The days of being subtle about sneaking in one EDM song on your Jewish music CD are over.
It all started with Rabbi Avi Shafran’s article here, (read that first):
A relatively minor discovery but it wasn’t expected. In fact, larger surprises, leading to substantive revisions in the study of evolution are the rule rather than the exception. From Lamarckism to classical natural selection to Darwinism to the Modern Synthesis, evolution theory, well, evolves. But whatever mechanisms are believed to serve as the engine of evolution, the theory’s fundamental idea remains that life sprang from inanimate matter and came to yield all the organisms in the biosphere we occupy. As such, the news was, for me, another opportunity to come face-to-face with a personal reality. […]
What I cannot bring myself to accept, though, is speciation, the notion that the approximately 10 million distinct species on earth (along with another estimated 20 million marine microbial organisms) all developed from a common ancestor.
Those numbers, it must be stressed, don’t refer to individual creatures, but rather to distinct species. And, to make the head-wrapping-around-the-thought even more daunting, scientists estimate that the above numbers reflect only a mere one percent of all species that existed on earth, 99% of which are extinct. What’s more, new species are constantly being discovered, like a slew of previously unknown animals and plants recently cataloged in the Greater Mekong region.
According to the high priests of Scientism (and the masses that venerate them), all of that variation derives from one prehistoric single-celled organism. And that ur-organism itself sprung from inanimate matter.
Rabbi Slifkin quickly responded thusly (read that second):
His discussion of evolution is utterly muddled, mixing together three topics - the origins of the very first life form, the common ancestry of all animal life, and the mechanisms of evolution. Yet these three issues are entirely separate.
With regard to the first topic - the origin of life - most scientists freely admit that we know very little about it, and one is certainly not ridiculed or excommunicated for observing this. Similarly, with regard to the third topic - the mechanisms of evolution - most scientists freely admit that we still have oodles to learn about it. But with regard to the second topic - the common ancestry of all animal life - there is an overwhelming convergence of evidence from many different areas, including the fossil record, the pattern of homologous versus analogous similarities, the nested hierarchy of the animal kingdom, vestigial limbs, and much more. Rabbi Shafran does not counter any of these. Even advocates of Intelligent Design do not challenge this. So, yes, if you publicly dismiss all of this without presenting any counter-arguments and apparently without even understanding it, then you are not going to be taken seriously by the scientific community, and you probably indeed deserve “derision and ridicule.” It’s like challenging the historicity of the moon landing - you’re not a heretic, you’re an idiot.
Then Jerry Coyne jumped in with a post on his blog Why Evolution Is True (read this third):
It turns out, though, that Shafran’s Big Beef isn’t this rate variation, it’s the fact that he doesn’t think that evolution has been sufficient to explain a.) the proliferation of species over the history of life, and b.) the origin of life itself. […]
Has life proliferated too fast to be explained by natural processes? No. Let’s assume that we start with one species 3.5 billion years ago (the “universal common ancestor”, or UCA), and it simply bifurcates into two lineages. How long would it take to get to a billion species? (The rabbi estimates ten million today, but let’s assume, as is reasonable that 99% of the species formed since the UCA went extinct without leaving descendants. So we have to account for the evolution of a billion species) That’s an easy calculation (watch; I’ll screw it up!):
2^x = 1,000,000,000, where x is the number of splitting events required to produce a billion species.
x log 2 = log 1,000,000,000 = 9
x = 9/0.301 ≈ 30
In other words, only 30 splitting events would yield that billion species. Over 3.5 billon years, that’s one speciation event every 116 million years. As Allen Orr and I calculated in our book Speciation, on average a new species forms by splitting of a given lineage at a rate between one every 100,000 years and one every million years. (This is a rough estimate, of course, and varies by taxa.) The upshot: the data we have on species formation shows that there’s been plenty of time time for evolution to have created a billion or even 100 billon species.
He never addresses the issue of the origin of life.
We finally conclude this little excursion as follows (read this last):
Coyne’s fancy math tries to obscure the question, but not very well. It is not true according to his model that only 30 speciation events are necessary to form 1 billion species. It is that 30 speciation times are necessary, in which on that day, magically, every single species split, and then went dormant for another 116 million years. Then speciation day 2 occurs, and every single species splits, and goes dormant for another 116 million years. On speciation day 30, by coincidence all existing 500 million species decided to split on the very same day, and formed 1 billion new species. But clearly, in real life, they would be happening at random times. If 500 million species split in 116 million years, that is 4 events per year. He is playing fast and loose with the word “event”.
So, there’s all the information. Do with that as you please.
In my humble opinion, The Devil’s Delusion is one of the absolute best books on the subject of modern “Scientific Atheism” or “Militant Atheism”. I couldn’t put it down. It’s eloquent, elegant, and clever to the point of inducing laughter at times. It’s smart and unusually impartial — Berlinksi is a self-proclaimed agnostic — and plays Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris et al on their own court, something not many do, or are capable of.
It’s exactly the way a book of this nature should be. It’s not preachy. It’s not childish. It’s not simple. In fact, all of these words are precisely polar opposites of what this book is.
The other book in this vein, and of this caliber, that I would recommend is, of course, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sack’s own The Great Partnership. But these two books are very different. Radically so. Because while Rabbi Sack’s book is, at the end of the day, a religious work that stands on its own, The Devil’s Delusion is a direct response to the books of modern atheists — and wouldn’t exist without their prompts. It is for this reason that, if you have ever found yourself challenged on some level by the works of Dawkins and so forth — or would just like a totally solid foundation for this sort of stuff — I would recommend The Devil’s Delusion pretty much before anything else.
I am pleased to have found/read this book, to say the least. It’s not new, by any means, but it is fresh in its approach (to me at least). I’ve never read anything quite like it.
In short, I would probably summary thusly: It doesn’t try to, nor will it even come close to, proving anything to anyone (and nor should it); except for the fact that the modern atheistic scientific enterprise is deeply, incredulously biased — a fact so well explored and exhibited in this book that it takes quite the edge off an otherwise seemingly relentless war on religion. A must-read for the modern religious thinker.
Richard Dawkins writes the following in his book The God Delusion:
“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”
It is this paragraph that Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, in his debate with Richard Dawkins, called anti-semitic. Personally, I don’t really care either way. All this paragraph is really saying is that God sure seems like a jerk. Indeed, I would readily agree to such a notion. Just looking at the last few hundred years of history, it is more than a little difficult to conclude otherwise. And it is one of Dawkins’s greatest pleasures, it seems, to point out just how big of a jerk God can/was/would be.
But this hardly matters. Because it speaks only to the character of a Deity, not His existence.
In other words, and essentially to summarize the quote above, Dawkins is offended.
Well, now we quote Richard Dawkins’s good friend Christopher Hitchens’s response to someone stating they are offended by something: