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How to be Jewish, Scientific, and Proud (Not suffer from guilt over arguing on the science) – Part 1.
How to be Jewish, Scientific, and Proud (Not suffer from guilt over arguing on the science) – Part 1.
Over the past few weeks, I have tried to give my “two-cents” in the context of certain topics relating to Torah and science. While I do not hold myself to be an expert in the fields, I am not unlearned nor am I illogical in my thinking (at least I try really hard not to be). After a lot of back and forth, I realized that the problem is not so much that people are incapable of listening to the logic of an argument. It’s just that they don’t recognize what are the actual underlying issues of the argument, nor do they know what does or does not constitute proof in these issues.
It’s time to clear the playing field.
At its essence, there is one thing that everyone is trying to do in the field of science and that is to make sense of the observable phenomena. That’s it. It all boils down to that.
However, once we have arrived at that conclusion, the question then is what are the criteria that we should use to decipher the observable phenomena? This is where all of the fun-and-games begin. The reason for this is because of what can only be called “scientific dogma”, otherwise known as “the scientific method”. It is based on this that any argument is then termed as either “scientific” or “pseudo-science”, and therefore not “scientific”. However, it presupposes that it defines the only way of “truly” being able to look at information in an objective way. Which is false.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like science and even the scientific method. I have no real problem with them. What I do have a problem with is its usage in the areas of scientific endeavor that can only be called “Creation sciences”. Let’s start.
The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry is commonly based on empirical or measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning. (Wikipedia “Scientific Method”)
When we are talking about utilizing scientific methodology for the scrutiny of modern phenomena, which utilize the most basic criteria of all scientific data, that is information that is observable, measurable and repeatable, then the methodology does not present a problem, but rather a framework in which information can be posited, shared, and tested in a productive manner. The problem begins when we are applying the same principals to things that cannot actually be observed, nor clearly tested, and that in all likelihood are in no way repeatable, which is the realm of all creation sciences. Then what?
Well, we are told that the same principles can be applied, because you can still utilize the observable phenomena in order to make predictions that are testable. Therefore, the scientific method is still a valid tool. Except that it isn’t. What it comes down to in the area of the creation sciences is what is the data in front of you and how valid are the interpretations given to the data? How much of them are fact, and how much is fiction? How much of them are really testable, and how much is actually just “pooh-poohed” and considered fact even though the actual facts are lacking? This is the real crux of the issue.
So, with that under our belt, let’s begin to take a look at the topic of evolution. One of my favorites.
First things first: A priori thinking.
Everyone would love to assume that they are reviewing the data presented without a priori presumptions (i.e. without looking at the data with preconceived notions). This is inherently false. At the core of it all, the most basic question of all life, and the lens through which all of the information is viewed is the issue of “Is there a G-d or not?” I did write a book on the topic which goes through the available fields of endeavor in order to provide the reader with a logically, philosophically, and scientifically valid argument for the existence of G-d. If you want all of the sources and the full spectrum of the issue, according to my opinion then that is the only place that you can get it. Therefore, anyone entering into the issues is going to start from an a priori position. Either you will begin with the premise that there is G-d, or you will begin with the premise that there is not. Based on either of these a priori positions you will then interpret the information in front of you. It follows, therefore, that as neither of these positions is scientifically testable in any shape, way, or form (which is theologically explainable, for more on this see my blogs on the meaning of life) that from the get-go you enter the fray warped.
So, what would be considered a good criterion? What could be considered proof? The answer: ask yourself which of these positions is more logical? Which is more consistent with the data? Which is based more on the facts of the data as opposed to the interpretation of it or fictions created based upon it?
In a nutshell: which claim makes more sense!
When it comes to the realm of logical arguments – Chazal ruled! We have forever been “The People of The Book”, with good reason! Let’s look at some arguments posited against the “G-d” interpretation of the data and their logical validity.
- “I can’t see G-d, therefore He is not”
In so many of the basic interpretations of the information in the varying sciences, we find that “the processes can be described by means of observation only, with no apparent intervention of a Divine source”. This is a fancy way of saying “I don’t see G-d anywhere”.
Is this consistent with the observations? Yes, it is. Is it, therefore, a good criterion or proof of anything? No. It most certainly is not. The reason for this is what our sages, ob”m, teach us when they say Lo matzinu – einah ra’ayah, (Eiduyot 2:2) which means “To say ‘I have not found’ is not proof”. There are very solid logical reasons for this. Let me list a few:
- You are blind. This doesn’t mean that you are actually blind, but if you don’t have the right apparatus, or if you are far-sighted, or if it is just beyond your range of vision – you won’t see it. An example of this would be the cytoskeleton of the cell, which is a relatively recent discovery based off of new imaging technology.
