Thursday, June 4, 2009

Evolution - Fact or Mishu-Gosse?

For all you folks in Chutz L'Aretz who have not yet heard Parshas Naso, here is an excerpt from the Mirdrash on pasuk 7:1 (BaMidbar Rabba 12:8):

לכך אמר שלמה צאינה וראינה בנות ציון במלך שלמה ... ד"א במלך שלמה במלך שברא בריותיו שלימים ברא חמה וירח על מליאתן וכל מעשה בראשית בקומתם נבראו שנא' (שם ב) הארץ וכל צבאם בר קפרא אמר אדם וחוה כבני כ ' שנה נבראו

When King Shlomo said "Go out and see, you daughters of Zion, in the King 'Shlomo'..." he was referring to HKBH and called him "the King Shlomo" meaning the King that created all His creations complete (שלימים). He created the sun and the moon in their full state and all of the makings of creation were created in their full height (i.e., fully developed) as is written וכל צבאם (this is understood by Chazal to mean בכל צביונם - i.e., in their full majesty - see Chullin 60a). Bar Kapra said: Adam and Chava were created as 20 year old beings.
This is a Midrashic reference to what is known as the Gosse Theory - the assertion that G-d created an "old" world. A world that looks like it's been here for a real long time. Such a theory would, in one fell swoop, nullify all the "evidence" that the world created itself over billions of years by suggesting that all the "evidence" was planted by G-d. Accordingly, there would be no conflict between religious dogma and paleontological findings.

Now the Gosse theory is amazingly simple, unsophisticated, and un"scientific". And, besides, why would G-d do such a thing? Also, it alleviates much needed conflict, controversy, and skepticism. For these reasons, many "intellectuals" reject it. But not because it can't be true.

Personally, I am not an intellectual. Most of my commenters and other intellectuals have said that about me and they must be right. Most of them went to college and I didn't. But I did read The Man Who Never Was (in Yeshiva) and I figure that G-d must be at least as intelligent as British Military Intelligence (don't snicker now). The book also explains why G-d would "plant" misleading "evidence". For the same reason they did it - to mislead us. G-d doesn't want us to be able to prove that He exists. So He created an intermediary that we call "Nature" (teva). He allows "Nature" to rule the world and formed the world to look like it was created by his intermediary, "Nature".

Why did He do that? So we wouldn't be able to know for sure that it's Him. For our own benefit. (I wrote about this in my previous post.) So says the Navi Hoshea (Hoshea 14:10).

Because this all makes sense to me, I am quite willing to accept the Gosse theory. Simple minds like simple answers. Of course, there are other simple answers to age-of-universe issues. The predominant one is that even though we use the term "5769 years לבריאת העולם " in our Kesubos and wedding invitations, we don't necessarily mean 5769 years from the beginning of בריאת העולם, we mean 5769 years from the end of בריאת העולם meaning when Adam HaRishon was created on the 6th day of Creation. There were 5 days of creation that came before the debut of Adam HaRishon. 5 long days - or 5 short days, depending who you ask.

We measure time based on the rotation of the earth and it's movements vis a vis the sun and the moon. But there was no sun and moon until the 4th day. So, the first few days of creation could have taken a real long time to an outside observer. Also, it is feasible that G-d employed simulated evolutionary processes in forming the world which could have been accelerated into 5 real days. As Einstein said, it's all relative.

Thus, geological formations and fossil records don't really tell us much. They don't tell us how old the world is, only how old the world appears to be. As such, I wrote in a footnote on page 143 of my book:

There is quite a bit of debate among Torah scholars as to how much ‘real time’ the world was in existence before the debut of man. I am not taking sides in this debate. Whether the actual time was 5 days or millions or billions of years, our contention is that it was all a concerted preparation for the advent of man. Man is the culmination of Creation and, therefore, the entire span of Creation was one prolonged Creation of man.

Thus, I have a hard time understanding why so many people, including Jewish ones, are digging so deep into the earth in order to "prove" evolution. It will not help them decide whether or not to accept Rambam's 13 principles.

