A rabbi proves God

As a cultural Jew, I’m especially embarrassed when someone of my “faith tradition” (there, Dr. Ecklund, you can count me among the religious!) makes stupid arguments.  Evangelical Christians can be as moronic as they want, but when a rabbi says something dumb, well, that sets my DNA on edge.

Sadly, it happens all too often. Over at PuffHo, Rabbi Adam Jacobs offers “A reasonable argument for God’s existence.”  The good rabbi was prompted to post by repeated assertions that “most, if not all, religious systems rely solely on wholly unsubstantiated faith to support their beliefs.”  So he offers up what he sees as an airtight argument for god’s existence.

Here it is in one sentence:  Because we don’t understand how life originated on Earth, god must have done it.

The longer version:

And there’s the rub: There just is no evidence for it [the material origin of life on Earth]. Not one of them has the foggiest notion about how to answer life’s most fundamental question: How did life arise on our planet? The non-believer is thus faced with two choices: to accept as an article of faith that science will eventually arrive at a reasonable, naturalistic conclusion to this intellectual black box or to choose to believe in the vanishingly small odds that the astonishing complexity, intelligence and mystery of life came about as a result of chance, which of course presents its own problems:

“Suppose you took scrabble sets, or any word game sets, blocks with letters containing every language on Earth and you heap them together, and then you took a scoop and you scooped into that heap, and you flung it out on the lawn there and the letters fell into a line which contained the words, ‘to be or not to be that is the question,’ that is roughly the odds of an RNA molecule appearing on the Earth.” (Dr. Robert Shapiro, Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Chemistry at New York University)

Ask yourself, do you believe in the RNA molecule? Do you accept Dr. Shapiro’s scrabble analogy as an actual possibility? Most people intuitively recognize that it’s not a reasonable position to hold. . .

. . . I posit to you that all the evidence points, in an obvious and inextricable way, to a supernatural explanation for the origin of life. If there are no known naturalistic explanations and the likelihood that “chance” played any role is wildly minute, then it is a perfectly reasonable position to take that a conscious super-intelligence (that some of us call God) was the architect of life on this planet. Everyone agrees to the appearance of design. It is illogical to assume its non-design in the absence of evidence to the contrary.

Ergo Moses.

Not only does Rabbi Jacobs make the common error that life’s origin was purely a “chance” event (once a molecule was capable of replicating, the manifestly non-chance scenario of natural selection would take hold), but he pulls the old creationist trick of taking a quote out of context to make it seem that a speaker said the opposite of what he really meant.  Jacobs gives this quote from Francis Crick to imply that that eminent scientist couldn’t accept a naturalistic origin of life:

“An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle.” (Francis Crick)

That snippet is soon to take its place in the pantheon of misused quotations of scientists, alongside Darwin’s truncated quote about the eye* whose use P.Z. Myers regards, correctly, as a touchstone of idiocy.  Let’s look at the full quote by Crick from Life Itself (p.88)

“An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going. But this should not be taken to imply that there are good reasons to believe that it could not have started on the earth by a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions. The plain fact is that the time available was too long, the many microenvironments on the earth’s surface too diverse, the various chemical possibilities too numerous and our own knowledge and imagination too feeble to allow us to be able to unravel exactly how it might or might not have happened such a long time ago, especially as we have no experimental evidence from that era to check our ideas against.”

Notice how Jacobs not only truncates the first sentence (that’s terrible scholarship, and a bit dishonest), but, even more dishonestly, leaves out the last part, in which Crick cautions against taking our scientific ignorance as proof of a miracle.  That’s exactly the same kind of truncation that creationists perform with Darwin’s quote.  And Crick, by the way, was pretty much an atheist, though I think at times he described himself as agnostic.

Nope, we don’t yet understand how life originated on Earth, but we have good leads, and abiogenesis is a thriving field.  And we may never understand how life originated on Earth, because the traces of early life have vanished.  We know it happened at least once (and that all species descend from only one origin), but not how.  I’m pretty confident that within, say, 50 years we’ll be able to create life in a laboratory under the conditions of primitive Earth, but that, too, won’t tell us exactly how it did happen—only that it could.  And if it could, then we needn’t postulate a much less parsimonious celestial deity, especially one who forbids you to eat bacon, or enjoy meat and cheese at the same meal.

