionary propaganda, not solid science. 

So, has Rabbi Sapirman relied on Jonathan Ostroff or on the opinions of the relevant scientists, while reserving the right to adjudicate their findings?  Or, is it rather R. Slifkin who relies on the undeserved authority of the evolutionist, rather than his own independent assessment of the data, once qualified scientists have done the experiments?

We addressed three questions to R. Slifkin, all asking for experiments demonstrating detailed Darwinian pathways. In the past, he has always avoided answering this question, preferring to push it away with irrelevant objections. So let's face the question head on. 

If there are is  no evidence for detailed Darwinian pathways -- then there also is no experimental evidence for Darwin (a fact that Darwin himself recognized). This might even suggest that R. Slifkin might reject the useless theories mentioned in his books.