To date, I have not been too interested in discussing evolution as I wrote in the footnote on page 143. I feel there is no need for it. This topic is beaten to death in the blogosphere, particularly in the neighborhoods frequented by the Jewish skeptics. Bottom line is, if you want evolution, read Slifkin. He'll make you feel good. If you don't want it, read Rabbi Avigdor Miller - and Chovos HaLevavos.

But I decided to discuss it now, partly because it is an extention of my previous post about belief in G-d, and partly because, one day last week, (between the wedding and Sheva Brachos and Shavuos, I actually did show up at the office for 2 days) I passed by 2 co-workers - both American, one newly religious and one religiously "agnostic" - who were having a discussion. As I past them by, one asked me: Why is it that chareidim deny evolution?

I liked the way he termed it: deny evolution - not reject evolution. As I wrote in my book (page 128):

Every intelligent person knows that the whole world came about through evolution. That’s what the great scientists say; that is what they teach in all the great universities; that is what has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. Only undereducated, unenlightened, primitive, backward people could question the truth of evolution.

Now, knowing this person (the "agnostic" one) and the subject matter and hearing how he asked his question, I knew in advance how this discussion will unfold. As I tried to give him the chareidi perspective, which required a few minutes of devoted listening to structured detail, he broke in to my diatribe at regular intervals (every 3 words) with a deflecting argument. As expected, we didn't get anywhere. All told, it meant that he clearly did not ask the question because he was interested in hearing a satisfactory answer. He asked it in order to reassure himself that there is no satisfactory answer. (It's hard to stay agnostic if you find answers to your questions.)

Skeptics don't like simple answers. It interferes with their skepticism.

Perhaps my blog audience is a bit more attentive and I can get in a full sentence and I can discuss the answer I started to give. So here is what I tried to tell him.

We chareidim, and Creationists in general, have no need for "evolution". We can get by just fine without it. Consequently, we can afford to be more discerning, skeptical and critical about the material that is presented as "evidence". Evolutionists must substantiate some form of evolutionary theory, so they are forced to accept loose fitting evidence as absolute, interpret inconlusive findings to match preconceived theories, and to artificially elevate theories into proven facts in order to substantiate other theories.

Here is how I wrote it on page 129 of One Above and Seven Below:

We chareidim think that evolution is absurd. Recorded history – which amazingly goes back no further than five to six thousand years – has yet to document any instance of any extant creature becoming more complex than it ever was. No one has yet caught a jellyfish even thinking about growing a backbone. But evolutionists have a lot at stake. So much so that they are compelled to advocate the absurd.

This is merely my way of pointing out that with all the literature and media that promotes evolution, there is not one bit of empirical proof that any organism can or ever has undergone a "developmental" anatomical change. Yet, it's not for lack of trying to come up with it.

I said so to my 2 questioners and one immediately challenged me with an account of one certain moth that used to always have a particular body color as that was it's genetic coding. When a population of these moths were moved to a different habitat where the trees were a lighter color, new generations of the moth were emerging with the genetic propensity to match the lighter color. The moths did not change color after they wrere born so it is not a physiological change like a chameleon but rather a genetic mutation to adapt to the environment.

I asked if there were any anatomical changes or is it just pigmentation. He said , "Only pigmentation. But it's not a big leap to assume genetic adaptation for anatomical changes as well."

What comes out is that this fellow concedes that there is no observed instance of a creature changing it's genetic code for anatomy to meet new conditions. Only pigmentation. This means that this moth which was a moth 5000 years ago is still the same moth but can reprogram it's genetic code for pigmentation. There is no reason to assume that it did not have this innate ability 5000 years ago. So the organism hasn't changed at all. It merely employed a congenital color adaptation mechanism that was always part of it, though it may have been dormant for some time.

I told him that this limited and confined level of genetic adaptation is not "denied" by anybody, especially since it is observable science and if you would like to call this limited mutation "evolution" then I will gladly concede this meager shadow of "evolution".

What we chareidim "deny" is what nobody has yet to produce - a species with one particular anatomical composition that gives birth to a second generation that sports something different about it's anatomy. Not a genetic mishap but an adaptation. Not an individual but a generation. With viable continuation (this means males and females would have to make the same genetic adaptation simultaneously).

