April 18, 2006

by Reb Yudel
Worse for the Jews: Darwin or David Klinghoffer?

David Klinghoffer has now replied to my piece Darwin is not the Enemy, in which I brought forward the Rav Kook perspective on science, God and evolution. Needless to say, I did not convince him to abandon his belief that Darwin is a problem for Jews.

I don't have the time to write a full counter reply, but I am struck by a couple of things in his piece.

One is the appeal to authority. With the rabbinic view (Kook & Maimonides) now a subject of our debate, he relies on authority, rather than science, to "disprove" evolution; citing the Discovery Institute supporters as if they were scientific critics. Given what a bad month this has been for Creationism -- the finding of a major "missing link" between fish and land creatures; the discovery of a mechanism for protein evolution; and a major hominid discovery -- I can't blame him for sticking to old supporters.

But if the question is one of authority, not evidence, then at what point does examining the nature of the authority become appropriate rather than ad hominem? Is it fair for me to note that the Discovery Institute -- which pays him to write these op-eds, as opposed to my much stingier employer, which does not have similar resources -- is heavily funded by organizations such as the Stewardship Foundation, which, according to its mission statement:

provides resources to Christ-centered organizations whose mission is to share their faith in Jesus Christ with people throughout the world.

I think it's a fair question, because a Christian-friendly world view is not necessarily a Judaism-friendly world view. (For those who insist it is, I have some martyrologies to sell you). I don't want my children's faith to flounder because we're being asked to adopt some shaky scaffolding (such as Creationism) being jerry-rigged by some of the worshipers of the carpenter from Nazareth.

Take for example this month's Discovery Institute talking points, which Klinghoffer uses to begin his latest essay.

Is genetic information the only information that science has ever encountered that was not generated by an intelligent agent?

When it comes to science, I'm an educated-enough layman to recall the book I read on information theory back in my Y.U. days. And information, aka complexity, as defined by Claude Shannon (filtered through my dim recollection -- funders willing to subsidize research time are welcome to leave their contact information in the comments) -- can indeed be increased, at least locally, through natural processes. For example, the Grand Canyon contains more information -- its depth, its course -- than did the flat plain that existed before the Colorado River began to carve out its course millions of years ago. The flat plain had no information, and could easily be replicated. The Grand Canyon contains much information; it cannot be easily replicated.

Where did the information come from? Mechanistically, the information is the sum of trillions of drops of water, each feeling the tug of gravity. Rav Kook, of course, rightly sees God in each drop of water and each graviton; but the math works out regardless.

So what would David Klinghoffer have to say when faced with the Grand Canyon?

I know what the Talmud would say, because the Talmud tells a story of a man named Akiva, who saw a not-quite-as-grand channel of water and realized: If drop by drop water can wear away the rock, then Torah study can even impact a middle-aged lunkhead like me. And off went Akiva to study Torah, eventually emerging as the famous rabbi.

What would happen if Klinghoffer would follow Akiva's lead, and head off to years of Torah study? Would he discover a more subtle yet glorious God if he immersed himself in the Jewish tradition and freed himself from the influence (cultural and financial) of the Republican Christianist community? Klinghoffer owes it to himself -- and the Jewish community -- to find out.

(Notes and links for further research follow)

MediaTransparency.org notes that Discovery Institute donors include the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation. Prior to recent ventures such as the Heritage Foundation and the Discovery Institute, Bradley money early on helped support the John Birch Foundation, and the anti-Civil Rights journal National Review.

The Discovery Institute is pleased to co-sponsor the American Jewish Congress' 2006 Community Leadership Award. Thanks a lot, dudes.

Philip Gold leaves the Discovery Institute

American Prospect on Discovery Institute funders notes that funders include the Tennessee-based Maclellan Foundation, which describes itself as “committed to the infallibility of Scripture, to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.”

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Comments
#1

You don't have time to write a counter-reply? I believe it is not a matter of time--David Klinghoffer has simply defeated you.

Indeed, Darwin is bad for the Jews and your scandalous headline here that suggests a single Torah believing Jew is worse for the Jews than the man whose legacy is the denial of Judaism is quite a slur.

Rav Kook and the Ramban agree that materialist evolution is not to be celebrated.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at May 3, 2006 12:09 AM
#2

Interesting beliefs you have there.... lack of time and, to tell the truth, lack of anything new in Klinghoffer's argument.

