Ben Avuyah

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Friday, June 30, 2006

What's Eating Gilbert Grape ?

I don't mean to be repetitive, the Jewish Atheist has already expressed concern with the fact that Gil Student often opens up very interesting debates but then closes them when he feels things are too skeptical. This is not exactly the hallmark of "searching for truth", but Rabbi Student does not partake in the cloak of anonymity under which the rest of us hide, and he is rightly prudent about his reputation within modern orthodoxy, I can't really blame him for that.

That being said I think the ID debate deserves to be looked out from all perspectives. And while many people may be using it simply as an excuse to get God in the classroom, I am interested in why orthodox Jews find ID so palliative…what pain is it relieving?

Firstly, I think some background is useful, as there is a conspicuous absence of claims for God in the production of friction, or chemical reactions, or propulsion. No one felt terribly disturbed when calorimetry predicted rates of heat transfer between the cool and hot container, in everyone's college physics class, without postulating a guiding hand of God, coaxing molecules in this direction or that. Few pulled at their hair in tense desperation when acids and bases where titrated to neutrality in the laboratory with nary a mention of Divine involvment in the negative logarithm of the hydrogen ions.


Why is naturalism so easily accepted in other areas but not here?

Why in this one science, the science of evolution, must there be room for a force behind the observed, a puppeteer so well hidden his actions mimic naturalism herself.

Should not the consistent believer be horrified equally at the formation of table salt from two such separate compounds as commonplace sodium and chloride, without a designing force, as he is from the gradual development of life as we know it??

I think most religious believers have been comfortable with the following attitude towards the physical sciences: God has created physical laws by which the world abides, and, look though you might, you won't find him in those laws, for he has created a system that functions autonomously.

Why then, can this not be extended by our devout brethren to speciation, and the study of how life diversified?

The answer lies in the realization that this is a world in which science has slowly eroded the ground out from underneath ancient mythologies and religious beliefs. No one wonders any more why an angry Thor chooses on occasion to thunder down from heaven, or why it is that Zeus' horses never tire of carrying the sun on his chariot across the sky. Indeed, the religions that have survived have had to make adjustments in how to "really" view the errant ideas about science and medicine and biology that they contain, and evolution is the end of a several hundred year old game of musical chairs in which, the until now happily "separate magesteria" of religion and science, have attempted to plant their collective posteriors on the only chair left in the Room.

Thus a Torah that makes no claims about aerodynamics and lives happily along side it perhaps supplying the "meaning" that can never be obtained from science, has a much more difficult time playing this familiar and comforting role, in an area which it has purported to give us physically accurate information as well.

So what can ID do to alleviate this uncomfortable crisis? Well it can do nothing to amend the out of order description of development/creation of species in Genesis, for that you will still need an apologetic about what this "really means". But I trust to the apologists to come up with something, and since there are no rules about making apologetics aside from justifying what you want to be ture, I trust it will be accomplished, but this, "answer", whatever it may be, is not the purpose of ID.

So what is the purpose of ID for the frum community?? I think the purpose is to alleviate the tension of having a science in direct contradiction to stated biblical claims, and even if evolution is difficult to squeeze into the Torah, at the very least having room within the theory of evolution for God, is a soothing balm for our biblicaly oriented theists. It tells them that in the within the aggressor itself, lofty science, there is room enough for the guiding hand of God.

Had God told us through the bible that salt was the tears of angels, ID would be called something else and be occurring in basic chemistry, but God told us how he made life and so biology will be the area of focus.

In the end it doesn't seem one gains much from ID. Believers who believe in a God who made an autonomously functioning natural universe don't really need room in evolution for God and design. No matter how flawlessly automatic and stand alone a system is, there is nothing to stop them from adding their unnecessary hypothesis. So who is winning with this theory? Who is receiving the necessary appeasment for their views with the implementation of ID within orthodox society?

I believe it is the religious semi-rationalist. The person who is uncomfortable with an idea that can oppose his idea of a God designed and guided speciation. One who feels that the idea of a developing abundance of life, that can drive itself to higher forms, threatens his vision of God.

I think to this group of people, although God does not need to be evident in what we find in nature, he cannot appear to be overruled by it. A God who preaches the opposite of science and rationale….. is a trickster God, he expects you to deviate from what makes the most sense and is the most reasonable, and side with him despite the evidence. This is an untenable state to many of our coreligionists and so they seek to fight against it. Therefore, the evidence must in some way point to a creator. Defacto, within evolution, there must be room for the view of a guiding hand. I think this is the appeal of ID to many in the orthodox community. And in the end, shouldn't they be correct? If it is very improbable for life to have been guided by natural selection, combined with random mutation, shouldn't there be room for a divine "leg up", boosting naturalism for the hard parts of advancing life. Why can't this be part of evolution? What is the big deal about incorporating this into science???

Well, now that we know who we are talking to, let's understand why ID has no place as a scientific theory, stay tuned for part two……