Still he wanted to claim, "It's not a big leap to assume genetic adaptation for anatomical changes as well."

This is today's science, what you see you see and what you don't see you assume. And it boils down to how big a leap is it. Your opinion is that "it's not a big leap" and so evolution is a fact. My opinion is that so far a cat has never given birth to a fish or even to a catfish and a chimpanzee has never begat anything more intelligent than another chimpanzee. And it never will. A panda's thumb is not going to get any new digits.

I think it's an insurmountable leap.

So, IMHO, if you have to rely on "It's not a big leap" to establish evolution as a fact, excuse me for not signing on.

In my travels around the blogosphere to try to understand how skeptics (or non-believers) think, I chanced upon a site of one who calls himself Atheist Jew (R"L). His most recent post shows a video of a fascinating creature called the Hairy Frogfish which propels itself on its fins like legs. This poor soul (the blogger, not the fish) somehow thinks that the existence of this creature is a challenge to "creationism". That's Hoshea 14:10 for you.

In the blurb for this video, the blogger writes:


Yes, the frogfish doesn't have legs, but those fins are darn close, that it
doesn't take a genius to figure out that with a little time, fish can evolve
into amphibians if water and food sources started to dry up in a certain
ecosystem.

This is all very nice. And I am certainly not a genius. But why don't we take some of these fish and place them in a controlled "ecosystem" where water and food sources start to dry up and lets give them a "bit of time" and see them change into amphibians? How about just to see them start to change into amphibians?

I can assure you it isn't going to happen. Not in his lifetime, not in mine, and not in anybody's.

But he can rest assured that he's got "evidence". Plus a whole "fossil record" full of missing links. I just have Gosse.

But I'll take the Gosse theory, and you can have the Mishu-Gosse theory.



11 comments:

Anonymous said...

A few points about Gosse. First, Gosse may have made sense in the middle of the nineteenth century but it doesn't really work anymore given what we now know. For example, the Gosse theory doesn't explain the genetic diversity of humans (and other individuals within every species) which proves that the common ancestor of all humans (and of every other species) lived much longer than six thousand years ago. It also doesn't explain all of the human artifacts that are older than six thousand years ago (like the cave drawings in France). The bottom line is that there is a signficant amount of scientific evidence against Gosse.

Second, the theory is internally inconsistent in the sense that an "ancient universe" created in a fully developed form with 10 billion years of history built right into it would have been populated with thousands of humans and species. So, to accept Gosse you have to believe that God went to the trouble of creating perfectly preserved frozen mammoths, cave drawings and stone tools, but erased all of the individual people and animals that should have been living in his fully mature earth (to create two brand new ones of each species).

Third, the Gosse position is, at best, no more likely than the claim that God created the world in 1850 along with everything in it that appears to be older. You can't disprove that either.

Finally, you seem to believe that God planted evidence of evolution sufficiently clear to convince all of the world's biologists. Yet, you think you are smart enough to see through that evidence. This position is reminiscent of the old joke about the man standing at the fork of the road saying "Go to the right to get to your destination, but believe nothing I say."

I would be perfectly happy to say to such a God on judgement day, "Congratulations, you fooled me!"

Ahavah Gayle said...

I am well read in hard sciences, but my degree is actually in Philosophy. I think your position is great, and it is very close to my own.

One thing I would like to point out about evolution that you didn't mention in your post is something my grandfather and great-grandfather (dairy farmers) and all animal husbandry majors are well familiar with - "reversion to mean."

An animal that has a genetic change invariable mates with one that doesn't have it - after all, mutations are random and unpredictable, supposedly. Then the offspring, which has only half the mutated geneset, mates with another animal that doensn't have the mutuation. That offspring now has only 1/4 of the mutant geneset. The next generation has only 1/8 and so on... You get my drift, I'm sure. After a very few generations, the mutation dies out unless siblings mate - which they will almost NEVER do in nature. The result is "reversion to mean," meaning the mutant geneset is diluted until it is meaningless as far as heredity is concerned.