The fact is that he and I disagree about something profound. He insists that God would not create a world which has a materialistic explanation; I say that I'm too stunned by God's splendor in keeping subatomic particles spinning to insist a priori that God must have created His universe any one way.

As to who is better for the Jews, Klinghoffer or Darwin: To my knowledge, Darwin never tried to explicate Jewish theology while on the payroll of organizations funded to help spread the Gospel.

And it'd only my opinion, and I may be right or wrong, but your faith would be better served reading Rav Kook than David Klinghoffer.

Posted by: Reb Yudel at May 3, 2006 12:31 AM
#3

To your last point first, indeed I read both Rav Kook and David Klinghoffer. You failed to address David K's points, which were numerous and excellent. Concerning the difference between Rav Kook and David Klinghoffer, Klinghoffer is posing a challenge to you and asking for a response while Rav Kook has been dead for 79 years and knew nothing of the contemporary struggle that faces our community today. He has defeated your poor use of the Ramban and Rav Kook to prop up Jewish support for Darwin. It is one thing to misrepresent David Klinghoffer and a more serious matter to misrepresent Rav Kook and Maimonides.

As I argued on another blog, reading Rav Kook's writings, he was happy to find significance in evolution in the same way that he was able to reach out and respond to atheists. His lesson is to search for wisdom everywhere and this is the Jewish way. It is not his conclusion, however, that Jews should therefore become atheists or accept Darwin since both doctrines are contrary to our message.

I believe you have created needless conflict by attacking David Klinghoffer in such a personal way and you might as well attack me since I give money to the Discovery INstitute. It is my belief, having read thorugh some of the items on your blog, that you have a political conflict with David Klinghoffer and you need to separate politics from the fundamental nature of the issue of whether or not Darwin is kosher. If I could encourage you to stick to the question and not attempt to defeat David K. simply by impeaching his association with the DI-- it would be helpful.

Klinghoffer did not say that God would "not create a world that has a materialist explanation." I believe it is helpful for those in a debate to accept the words of one's opponent in context and in good faith. The challenge posed by the scientists at DI is that Darwinian mechanisms fail to demonstrate how much of the world actually works. They have over 500 scientists on record as indicating that natural selection and random mutations fail to explain life on this planet and its evolution.

It is my good faith belief that you do not understand what ID suggests.

This point is made clear when you speak of the Grand Canyon--a very obvious example of a natural process. Indeed, similar markings exist on other planets in our solar system and these are obvious markings of natural forces working without direct influence of a designer or a design. ID theory states that design is the inference from systems or objects that demonstrate specified complexity and not mere intracacy.


You antipathy to Republicans and conservative Christians seems to cloud your approach to basic issues. It woulld seem you might value the fact that there are Christians in America that cherish the Torah and the Jewish people and the state of Israel. It never ceases to amaze me that there are Jews who find sure enemies with the very people who offer us so much support.

The correct response it seems to me, is to find allies where we can find them and never back down on what we see as our unique message for humanity.

It is scurilous to suggest that David Klinghoffer is some kind of house Jew for the Christians when all he wants to do is express his very Jewish point of view. By contrast, I hope you can see that it is a big problem that so many Jews in America today assume public policy positions that are antithetical to Jewish tradition simply to distance themselves from the "Christian right."

In this context, please tell me how making Darwin kosher is a good thing for our community.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at May 3, 2006 7:08 PM
#4

David,

I appreciated your passion and your initiative. For the moment, let me relate to a couple of your points.

If I could encourage you to stick to the question and not attempt to defeat David K. simply by impeaching his association with the DI-- it would be helpful.

However, separating DK from DI is not so easy since he -- and you -- want to set up DI as an authority, and then rely on an argument from authority to prove Intelligent Design:

The challenge posed by the scientists at DI is that Darwinian mechanisms fail to demonstrate how much of the world actually works. They have over 500 scientists on record as indicating that natural selection and random mutations fail to explain life on this planet and its evolution.

Given a choice between those scientists who do research, and whose findings have come further toward explaining biological processes from genetics to evolution than I would have thought possible 25 years ago, and the handful of scientists who have signed onto the Gospel values of the DI -- well, my bias is toward the former.

