Belated Happy Darwin Day

Belated Happy Darwin Day February 14, 2011

Sorry for my absence of late.  It’s difficult to keep up daily posts when so many other responsibilities are at hand.  Plus I got a new Kindle so I was wasting a lot of time loading it up with stuff.  Boys and their toys and all that….

This past weekend we celebrated Darwin and Aish Ha-Torah, the home of the Orthodox kiruv (outreach) specialists, responded with an extended excerpt by Rabbi Moshe Averick from his book, Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused and Illusory World of the Atheist.

His argument, about the origins of life, is a run-on sentence that might as well just read, “Life’s really complicated so someone made it.”  It’s a “God of the Gaps” performance with light and mirrors and all those fallacious and boring so-called philosophical arguments that make you want to skim the page or pass out, not necessarily in that order.  It’s main flaw is that, like all similar efforts, it considers the components of something that is obviously created analogous to atoms and the forces that work on them.

He also tries to answer the problem of infinite regress by saying that it doesn’t count with God on account of he’s so special and not material at all.  So there.

Please forgive the childishness of my tone.  Maybe it’s because I’m so confused and illusory.

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  • Rabbi Fallick,

    I’m surprised at you. As an atheist, secular humanist, etc. you must have heard of Professor Richard Dawkins. Myself and the professor are actually on the same page conceptually. It is a detail, albeit a crucial detail, that we disagree on. You, on the other hand seem to have missed the point of the excerpt, although the fact that the other 3/4 was not posted might have left certain factual points fuzzy.

    On Page 5 of The Blind Watchmaker, Dawkins explicitly states that the “organized complexity of life” would have made him a believer if not for Charles Darwin and the theory of Evolution. He “could not imagine being an atheist before 1859”. The “counterintuitive” theory of evolution offered an alternative explanation for the staggering functional complexity of living organisms.

    Of course, Dawkins is obviously mistaken. Not because Darwinian Evolution is not true, for arguments sake I concede the truth of Darwin’s theory. He is mistaken because Evolution does not even begin to address the real question of the functional complexity of life. Darwinian Evolution can only begin to operate once a fully functioning DNA based self replicating piece of molecular machinery is in place. How did it get there? As Dr. George Whitesides (who has the hightest living Hirsch-index rating of any living chemist)stated recently: “How? [did life begin] I have no idea…based on all the chemistry I know, it seems astonsishingly improbable.”
    Professor Thomas Nagel, distinguished professor of Philosophy and Law at NYU, and who describes himself as “just as much an outsider to religion as Richard Dawkins” writes in his New Republic review of The God Delusion: “The entire apparatus of evolutionary explanation therefore depends on the prior existence of genetic material with these remarkable properties…we have explained the complexity of organic life in terms of something that is itself just as functionally complex as what we originally set out to explain. So the problem is just pushed back a step. How did such a thing come into existence?”

    Richard Dawkins understands the problem (although he embraced the wrong solution), Dr. George Whitesides understands the problem, Professor Nagel understands the problem, and I understand the problem. You seem to be the only one who is blissfully ignorant of the very real and crucial issue that must be dealt with. Perhaps it is because you are spending too much time playing with your Kindle and other toys instead of focusing your intellect and confronting truly significant questions. You strike me as being smug and arrogant. If you have the courage I am prepared to debate you on the issue of the Origin of Life and the Existence of a Creator, or participate in a moderated forum with you on the topic in any reasonable venue. I have a hard time believing that you would agree, my experience has been that people like yourself usually run and hide when challenged.
    Sincerely, Moshe Averick

  • Yes, someone is being smug and arrogant, but it isn’t Jeffrey.

    We already have theoretical models of how the first organic molecules developed from simpler compounds, and our understanding is becoming more sophisticated all the time. Your argument is typical of evangelicals and frum people – “I don’t understand all of it, right now, therefore God.”

    If you really want to debate the issue, there are plenty of qualified blogging biologists who could answer all of your objections. You may want to try Jerry Coyne or PZ Myers. Of course, it’s easier to pick a fight with a someone armed with a layman’s understanding.