You never hear about this from creationists, who seem to act as if entire herds of animals could develop a mutation all at once. Real animal husbandry simply doesn't work that way. Animal breeders who WANT to develop various traits have to very carefully select breeding partners in a way that could NEVER happen in a wild or natural setting. If anything, evolution PROVES an unseen hand. (providing they could fill in all the gaps and obvious problems like the periods of species explosion which don't accord with natural selective theory, either...)

Anonymous said...

Ahava, you seem to be unfamiliar with basic genetics and evolutionary theory. First, some genes are dominant even in the presence of other genes. Second, the whole point of natural selection is that genes that are beneficial to an individual's survival DO get selected for in the wild, unlike a gene for, say, more wool, which has no selective effect unless the farmer selects for it. Why do you think that people who live in equatorial regions are born with darker skin than those who live in the polar regions?

Ahavah Gayle said...

Anon:

It's clear the sources you have read are biased toward evolution. Try, just for fun, reading other sources. It's always good to know what you're opponents are up to.

Your point actually argues against evolution. The genome, as you pointed out, had to ALREADY have gene sequences for both light and dark skin prior to being exposed to different latitutes of sunlight. Evolution has no mechanism for planning IN ADVANCE for alternate realities.

An animal whose system has become so clogged with toxins as to need a kidney or liver has to ALREADY HAVE IT, or it dies. This is part of the problem of irreducible complexity. You can't "evolve" fur in a sudden ice age. Nor can you "de-evolve" it suddenly when global warming appears. The mechanisms of natural selection are actually far, far too slow to deal with real-life historical climate changes, migration patterns, dietary changes, and encounters with disease. Adaptations to these conditions have to occur herd/tribe wide in only a generation or two. Evolution simply cannot work that fast - again, proving an unseen hand.

My son would like to add a word (he's new to blogging and only 15, so go easy on him):

Gosse theory does make sense actually in a surprising number of cases. Even quantum theory says that time is not a constant, so G-d could have made the earth, had "Scientific" processes happen(plate tectonics, etc) and still have made Human beings early enough to have them develop their own culture in only about 6000 years.

Another case, Did you know that the earliest fossils of bat species already have the echolocation system built in? All the hundreds of thousands of years of fossil "links" and scientist have never found a "bat-ish" creatures fossil. there are no halfbats, sortof bats, wouldn't have hit that wall if i had better echolocation bats, wouldn't have died off if i could detect more bugs bats. No, the record skips directly to fully functional echolocating bats.

And any way, are you saying that black people are evolving into a different species? I have a great number of friends who would disagree. Even recent studies have shown that the genetic variation between humans of different race is only around 5%, and is even reducing. Most black people HAVE the gene for white skin but isn't expressed, and the other way around. The genes for Black or white skin is codominant, which means either can express even if both genes are present. In some cases, both express themselves, which is why "Mixed" children aren't totally black or white.

ME again - I think this is his way of saying more or less what I already mentioned, that the genes for expressing other skin colors had to already be present in the genome of the original african humanoids, meaning evolution had to be planning ahead for a day when mankind no longer lived in africa. Evolution, of course, cannot do this - but God can.

Anonymous said...

The notion that biologists who accept the theory of evolution are more biased than the fundamentalist religious writers who don't is laughable. But in any event I have read Avigdor Miller and his ilk You, on the other hand, have obviously never studied a real textbook on evolution. I would urge you to read some real science instead of apologetics written by flakey rabbis pretending to understand science. For one thing, your comment makes it clear that you don't know what a mutation is or how important random mutations are in evolution.

In terms of skin color, you're right that the genetic mechanisms are complex and people carry more than one gene for this characteristic but the fact is that black people have black babies and white people have white babies and the reason for that difference is genetic. The coding for which genes express in an individual is itself controlled by genes. So, again, why do people who live closer to the equator have genes that give their babies darker skin? Evolution.