I've seen enough bad probablity undertaken in the name of God -- from "Bible Codes" to "Intelligent Design" -- to want to mortgage my faith, and the faith of my children, to the surveys of the Discovery Institute. Maimonides is very clear in The Guide that truth, not religious utility, is the first guide in evaluating science. Rav Kook is equally clear that religion must be prepared to reevaluate itself in the face of modernity's changes -- and that one of those changes is indeed the billions of years of evolutionary history.

What the heck. Let's quote some Klinghoffer:

Did the software in the cell, DNA, write itself? Is genetic information the only information that science has ever encountered that was not generated by an intelligent agent?

Is David Klinghoffer the only columnist for Jewish newspapers who has his columns vetted by Christian rather than Jewish theologians before publication? And when did he stop beating his wife?

I suppose part of why I pleaded laziness in not taking Klinghoffer's reply on directly is that his latest first paragraph tosses out some of the latest DI talking points as if I'm supposed to debate them -- or as if he's qualified to defend them. From the standpoint of the 40+ year old theory of Information Theory, there's no particular reason to distinguish between genetic information and the information contained within the Grand Canyon.

Moving on to Maimonides: Klinghoffer tries to correct his earlier misreading of Maimonides by insisting that the philosophical incompatability of the eternity of the world would lead Maimonides to reject it even if it could not be disproven. Klinghoffer midquoted Maimonides the first time out, and here is trying to compound the error through rhetorical flourishes.

Klinghoffer's problem, unlike Maimonides', is with science itself, not with Darwin. Unfortunately, he replaces science not with Torah -- would the Forward publish him were he to advocate Talmudic medicine as the solution to soaring medical costs? -- but with postmodern, relativism. Like the Foucoulians who dismiss all science as "power", Klinghoffer looks to count heads at 20th century conferencs and signatories to the DI positions papers, rather than look at real science. It is akin to those who would pasken shailos by counting up all the poskim on one side or another -- or, in terms the DI founders could better understand, those who decided the "true nature" of Jesus by vote at 5th century Church councils.

As a recent column in the Wall Street Journal noted, the whole notion of "culture wars" over Darwin is a bizarre creation, in large measure, of the Himmelfarb-Kristol couple. (I wonder whether anyone at the recent AJC centennial celebration took time to debate Commentary's trailing-edge anti-scientism.)

Klinghoffer's position seems to be that he can fuel a "debate" without bothering to know what's going on in the field -- or so I am to assume by his sneering question as to whether I am a "close student" of the state of biology today. If Klinghoffer entered this debate a student of biology, then he would be quite hesitant to be worshiping the "God of the gaps." And if I were willing to publically succumb to the narcissitic theologies of those at the leading edge of Darwin denial, then I would take it as a particular sign of grace that God arranged for the ultimate rebuttal to Klinghoffer and DI: The announcement this past month of a couple major "missing links" and the reconstruction of a 700-million-year process of protein evolution.

But, bad though Klinghoffer's science may be (and precisely how much scientific due dilligence did he undertake before cashing his DI checks?), his theology -- and philosophy -- is worse. For he says:

In practice, however, there is simply no way to reconcile an idea with its precise negation.

Sure there is. It's called God, the confluence of opposites. (Those less theological-minded can also refer to Hegelian synthesis). In disputing this, Klinghoffer is deniying Rav Kook -- and with more vehemence than he ever denied Darwin.

Because the "Darwin" of his rejoinder is a straw man, a person who invents a "theory" which can then be judged by its theological consequences.

But that's not evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory has plenty of consequences, ranging from tools of software development to the models that underly genetic engineering.

Klinghoffer says the question is

whether the universe has a need for a God, period.
But he is not willing to answer the question from the view of God or of a religious person; he insists that the scientist answer yes to that question. He wants the scientist to wake up one morning and say, "My God! My equations do not work! There must be a Creator!"

Unfortunately for Klinghoffer, and the Discovery Institute, and those who founded the Discovery Institute as part of their mission of imposing a Christianist hegemony over America, that's not how the equations add up. Not to me, and not to all but 500 scientists.

But really, that's just his problem. It's not mine. I'm happy to join Rav Kook in accepting God as the premise.

Posted by: Reb Yudel at May 3, 2006 8:11 PM
#5

I thank you for your response, even if it rambles.

First, I am happy to defend your misperceptions about DI and the issue of authority. You are entitled to offer a critique of the DI--my objection was that you are seeking to discredit Klinghoffer based upon your perception that the DI is a Christian front group.