- You are looking in the wrong place. Know the joke about the guy who was seen looking for something under the streetlight? When he was asked what he was looking for he said some money that he lost around the corner. “So, why are you looking over here?” he was asked. To which he replied, “The lighting is better here.”
- You don’t know what it is you are looking for or what it is supposed to look like. If that’s the case it could be right in front of your face, but you don’t realize it. A classic example of this is the supposedly “scientific” lack of being able to find the soul. This, despite the fact that in a living being there is ample evidence of lots of bio-electricity. This is the only thing that truly differs from a living being and a non-living one, yet there is no way to account for its existence nor its lack. It just is. Is this explainable by a soul? Of course, it is! For more on this topic – see Core Emunah vol. 2 “G-d & Me” (with HaShem’s help it will be available soon).
However, the bigger problem with this claim is not only that it is inconsistent, but it is also hypocritical. For if this is a valid scientific claim, then whenever we are talking about things that cannot be seen the claim should similarly remain invalid. Yet there are so many things that are “found” in the scientific literature for which there is no evidence, and yet they are claimed despite not being visible. Examples abound dark energy, quarks, 11 dimensions and more! Either visibility is a criterion, or it is not.
- Comparative anatomy and Comparative genome sequencing
Both of these are presented as THE BASIS for all macro-evolution. The thinking goes like this: if they share similar anatomy, and we can build a sequence of skeletons which could show a logical progression from one species form into an entirely new one, therefore it is clear that that is what happened. Or: if we have found “eyes” (or any other appendages) of varying degrees of complexity, and when they are lined up next to one another they can demonstrate the development of said appendage. Or: if, based on genome sequencing, we can demonstrate the similarity between one species and another, and build a logical progression of development on the genomic level, therefore this demonstrates the truth of the proposal.
To this our sages, ob”m, say vechi mipnei she’anu medamin na’aseh ma’aseh, (Gittin 19a) which means “just because we can compare things to each other, therefore we should act on our conclusions?”
What this means is that although there is some logic to the comparison, this does not constitute enough evidence upon which we can act (conclusively). The reasoning behind this is simple: even though there is what to compare, and there is a similarity, this is not actionable. To utilize Richard Dawkins own analogy (from his book The Greatest Show on Earth) against him: if one would see the butler holding a gun in his hand, with a sinister grin on his face going into the library, we then hear a gunshot and enter the room to see the butler holding the smoking gun in his hand, is it therefore logical to conclude that he did it? Yes, it is. Is it beyond the shadow of a doubt? No, it is not. Why? Because you didn’t see him pull the trigger. It could be that the man shot himself and the butler then picked up the smoking gun. Even though the comparison is amazing, at the end of the day the progression is only an assumption based on comparative whatever. It is an imaginary line of progression unless we have actually witnessed it. Of course, according to evolutionary theory, we cannot see it because it takes far too long for these changes to occur that they should be observable in the lab. Could it be? Yes. But in the realm of logic and “proof’ that is only a “maybe”, nothing more.
The same holds true in the realm of gene sequencing. To use Dawkin’s analogy against him here, too, as the DNA in his opinion is NOT a blueprint (most disagree with this, however) then the only real evidence of what the thing is can be discovered by what it actually looks like upon completion. Ergo, if it is demonstratable that an actual human being has many intrinsic differences between him and a simian – then one must conclude that they are also clearly dissimilar on the genomic level as well. They only seem similar in the sequencing. (However, in truth even on a sequencing level they are still significantly different despite all claims to the contrary).
Obviously, there is much more to say on this topic, (and I do in Core Emunah vol. 1 “Hello? G-d?”) but as far as addressing the basic logic of the argument – that sums it up in a nutshell.
- Microevolution and Mutation
There are hundreds, if not thousands, (tens of thousands?) of examples brought as the basis of microevolution and it is based on them that microevolution is considered by most to be fact. However, upon scrutiny, EVERY SINGLE EXAMPLE FOLLOWS THE SAME PREMISE, AND THEREFORE SUFFER FROM THE SAME BASIC FLAW. To understand this let’s bring today’s world’s most famous example: antibiotic resistance.
The observable part of this issue begins with genomic variance among species. For example, there are many types of dogs, even though they all share the same basic genome and can breed with each other. This holds true in the realm of bacteria as well. Even among bacteria of the same type, there are different variations of bacteria.
When antibodies are introduced into the bloodstream they are supposed to “attack” the bacteria and destroy them. However, due to the variance among bacteria, there are those bacteria that are not affected by the antibodies. As they are the only bacteria left in the aftermath of the antibiotics, they become the “dominant” species and the new strains of bacteria that are then left multiply and become the dominant members of the species.
The rule that our sages, ob”m, teach us that is applicable here is “Any words of sheker (a lie) in which there is no emmet (truth) in its beginning will not stand at its end” (Rashi on Bamidbar 13:27). This means that a statement which is inherently false will always be seen as false. The only type of falsehood that lasts is one that has some truth to it.
The flaw in the above argument is based exactly on this premise. The reason is as follows: Why is there a genomic variation in the first place? Ask any scientist of the evolutionary persuasion and he will answer “mutation”. Let’s ask ourselves: Do mutations occur? Of course, they do! This is a known fact. There are two sources of mutation: damage from harmful agents, such as radioactivity, and copy-errors in DNA reproduction. Pictures and stories abound of all sorts of mutations. It is also an observable phenomenon in the lab. OK. So, this is true.
However, if we ask ourselves: Is ALL variation based on mutations? To answer “yes” is inherently false. The real answer is “I don’t know”. However, every single example of microevolution, which is supposed to be the demonstration of “mutation in action causing variation” is based on the initial premise that the initial variation was due to mutation. This is a classic case of circular logic. You cannot prove the mechanics of mutation by assuming that all variation is due to mutation. Even though “selection” (the above process) and “genetic drift” (chance) are also cited as sources of variation within a genome, they are not actual causes of the initial variation. Rather, they are cited as forces that control the success or failure of the variation within the genome. Horizontal (or lateral) gene transfer, although a possible source for variation within single-celled organisms, has not been observed and should not occur within the animal kingdom due to the difference in the process of reproduction. (Single-celled organisms multiply by fully reproducing their own DNA, whereas in the animal kingdom it’s more of a genetic crap-shoot, where part of the genomic material is from the father and some from the mother). In addition, after all of the observation of horizontal gene-transfer, there is still no evidence of a macroevolutionary change as a result. The bacteria remain bacteria (they didn’t begin to mate with each other), and the organisms remained basically the same organisms. To say that this is the only source of variation would also be false as well, as is evidenced by the relatively new field of Epigenetics. (More on this in a moment).
To sum up this point. Is there observable data of variation within the different species? Yes, there is. Is it possible that mutation is the source? Yes. Is it certain? No. Is it possible that DNA transference of some sort is the source of variation among the species? Yes. Is it certain? No. If that’s the case then we are looking at just another “maybe”.
If that’s the case, then none of the above prove the case of microevolution. It does make a case for something affecting the “popularity” of a certain variation within a certain species. Can I make a case that the reason for this is “selection”? Yes. Can I prove it? No. The same data can make a case for shabdallazula, as well. A rose, by any other name, is still a rose. Regardless of the name I give it, this remains just an observable fact, that after the introduction of X only species Y remains. The explanation is just as valid if I call it “selection” or if I call it “G-d” as both fit the observable phenomena.
- Variation and Species
All of the observable data boils down to this issue only. There are different species of whatever in the world and there is variation within the species themselves. That’s it. That’s the whole thing in a nutshell. It is towards this that the field of epigenetics was developed.
Epigenetics is the study of heritable changes in gene function that do not involve changes in the DNA sequence. … Epigenetics most often denotes changes in a chromosome that affect gene activity and expression, but can also be used to describe any heritable phenotypic change that does not derive from a modification of the genome, such as prions. Such effects on cellular and physiological phenotypic traits may result from external or environmental factors, or be part of normal developmental program. The standard definition of epigenetics requires these alterations to be heritable (Wikipedia Epigenetics)
Epigenetics was made a field of study when it was noted that changes within the environment seemed to cause changes within the genome. Meaning that there is a significant amount of observable phenomena of changes occurring within the genome due to variations in the environment. (Search for “stickleback fish” if you want examples). There is no change in the DNA noted, only a “change in the expression of genes” meaning that some genes that are normally “on” are switched “off” whereas others, that are usually “off” are switched “on”. The question, of course, isn’t if it happens, it does, but rather why?
Sciences answer? If you can’t explain the phenomena – give it a name! The minute you name it everyone else thinks you know what you are talking about! What? YOU don’t KNOW about shabdallazula? What planet are YOU from? Once you have a name, then build a legend about it and describe the phenomena and everyone will assume you know what you are talking about.
However, at its heart, the real issue is do I now understand WHY this happened? Do I offer an explanation to the observable phenomena other than a general description of what happens? No. There is no real explanation as to why these phenomena happen within the context of epigenetics. It’s just a name and the molecular description of what occurs. This means that all we really know is that there is an environmental change and there are genomic changes that occur.
This is where we hit the heart of the matter. According to scientific dogma, based purely off of evolutionary theory, your DNA is comprised of two parts: you, and junk. That’s it.
Because of that thinking, this phenomenon is not really explainable, only describable. Why should the environment affect your junk? Why should your “junk” affect you? However, this is a truly silly assumption. Why do we assume there is junk? Two reasons. 1) Because we don’t see it used in coding; and 2) because we assume we know what it should be for (we don’t) and as it is not fulfilling that function, ergo it is junk. We also assume that there are vestigial limbs for the same reason.
The problem with this is manifold, and as I have explained at length in my book with sources, I, therefore, won’t reiterate it here. I will just make a few points:
- No one really knows what the entire DNA is saying, nor can we, due to its tremendous size and capacity.
- Despite all of the years and man-hours of study we are still only just beginning, in many ways, to understand the microbiological functions of the cells and the DNA. The Human Genome Project totally changed our understanding of how genes worked. Before the project, it was assumed that whoever had the largest genome “won” (=was the most complex). Afterward, we discovered that the human genome works in an entirely different manner than that of almost (all?) every other creature, plant, or thing on the planet.
- The “junk” is consistently reproduced, despite the fact that cell reproduction seems to be extremely efficient and conforms to the “conservation of energy” standards of not reproducing unnecessary information, which would be a waste of its very limited resources.
- The more investigation that we do into the “junk”, the more we see that it has function and purpose.
Ergo: There is no junk in DNA. What this means is that the DNA and its genes are programmed to respond to environmental and other stimuli, affecting man on the genomic level. The gene expression is affected “epigenetically”, but it is because outside stimuli “tell” the genes what and how to express them. It is for this reason that there is no observable change within the genome, only changes in gene “expression”.
Don’t take my word for it. Our sages, ob”m, tell this to us quite clearly in Tractate Shabbos 31a, which states (not verbatim):
One day, someone wagered that he could make him get angry. The bet was 400 pieces of gold. It was just before Shabbat and Hillel the Elder was preparing for its arrival. The man, therefore, rushed to Hillel’s home and cried, “Hillel the Elder! Where’s Hillel the Elder?” At the time, Hillel was washing himself, and so he interrupted his preparations, wrapped himself in his clothes, and went to the one who was calling him. “What do you want, my son?” he asked.
“I have a question to ask you.”
“Ask me then.”
“Why are the heads of Babylonians so round?”
And Hillel the Elder, himself Babylonian, answered him with a smile. “You have asked a profound question, my son, and I will answer you. It is because they have bad midwives that don’t know how, when a baby is born, to give the head a good shape.”
The man didn’t reply. Later, he again asked Hillel a question: “Why are the people of Tadmor terutot (slanted eyes, Rashi)?”
“Because they live in a sandy country (and the sand gets in their eyes),” Hillel the Elder replied.
After a certain time, the man came back and asked, “Why do Africans have such wide feet?”
With inexhaustible patience, Hillel the Elder answered: “Because they live in marshy land.”
The explanation that Hillel the Elder gives the questioner is that the changes in the genome are due to environmental phenomena. This fits the observable data. Meaning that all life is clearly capable of adaptation. To say that this is the result of random mutation is illogical, as there is an extreme unlikelihood that an uncontrolled mutational, (or otherwise), change within the genome will allow for the adaptation to the situation based on the circumstances of the phenomena. Yet it happens all of the time. If that is true, coupled with the fact that parts of the DNA that we assumed were “junk” are suddenly discovered to have a function, this is evidence of pre-existing programming in the DNA to “deal with” the environmental changes. This is evidence of non-randomness. To deal with specific phenomena requires specification which is the opposite of randomness. Ergo: it is programmed. It is based on intelligence, not uncontrolled, random chance (or “genetic drift”, if you so prefer).
To say that this could be the result of “aliens”, which many scientists have, (for example Nobel prize laureate Francis Krik) is illogical for two reasons. 1) Because it just begs the question. Where did the aliens get their intelligence and their existence from? 2) Because in the realm of logical evidence “aliens” is also just a “maybe”. We have no concrete evidence of the existence of aliens. Based on the same logic you can just say “G-d” as well.
However, if the above statement is true and the genomic changes are caused by external environmental phenomena, turning on and off genes as a result, then it cannot be said based on the a priori assumption that the genome is NOT made by G-d. If the adaptive behavior is chosen in response to the environment then it is “chosen”, not accidental. “Selection” is just a fancy name for nothing. There is no more reason to choose “selection” over “shabdallazula”, which is just a nonsense word describing nothing.
Of course, observation of the physical world, although it is the source for many a man’s belief in G-d, is not the only reason that man believes in G-d. Oh, no! There are just SO MANY reasons that a person should believe in G-d! (With HaShem’s help, a significant amount of them are brought in Core Emunah vol. 2 “G-d & Me”, which will be available soon). However, even within the context of the above argument, there is already a lot of room to make an argument for G-d. With HaShem’s help, we will explore further sides to this issue within the context of a different blog.
Pessach kasher v’Sameach all!
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