Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Slifkin Effect (Part I)

Anyone looking for proof of the devestating effects the Slifkin ban has had on Orthodox Judaism need look no further than the JO's recent articles on the evolution vs. creation debate. I know that the articles -- three by R' Keller, on by Chaim Presby, a scientist, and one by Yonason Rosenblum -- have been out for a couple of months, but not having seen a comprehensive treatment online, I thought I would pipe in with my thoughts. What the articles show is that any glimmer of hope that some saw based on articles in the Observer in recent months was nothing short of an illusion. The sum total of the articles leave no room for any flexibility to accept scientific findings with respect to evolution or age of the universe. The articles also show that most creationist Charedim best stay far, far away from talking science, because they look downright foolish when they do.

The series of R' Keller articles begins inexplicably with an attack on the recent decision of the court in the Dover case rejecting a curiculum that included statements supporting Intelligent Design. I say inexplciacable because the essays that follow suggests that he should have no dog in that fight. This is because, as mentioed above, R' Keller leaves no room for a Jew to believe in Intelligent Design or any theory inconsisent with a creation occurring 5766 years ago as literally described in Genesis 1 and 2.

The second essay gets into trouble right away. R' Kellers ignorance of the basics of Darwinism is immediately apparent:
According to [Darwin's] theory, organisms evolved over millions of years by minute random mutations which gave them a survival edge over the less fit. Eventualy, claimed Darwin, these mutations actually changed one species into another that would supposedly be even fitter.
Not quite. Darwin wouldn't know what a "mutation" is. The idea of mutations was first developed in the 20th century. In fact, the key problem with Darwin's theory was the absence of any explanation for what caused the variations that drove natural selection. It was only with the develpment of genetic biology, which taught us about genetic mutations, thatsuch an explanation appeared. Which takes me to his next error:
The strict Darwinian theory of minute mutations over long periods of time proved untenable for many evolutionists and was replaced by what is called Neo-Darwinism - the same idea that new species evolved randomly by chance mutation, but by macro-mutations - suddenly. Or in much chorter periods of time.
In fact, the exact opposite is true. Neo-Darwinism is a reaction to those who criticized Darwinian theory for lacking a sufficient mechanism to account for change in species. Drawing on modern genetics, Neo-Darwinism reasserts the idea that minute genetic mutations over long periods of time sufficiently explains evolution.

Of course, putting aside R' Keller's errors, the tactic of pointing to changes in evolutionary theory, evidentiary gaps, or controversies within the field is typical of those seeking to shed doubt on the validity of the theory in toto. But just because we may argue about whether the killer used a knife or a gun doesn't mean the murder never happened. In a hilarious example of this type of reasoning, R' Keller points to a quote by Darwinist Richard Dawkins regarding the paucity in the fossil records prior to the "Cambrian strata of rocks, vintage about 600 million years" as "favor[ing] creationism." You win, R' Keller. This proves that the world is a mere 600 million years young, only 599,994,234 years more than the age of the earth as per a literal interpretation of Bereishis. That's nothing. That's practically the same amount of time it takes me to get the attention of the help at Toddys.

The other arguments are just as disingenuous. R' Keller asks why we haven't "seen any significant mutations of new organs or limbs or new species in recorded history". This from a school of thought that throws around "nishtaneh hatevah" to explain all sorts of puzzling scientific pronouncements of Chazal.

R' Keller finally plays his trump card in the final section of the essay, called "We Have Greater Proofs":
Our knowledge of a Creator is not only from evidence, empirical or other, or philosophical proofs; it is from direct testimony by reliable witnesses and a direct communication from the Creator Himself.
Although the nature of this "direct communication" from God is never is never identified, it raises the question of why was all of the argumentation necessary? If there is "direct testimony by reliable witnesses" and a statement by God why bother with the lame excercise at poking fun at science?

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