To your son, I say welcome to the blogsphere and don't be afraid to challenge answers that don't make any sense (whether it's a skeptic or a rabbi speaking!). I'm certainly not suggesting that black people are evolving into a different species! As you say, the number of genetic differences between people of different races are so minute that they are virtually insignificant. But it's a mistake to think that evolution only happens on a macro level that creates new species. Quite the contrary, even people (like the author of this blog) who challenge macro evolution admit that evolution occurs on a micro level. How do you think the flu manages to reappear every year? How do bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics? Why do people who lived in countries where there was no grazing available for animals lack the enzyme for digesting cow's milk? Why are the mosquitos who live in the Gallapagos Islands able to digest the blood of reptiles when populations of the same species of mosquitos in the rest of the world can't? All of these things are attributable to evolution.

Regarding bats, there are in fact modern living bats (Old World Bats) that do not use echolocation so even without fossils we can see how the earliest bats could have survived without echolocation. These bats eat fruit instead of bugs. The earliest bats might also have not have been nocturnal in which case they could have relied on their eyesight. By the way, this bat "problem" is widely discussed in scholarly articles by evolutionary biologists. In fact, the first person to point it out was Darwin himself. If you really want the truth, then you need to learn science. Not pseudoscience, real science. Good luck on your search for the truth!

Ahavah Gayle said...

As a magna cum laude graduate of a secular university, I have had an adequate number of classes discussing evolution and genetics at the university level. You simply call pseudoscience anything you don't agree with. There are numerous REAL scientists out there, not just evolutionary scientists but biologists, chemists, physicists, etc. who believe in God and aren't afraid to admit it and admit creation. You simply can't wave your propaganda wand and claim all of them are uneducated or unintelligent when many of them, like myself, have MENSA cards - and they are experts in their fields. Your opposition is based on a wish to denigrate religious faith, there is no doubt of that. Your claim that "real" scientists all support evolution proves your bias is extreme and ideological - and it is factually incorrect as well.

The fact is, you can't prove scientifically that creation is untrue, but scientists have found holes in evolution large enough to drive a truck through - and your last comment did not address those holes. Things that happened outside the space-time continuum, such as God's initial act of creation, are by definition not accessible to scientific observation. Claiming science can "prove" that something did or did not happen before the space-time continuum even existed is complete hubris.

Anonymous said...

There are indeed many scientists who believe in God. That has nothing to do with the theory of evolution. Even the Catholic Church accepts that the theory of evolution does not contradict the existence of God. Even if it's true, evolution only explains the process of biological diversity, not the ultimate cause. (It's no different from accepting that apples trees grow from seeds in the ground and still believing that god makes the seed grow into a tree.)

There are also scientists who don't accept aspects of the theory of evolution, but no respectable scientists (even creationists) deny the basic doctrine of common descent (namely, that all modern life forms are descended from a single ancestor), even if they believe that natural selection does not suffice to explain the diversity of species. Nor do they deny that the universe is billions of years old. And if you bothered to read my first comment, I explained the evidence against Gosse already so I won't repeat it.

Baal Habos said...

I love it when people use the tools and language of science, but don't trust the conclusions of those same scientists who discovered that science.

BTW. How does Gosse address that DNA proves that Adam, or anybody living 6,000 years ago, could not have been the ancestor or all humans?

How does Gosse explain not only fossils, but 40,000 year old artwork located in caves.

Yechezkel said...

From Anonymous1

>>For example, the Gosse theory doesn't explain the genetic diversity of humans (and other individuals within every species) which proves that the common ancestor of all humans (and of every other species) lived much longer than six thousand years ago. It also doesn't explain all of the human artifacts that are older than six thousand years ago (like the cave drawings in France).
<

From Baal HaBos

>>BTW. How does Gosse address that DNA proves that Adam, or anybody living 6,000 years ago, could not have been the ancestor or all humans?

How does Gosse explain not only fossils, but 40,000 year old artwork located in caves.

<
I suppose you guys sat next to each other at the Atheists' Convention in LA.

You have jointly touched upon the antithesis of the Gosse theory. It is what we call the Guess Theory.

There is no indication as to the age of cave paintings outside of radio-carbon dating of the animal bones found nearby. This assumes that we consider radiocarbon dating an irrefutible science. A quick Googling tells me this is far from universally accepted.

Common Ancestry is another long talk. If you want to put Humans, fish, dogs, cats, mosquitos, paramecium,and armadillos in one category and find a common ancestor for the whole bunch, you are certainly going to have to go a long ways back. But if you consider Humans by themselves (I mean "modern man", not neanderthals or other "extinct" Humanoids), I have found that even genetically you don't need to go back too far to find a common ancestor. What's more, mathematically -based on world population - indications of a common ancestor go back to as short as 750 years (29 generations at 25 years/generation). That may be cutting it short but actually the 4000 years since the flood is way more than we need.

As per fossils, the Gosse theory directly addresses it by suggesting that G-d made an old world which would contain the fossils that would be naturally formed in an old world.

Simply put, to non-Gossians, Gosse theory sounds absurd and to Gossians, Darwinian theory sounds absurd so it is just one absurdity vs. the other.

Sof davar - It boils down to the basics: belief is a judgement call based on human logic, not on scientific data.

Baal Habos said...

>Sof davar - It boils down to the basics: belief is a judgement call based on human logic, not on scientific data.

As I said in my comment above, it boils down to using scientific lingo where you can get away with it and to bolster your own suppositions, but disregarding the conclusions of science when it goes against your apriori beliefs.

But don't take it so bad, that simply means you're smarter than me - http://baalhabos.blogspot.com/2009/02/you-skeptics-think-youre-so-smart.html

Ahavah Gayle said...

As I mentioned before, the premise of this post is very similar to my own beliefs, namely that creation was more or less accomplished by a microevolutionary process and that time (as demonstrated by quantum physics) is not a constant there fore the "6 days" of creation to achieve modern man took however long God darn well pleased. Since plants requiring photosynthesis occurred prior to the sun reaching hydrogen flash, I am also of the opinion that our solar system was much closer to the galaxy's core at first, and only arrived at our present location out on the end of a spiral arm later.

My son, however, has numerous books on evolution and has pointed out to me numerous holes in the theory - holes that make sense to anyone who doesn't have a vested interest in trying to show science can "prove" things that cannot and have not been observed. The fact that the genome clearly from the earliest days already had the ability to express for conditions that primitive man had NEVER yet encountered is just one of those. However, as a secularly educated person my inclination is to be in FAVOR of evolution as the mechanism of creation, more or less - but I cannot deny the holes are big and obvious. Those who do deny the holes are doing so for ideological, not scientific reasons. Science simply does not and cannot have all the answers.

The fact that science can't even make medicines that don't end up killing you or giving you something worse because they CANNOT correctly predict how medicines will interact with people's current expressed genome PROVES that they do not understand the process of individual or group gene expression (most medicines only work for about 45% of the people who try them) - not to mention that epigenetic factors, previously thought impossible, now are known to be a major player in transmission of traits to offspring. Science has only the barest understanding of the biochemical processes - just enough to be dangerous, some would say. Certainly not enough to make sweeping pronouncements of the sort proponents of pure evolution always make. And, as previously noted, the genome from the earliest days contained the ability to express for conditions that did not yet exist in mankind's limited experience - showing the impossibility of natural selection to be the mechanism of development for the human genome (if not all genomes).

So what it boils down to is intellectual honesty - those who deny even microevolution clearly aren't being honest, nor are those who claim evolutionary theory has no serious problems and is "proven." Nobody can "prove" God did or didn't begin or complete the process.

There are millions of people on this planet who have had direct experience of God's presence, miraculous co-incidences, answered prayers, medically unexplainable healings, angelic visitations, knowledge given to them that they did not know previously (way above and beyond instinct or subconscious recollection), true instances of prophecy and other encounters with the spiritual realms. Science can ridicule but it can't make the little personal experiences of millions if not trillions of people just go away. There is more in our lives than science can ever explain. Pretending every last person with an answered prayer or feeling of God's spirit is a nutcase doesn't make spiritual reality go away - and there's no way to evolve encounters with objects from outside the space-time continuum. Evolution does not and cannot work that way.