The DI was under attack from the beginning and very unfairly. I still hear cat calls against those who doubt Darwin as "unscientific" and akin to those who doubt the theory of gravity. The scientific case against Darwin is very strong and the authority of the DI is complemented by and not dependent upon the 500 PHD scientists that are willing to sign a letter of Darwin doubt.

Every one of these scientists is an INDEPENDENT authority that says Darwinism fails to explain the emergeance of novel plans and body parts, or processes that are irredicibly complex. There is a whole host of pressure against scientists declaring contempt for natural selection and the Darwinian mechanisms--it is scientific political correctness. Many scientists have been ridiculed, fired and isolated by taking a public stand against evolution. This is why it is easily arguable that many more than 500 doubt Darwin. Further, as you also stand in testimony--there are many scientists who will not stand up for Darwin but will also surely not side with a group such as the DI since it is "tainted" as a group that is conservative and many in the scientific/academic world have a big bias against groups that are understood as conservative.

As you go through the list of 500, surely you must come to terms with the fact that these are independent scientists that are linked to the DI only by this issue. In fact, the DI makes it plain that some of the signers support ID as a superior theory, while others do not.

Therefore, I offer you the opportunity to knock these 500 fine people. What I must protest is your willingness to attempt to smear David K with accusations of promoting the Gospels. By implication, you might wish to smear the 500 scientists (the list is growing and will be at 600 in the next 4-6 months)as Christian fundamentalists but this ignores the fact that many of the signers are not conservative Christians at all. Most would laugh if you told them they were part of some conspiracy to create Christian hegemony on the country. They are simply scientists stating that evolutionary theory has almost no function or relevance in their scientific careers. Doubting Darwin is so widespread--I cannot believe you can be in such denial.

The pertinent question is why do the overwhelming majority of Americans doubt Darwin even in the face of decades of such heavy-handed propaganda? It is apparent that the case for evolution is so illogical and counter-intuitive, most people just cannot swallow it.

Why do you?

Your statement of caricature against ID that suggests ID must be true if scientists have equations that do not add up. Attack ID if you will but please, not on terms of your own caricature. Further, there is not simply "gaps" of evidence to "equations"--there is no clue from scientists in understanding most questions of how life organizes itself. It is profoundly bad for the future of science to tell students that there is a working theory that explains life's evolution when there is not such a theory.

On that note, when I hear someone like Michael Behe come forward and say that he always assumed that evolution was a good working theory and the more his scientific career advanced, the more he could see it was all a lie. Obviously, I am no scientist. This is why I rely on people to tell me. I am listening to both sides and I find the facts and the evidence to be predominantly against Darwin's theory.

What "information" is in the Grand Canyon? What are you speaking about?

Duh, the Darwin debate *is* a leading element in the culture war. Please find one prominent liberal willing to go on the record as a Darwin doubter. Darwin IS the Church of the LEFT. Without Charles Darwin as a hero, the LEFT would be mortally wounded. Evolution is a political program and key pre-requisite for the further promotion of socialism. Darwinism is pure politics and needs to be stripped from the schools as a violation of church/state separation.

Despite your refusal to acknowledge the truth of David K's point, the Darwinism that has so much at stake in making the world intellectually fufilling for the atheist (so says Dawkins) cannot at the same time be kasherized by the Jews.

Please send me a link to your claim that scientists now know HOW protein evolved over a 700 million year period and please tell me how science can explain HOW bacteria emerged on this planet as soon as it possibly could have appeared with no time for evolution? Mapping and charting is not at all the same as stating HOW a protein could organize its own evolution.

Real science is quite a bit different from science-fiction. The search for the truth is at issue. This how controversy therefore comes down to the basic question: "Is natural selection and random mutations (chance)the driving factors in evolution?"

The public school mavens tell are children that human life was nearly an accident and if we could replay the clock, some other species would have emerged as pre-eminent.

This is the matter of negation David K references. Does it make sense that the entire universe is created under laws fit for human habitation and yet human habitation is simply one possible outcome? Is it sheer luck or was it planned?

I will include a further critique of your recent response in my next response to this posting.

What is the difference between a divine design and a divine design that overrides or directs a supposedly "all-natural" process? What is your theory? How can you be Jewish and stand up for Darwin's theory? How can you be Jewish and refuse to see how social Darwinism was used by Hitler in his plan to exterminate the Jewish people?

