Thursday, July 07, 2011

The Shafran -Slifkin - Menken blog war

Far be it from me to barge into someone else's blog-war but I do have some comments about the current dust up between the clowns of Cross Currents, and the venerable Rabbi Natan Slifkin.

Their argument started when Avi Shafran posted a gruel thin attack on evolution, or rather a gruel thin attack on the eminent paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. See, once, long ago, Dr. Gould may have permitted his biases to cloud his conclusions. As a result (follow the Shafran leap) everything any evolutionist has ever said is similarly discredited. Gould was misinformed by his bias once, so all science is bunk. By the same logic, all Charedi Jew are crooks. After all, didn't the Spinka Rebbe go to jail for fraud? I wish I was making this up, but I'm not Go here and see for yourself.

After Rabbi Slifkin responded to Shafran with some great points and took him to task for making certain schoolboy errors such as referring to evolution as "just a theory", Yakov Menken decided to insert himself into the dispute, with a post in defense of Shafran.  Menken, let's be clear, is a clown, who embarrasses himself whenever he opens his mouth about science, religion, or their intersection. This new post was no exception. It included:

Belief in evolution is a prerequisite doctrine of atheism: one who wishes to deny the existence of G-d must believe that we arrived at our current state through natural means.

Wrong. An atheist with no knowledge of science or the natural world might claim that nothing in the natural world ever changes, and that everything we see today has always been. Menken's delusion is that people believe in evolution only because they wish to deny the existence of God. This is false. For most people, belief in evolution follows from the facts, not from some philosophical agenda. Certainly, any Orthodox Jew who accepts evolution - Jews like me, and Natan Slifkin and hundreds of others -were convinced by the arguments. We have no wish to undermine God, and accepting evolution meant overcoming all that we were taught as school children. It would have been far easier to do what Menken does and deny or ignore the evidence.

Once my biases were removed, however, I gradually rejected evolution as an unproven and unlikely conjecture.

Your biases were not removed. They were replaced with other, more powerful biases.

Rabbi Slifkin claims that the antiquity of the universe is something that the “charedi community officially rejects.” This is one of the strawmen to which I referred. Yes, we believe the world is 5771 years old, however this may be defined (there are multiple schools of thought on this point). Yet I am unaware of even one Orthodox person with an education in the hard sciences who believes that, from a scientific perspective, the world appears to be 5771 years old rather than roughly 15 billion. Who are the “charedim who reject it?” 

Seriously? All Charedim everywhere, with the exception of those who've had some science education, flatly reject the possibility that universe is more than 5771 years old. Menken knows this to be true. He is only embarrassing himself by denying it.

I know that someone will comment with the name of someone, somewhere, because every rule has its exception, but do not ignore the issue at hand: if the charedim are “overwhelmingly, critically biased against any evidence supporting it,” as Rabbi Slifkin asserts, then why do they not reject the age of the universe as well? He fails to present any explanation as to why the age of the universe is accepted as scientific fact by the same people who reject evolution as wildly improbable

The age of the universe, and the theory of evolution are two different things. The fact that some charedim accept that universe is billions of years old does not provide their rejection of evolution with any special validity. Its possible, after all, to get something right, while simultaneously getting something wrong. Its also easy to explain why educated charedim accept one and not the other. The age of the universe is easier to kvetch into bereishis. Simple as that. Now, the theory of evolution can also be kvetched into bereishis but this is more difficult - also, per the official misunderstanding of evolution Darwin said we came from monkeys and that offends the uneducated person's ego. As a result evolution is rejected by some of the same orthodox Jews who accept the old universe. Menken's notion that Orthodox Jews have looked honestly, and knowledgeably, and unbiasedly at both, and accepted one and not the other, based on nothing but an honest appraisal of the facts is laughable.

To see the bias of the evolutionists, on the other hand, one merely need observe their reaction to the theory called Intelligent Design.

The scientific community does not reject Intelligent Design out of bias, but because ID introduces an unnecessary assumption, based on a falsehood. The falsehood is that the math doesn't add up. The unnecessary assumption is that only the existence of God can make the numbers work. But what reason is there to introduce God? Suppose the ID lies are true, and the numbers don't work. Introducing God doesn't solve the mystery of the malfunctioning math. It merely sweeps the original question under the carpet. God, or not, the numbers still (allegedly) don't work. ID is rejected not because scientists hate God, but because ID merely postpones the mystery and scientists would rather try to solve it. (And they have: The math works.)

Sir Francis Crick himself (with James Watson, the discoverer of the DNA molecule) found the probabilities for evolution to have occurred by chance so overwhelmingly unlikely that he promoted a theory of Directed Panspermia, genetic seeding from outer space

The worst sentence in the whole piece. First, no one says evolution "occured by chance" The claim is that is occurred by natural selection, which has nothing to do with chance. As for Sir Crick, he assumes that the aliens who  might be "seeding" the universe are, themselves the product of evolution.! Moreover, Cricks' Panspermia has nothing to do with evolution. It's not a solution to math problems with evolution. Its a proposed solution to math problems with abiogenesis. And Crick, it must be added, has specifically admitted that abiogenesis may have occurred on earth. He simply says that it will be very hard for us to unravel exactly how it happened, because so much time has passed, and so many variables exist. But again, Crick is addressing abiogenesis. Not evolution.

He links to a post which purports to demonstrate that new species have been observed; they are, to a one, vacuous.

Naturally, the Menken the non-Scientist provides nothing in the way of proof. Only an assertion. Here's the list of new species. Decide for yourself if its vacuous.

As above, the appearance of new species is precisely that which is necessary to convert this particular hypothesis into a scientific theory, and it has not occurred

Evolution already is a scientific theory. In our vernacular a "theory" is an imperfect guess. In science, a "theory" is a set of ideas devised to explain a group of facts. This is what the theory of evolution does. It explains a group of facts.

He says that “we would not expect to see such dramatic changes in the few years that we have been watching for such things.” Come now. Tens of millions of dollars are spent in labs at the world’s finest universities, attempting to accelerate the process, and their hands are empty

Again Mencken is confusing abiogenesis and evolution. And in neither case are "their hands empty". Plenty of promising research for abiogenesis is underway, and evolution is supported by so many facts, and so many correct predictions, across so many different disciplines that it seems absurd even to debate it any longer.

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