  • Dear Cipher:

    There are no theoretical models about how the first self replicating molecules developed. There are SPECULATIVE models. That of course is why the Harvard Origin of Life Initiative Website describes the origin of life as a “compelling mystery.” It is also why Dr. Gerald Joyce who together with Dr. Tracey Lincoln at the Scripps Inst. synthesized the first RNA strands that could in any way shape or form could be described as self-replicating, candidly stated that although the RNA World theory has helped focus synthetic chemistry and inspired some fascinating experiments, it does not explain the origin of life. He also stated that there is as yet no “realistic” scenario for the natural emergence of self replicating molecules.
    I don’t go around picking fights with anybody, it was Rabbi Fallick’s smug reply that I was responding to. I am also a layman. If you are going to go around boasting about the silliness of someone else’s position and you are unable to back it up, then you should keep quiet.
    If P.Z. Meyer’s was willing to engage in a public forum with me on the Origin of Life I would be happy to do it; at this stage of the game however, I cannot believe he would do it. But in the future it is quite possible.

    There is an old lawyer’s adage: If the facts are on your side, pound the facts. If the facts aren’t on your side, pound the table. Rabbi Fallick strikes me as the kind of guy who does a lot of table pounding on this issue. I pound the simple facts. In fact my book, NONSENSE OF A HIGH ORDER: THE CONFUSED AND ILLUSORY WORLD OF THE ATHEIST, is fully documented and footnoted. I also do not quote or cite any scientist who is a Creationist or proponent of Intelligent Design theory.
    The true state of Origin of LIfe research was stated quite openly by Dr. Freeman Dyson:”First of all I wanted to talk a bit about origin of life…that has been a hobby of mine. We’re all equally ignorant as far as I can see. That’s why somebody like me can pretend to be an expert.” ( page 11.

    I discuss issues openly and honestly with people who are prepared to do the same.
    I am also prepard to discuss the issue with Rabbi Fallick privately if he so desires.

  • Anonymous

    Look, you can quote as many smart people as you’d like saying “it’s complicated and we don’t know”, but that doesn’t provide a shred of evidence in favor of your proposition that the only explanation for the emergence of self replicating molecules is a supernatural being out of all material time and space. If we don’t know something in science, we say “I don’t know” and endeavor to discover the answer. You seem to say “these smart people don’t know the answer to this question so my answer wins by default.” Sorry, thats not how it works. They don’t know and EITHER DO YOU. Maybe someone from the future went back in time and created RNA and we are caught in an eternal loop of counterintuitive causality. It makes just as much sense to hypothesize that as it does to assert a supernatural God. In fact, it makes MORE sense since it doesn’t require the assertion that something non material could exist eternally and create at will. All
    I asserted was the possibility of time travel.

  • Anonymous

    Of course the time travel illustration is laughable, as is your proposal of a supernatural being existing out out universe.
    And you are asserting the existence of the supernatural. Nothing of the kind has ever been demonstrated to any degree.
    And your dichotomy is wrong. The choice is not between a purely naturalistic process and a supernatural intelligent designer, but between purely natural explanations (using physics, chemistry) and something else (which would be anything and everything not included in the material. Magic pixies, purple ghosts, etc). Everything in that second category is by definition not observable, provable, study-able, or knowable. You are claiming that one particular option in option
    B must be the answer.
    We who live in the real world are limited to studying the reality. Until you demonstrate that anything else can or does exist, it’s not worth factoring into the equation. If scientists work for a thousand years and still cannot recreate or understand the origin of life using material processes and observations, it still offers not a whit of support for your claim that option b can or does exist or have the slightest explanatory power. But considering how much we have learned in a short period of time (basic building blocks of life can arise from inorganic material, experiments show. And scientists have been doing such experiments for what, 50yrs?) it’s likely an explanation will be found.
    False dichotomy, argument from ignorance, god of the gaps. That’s all you have here.
    And as to the Dawkins quote, I have not read the book you mined the quote from so I do not know whether I agree with him or not. But what if I do? Who cares? Wouldn’t be the first time I’ve disagreed with him.

  • Anonymous

    That was written on my phone, hence the numerous typos. Apologies. I am more literate than the above may suggest!