Posted by: David N. Friedman at May 4, 2006 12:26 AM
#6

Rambling? Well, I was mostly tracking Klinghoffer's original. And, truth be told, I like rambling -- particularly when I'm writing for free. Put me on the payroll and I'll be to-the-point, no rambles, and 700 words.

Regarding the protein evolution story: Here's a quote from Carl Zimmer:

Over the last few years, scientists have figured out how to recreate biological molecules that were last seen on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago. Until now, scientists have reconstructed ancient proteins to gather clues about life was like long ago. But now some scientists at the University of Oregon have done something new with these old proteins: they used them to figure out how evolution produces complex systems--exactly the sort of systems that creationists would have us believe cannot evolve.
You can find the article via this link, which cites it and, importantly for our conversations, demonstrates how a leading Creationist IDer has been caught "moving the goal posts" as to what precisely constitutes complexity.

Finally, various critiques of Klinghoffer's non-theological points can be found here. (And yes, it's a sad day when Usenet posts have more value than Jerusalem Post columnists).

Posted by: Reb Yudel at May 4, 2006 7:48 PM
#7

I thank you again for a response but I regret you did not respond to my questions and comments and I hope you reconsider and give my remarks a response.

I will respond to what you give me.

I know Carl Zimmer--he is obviously no scientist. He is a hack writer for the NYT and I have read some of his stuff--total junk. I asked you for a scientific article that shows protein evolution and you give me a guy off the street!

From the other link, there is chat about RNA existing before DNA so that DNA took over heritary functions of RNA. Please try to describe this process in materialist or random terms since the language used in your link is the language of design and purpose. For example, if I hire someone to take over my role in my business--this would be by design. But this is only on a tiny magnitude. By comparison, the information required to have DNA "assume" the role of RNA is mammouth and if computer code could be written to account for such a change it would be many, many pieces of software. Such high information content we ifer as the product of design and not random catylists.

If we are going to tell students that the DNA "assumed the hereditary function"--I pray that some bright student will stand up and say: "how did that happen?" Perhaps when the Darwinist insists it is the "Assumption of the Virgin DNA" the student will quickly realize he is in a religion class and not a scientific one.

I made the point in my last posting that science throughout the history of mankind assumed design and the majority of Americans today gravely mistrust Darwinian evolution as a truthful depiction of our physical reality. Your response seems to be a link to people on a blog who disagree with David K. I am pleased to grant you the point that liberals do not like David K. Now, would you care to grant me the point that MOST Americans agree with David K since you are invoking a contest?

For me, it is not important that Darwin doubters are more numerous. What is important is the lesson that can be drawn from the failure of the propaganda to win people's minds and hearts. I asked before and I will ask again. Why does the progaganda fail? Why do you believe most people refuse to swallow the belief that the life we see in our world is a purely natural and random happening?

The main reason it is all well and good to cite the failure of Darwin's defenders is to reduce the contempt and the demogoguery on your side of the question. Some of your letter writers to the JPost have an arrogant tone of sheer superiority, as if David K was the only person in the world to disbelieve the evolutionist's dogma. I have pointed out that you assume some of the same attitude when you suggest that Klinghoffer is hypothetically "worse" for the Jews than the Jew-bashing Darwin. From your blog--you seriously believe that the Jews have a David Klinghoffer problem!! Are you serious?

I ask you to be honest and admit that you have a political beef with David Klinghoffer. Despite politics, it is my belief that it is important for all Jews, liberal and conservative, to come together to proclaim the oneness of God and his creation.

Posted by: David N. Friedman at May 4, 2006 11:28 PM
#8

David Friedman took you apart.

Posted by: Joshua at March 21, 2009 12:41 AM
#9

If anybody is still reading this exchange and would like to understand the scientific background to some of the points raised, look at the PBS videos of the Kitzmiller v Dover case:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/id/

and then read Judge John Jones' ruling at

http://www.pamd.uscourts.gov/kitzmiller/kitzmiller_342.pdf

Posted by: Seamus O'Dowda at April 9, 2009 10:01 AM
#10

LOL. Intelligent Design is for morons. The real lesson here is that debating morons in public is a waste of time. Klinghoffer just prattles on in a hopeless fight against science because a) he's arrogant and thinks everyone is too stupid to see what a bunch of nonsense he's spewing, and b) he has do to something to pay the bills. Thankfully Judge Jones put a few nails in the coffins of these reality-denying buffoons.

Posted by: Josh at November 19, 2009 1:46 PM
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