Rabbi Jacobs, you make me ashamed to be a cultural Jew.

____________________

*”To suppose that the eye, with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest possible degree”.  P.Z. Myers notes, “As everyone who has read the Origin knows, what he was doing there was setting up a rhetorical question, which he then followed by three pages of detailed description of exactly how such an eye could have evolved.”

178 Comments

  1. Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    That does it, I’m eating my ham and cheese sandwich now….

  2. Sajanas
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:07 am | Permalink

    I wonder how the Rabbi feels about the direct physical disproof of the existence of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and to a certain extent, David and Solomon. That science cannot explain exactly how life came about does in no way spare Judaism from the problems of its foundation and how little it correlates with actual history. I can understand the Rabbi trying to infiltrate God back in the beginning, but that doesn’t explain why he abstains from pork or work on the Sabbath. Doe he believe in these things because of his cultural heritage, or does he think they are commanded by the same God that founded life billions of years ago, but could not be bothered to find space in his holy book because he had to devote so much room to whether people were clean or unclean.

    • HP
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:39 am | Permalink

      I’d settle for evidence of chattel slavery in Pharaonic Egypt.

    • Tim Martin
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:46 am | Permalink

      Sajanas, any recommendations for sources from which I can learn more about those disproofs?

      • Sajanas
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:51 am | Permalink

        I got a lot of it out of The Bible Unearthed by Finkelstein and Silberman, and if you want some stuff on the New Testament, I’ve enjoyed Bart Ehrman’s books Misquoting Jesus and Jesus Interrupted. I fear I’m not super well versed in Biblical Archaeology beyond these books and some reading on the web, so I’d love to see other suggestions.

        Suffice to say, the evidence against Moses is pretty conclusive to me… even if there were Jews in Egypt (no evidence), during the time frame given for the Exodus they would be leaving Egypt into… Egyptian held Canaan. Through a well fortified (as in, lined with forts) Sinai.

        • Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

          It can be summarized even easier.

          The Bible makes a great many claims. These claims are actually testable; if the claims are true, certain evidence would be necessarily detectible. For example, a global flood that covered Mt. Everest and all other mountains would alter the landscape in very specific ways; similarly, a universal genetic bottleneck of a half-dozan organisms of all species would leave an unmistrakable imprint on the DNA of all organisms.

          Such evidence is perfectly lacking; therefore, the hypotheses are invalidated.

          In the case of Exodus, a 40-year nomadic occupation of the Gaza strip on the scale described would leave lots of distinctive archaeological evidence, as would the claimed presence (and prominence) of Israelites in Egypt itself. All such evidence is lacking.

          Similarly, the events described in the Gospels would have made it into the extant documentary record (including the contemporaneously-penned Dead Sea Scrolls), so we know all that’s fiction, too.

          As I like to point out, religion actually is science. It’s just that it’s bad science that holds on to its theories long after the experimental evidence has disproved them.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Tim Martin
            Posted March 7, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

            @Sajanas: Thanks! I’ll look into those.

            @Ben: Such a summary would hardly be enough to shoot down a creationist’s claims that the Bible is historically accurate. To make a potent argument I would need examples, I would need to be able to say how we know those examples are true, and I would need sources.

            There are few things I hate more than being right but not being able to back it up!

            • henkm
              Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

              There is one thing to back you up:
              You recall the tablets Moses supposedly received containing the 10 commandments?
              Well … there is proof that, roughly, of course, 450 yrs bc ( I will not write that in capitals)), Roman Law was issued on 12 stone tablets, so that there would be a uniform application of the (harsh) Roman Law throughout the country. At that time not an empire yet.
              Doesnt that sound (very) familiar?)

          • justsearching
            Posted March 7, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

            The Dead Scrolls don’t talk about Jesus or events mentioned in the Gospels, therefore the Gospels are entirely 100% contrived works of fiction.

            Is that supposed to be good science?

            I personally find more convincing Ehrman’s model of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet who worked primarily in the periphery of 1st century Jewish life for a few short years, and then died after crossing the wrong powers while at the cultural center. Are the Gospels full of hagiographical embellishments, lies, and distortions? Definitely, but I think, and I think most agnostic/atheistic Biblical scholars continue to think, that there is some ontological hook upon which the embellishments, lies, and distortions are attached.

            • henkm
              Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

              How much of those scrolls is now made public?

              • Sajanas
                Posted March 7, 2011 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

                Looks like a lot of it can be available in a 39 volume series called Discoveries in the Judean Desert, which is missing a bit, but has the vast majority of it.

                There also seems to be some sort of digital version of them that you can get for institutions, but I don’t have any title or link.

            • Posted March 7, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

              The fact that the Press Democrat makes no mention of the alien spaceship that landed on the lawn of Santa Rosa High School the morning of commencement day in 1987 proves that it didn’t happen. The fact that The Day the Earth Stood Still, Plan 9 from Outer Space, War of the Worlds, and countless other such well-known fictions have the same basic story line is all one needs to know the origins of the Santa Rosa incident.

              The Gospels tell a story every bit as impossible-to-go-unnoticed as an alien invasion; that the copious works of those who were there at the time make no mention proves the events didn’t happen. And the fact that the Jesus fiction is cut from the exact same cloth as the most popular fiction genre of the time tells you all you need to know about its origins. Hell, Jesus is almost as obvious a remake of the Osiris / Dionysus myth as Orpheus is — more so in some ways.

              It really doesn’t get any simpler or more blatant.

              Cheers,

              b&

          • SLC
            Posted March 7, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

            IMHO, the most ridiculous claim made in the Hebrew scriptures is that Joshua got god to stop the Sun in the sky for a day. Not only does that violate the laws of physics, it was also unremarked upon by other civilizations that were in existence at the time. Anyone with a modicum of intelligence would take the position that such an event would be much noted.

            • Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

              In a similar vein, I’ve had looong chats with creobots and others regarding the ridiculousness of Exodus (which I consider one of the most ridiculous in the OT, not least because of its revered foundational status). Even if you grant (a) a large population of Hebrews (perhaps millions) in Egypt and (b) that they were enslaved, the very facts that 1) they all left at once and 2) this escape eventuated in the death of Pharaoh, his staff and a big chunk of his army makes it almost certain that someone besides the Hebrew chroniclers would have noticed. But we’re expected to accept that nobody except the Hebrews cared enough to either notice this momentous event or write anything down.

              Even if you grant the further indulgence (as I have once or twice, for the sake of argument) that Egypt’s authorities may have scrubbed any reference to the incident from their records (as they tried unsuccessfully to do with the entire reign of the much-loathed heretic Pharaoh Akhenaten), Egypt’s many neighbours & enemies would no doubt have taken notice. Most of North Africa, the Middle East and the entire Mediterannean would have to have heard of such a momentous defeat for Pharaoh – it would only have taken one person to get a message out of Egypt. It wouldn’t have taken much time for the message to be confirmed and for opportunists to swoop to take advantage of what would have been a huge power vaccuum and massive dent in Egypt’s defences – I haven’t even mentioned the economic damage that would have been done by a nation’s entire unpaid workforce suddenly deserting their positions.

              You can bet that if any of Egypt’s contemporary empires or unfriendly neighbours instantly lost ALL of their slaves and a large chunk of their land forces overnight, someone would have taken swift advantage. Or at least written it down.

              • Sajanas
                Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

                The size and scale of the enslavement and exodus of the Hebrews is pretty ridiculous too. 400 years of slavery would produce evidence… no Pharaoh could scrub out all the references in hidden tombs, trash dumps, and covered over settlements. And for 600,000 Hebrews to leave? I just can’t imagine that big of a group surviving without quick settlement. The Sinai and Israel just aren’t that big either. With 600,000 people, you have to be pretty stupid to be lost in an area the size of Jersey.

    • Nathan
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

      I don’t know about Rabbi Adam Jacobs, but most of the Rabbis I’ve known in my life would shrug this stuff off.

      Also… Rabbi Adam Jacobs makes me ashamed to call myself a cultural Jew, as well. How sad…

      • Sajanas
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

        I’m just curious as to how they handle the dissonance. Surely it must mean *something* to them. But I’ve not really talked with many clergy since my teens, and certainly not about theology.

        • Nathan
          Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

          When I was a believer it made perfect sense to me: the Bible is not a God-written book of facts. It’s a human-written collection of cultural traditions inspired by faith in God.

          And people wonder why I’m an atheist today… I love Judaism, don’t get me wrong, but… I understand Dawkins “sympathetic” attitudes towards the fundies recognizing the fact that science just conflicts with religion, whether we want it to or not…

  3. Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    You’d think that an educated theist would have learned her lesson from the utter collapse of the Argument from Design… The Argument from Origins, if I could call it that, seems a quite foolhardy approach in that light!

    If one is going to go that route, go whole hog and go with the Cosmological Argument. It’s still not a valid argument, but it does point out an apparent existential flaw in an atheistic worldview. To be clear: The word “apparent” in the prior sentence was carefully chosen, as I think this existential flaw turn out to be utterly resolvable; or (as I think likely) it may simply be a cognitive or linguistic artifact, and not really a meaningful question at all. Furthermore, even if the apparent existential conundrum highlighted by the Cosmological Argument turns out to be legitimate, theistic explanations do nothing whatsoever to address it.

    But still, the Cosmological Argument seems to me the best bet for somebody who wants to do some variant of the “Science can’t figure out X, Ergo Jesus (or Moses)” ploy. The Argument from Design has been obliterated, the Argument from Origins that the good rabbi seeks to advance seems similarly vulnerable, the Fine Tuning Argument is being attacked on one side by the anthropic principle and from the other by multiverse theories…

    Like I say, it boggles the mind that any educated theist would put their dollars on such a vulnerable argument. The Cosmological Argument seems to me to be an obvious “best bet”, since it seems quite plausible that science will never mount an unambiguous answer that is existentially satisfying to our natural human intuitions. It’s still a fallacy, but it seems like a fallacy that might retain it’s specious appeal indefinitely. The Origins argument… it’s most likely got a shelf life.

    • Sajanas
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:19 am | Permalink

      They really don’t have anything else to argue on though. Their mythology is broken by archaeology and natural history. They still need a God that does stuff so they can stay employed, so they put its actions at the origin of the universe or of life. But there is literally no other way they have to argue… they’re not exactly getting any more holy books dropped on them, or better divine visions. The tap is empty, and they’ve got to use what they can.

  4. Kevin
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    God of the gaps.

    Barrel…fish.

    And this particular gap doesn’t even seem to be that big of an issue. We know biochemistry is just chemistry, and have since the mid-1800s.

    The fact that we haven’t worked out the precise formula causes me no distress whatsoever. Because whatever the solution, it certainly won’t be anything close to a magic genie animating a lump of clay (or whatever other “metaphor” you want to invoke).

    It’ll be chemistry. Complex chemistry, for sure, but chemistry nonetheless.

    If you could show that today’s life was NOT bound by the rules of chemistry and physics, then you might have an argument. But the Krebs cycle is most definitely chemistry, as is photosynthesis. So, the argument falls flat on its nose. Because god was constrained 100% by the laws of chemistry — and therefore not required to be involved in the process.

  5. GaryU
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Rabbi Adam Jacobs said, “Religious lines of argumentation lack reason.” Quote-mining FTW!

  6. sasqwatch
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Reminds me of another non-starter frequently posed by the religious: “what came before the big bang?” (No, I’m not asking for explanations.)

    • Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      I enjoy replying to that one with another question: “What’s north of the North Pole?”

      Cheers,

      b&

      • sasqwatch
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink

        Where does a fire go when it goes out — north, south, east, or west? (Zen koan, maybe… unless I’m mistaken)

        At least the origin of life question has an answer, in principle. I wonder if life had multiple origins (I suspect it had many over a long, long time) — which is a tiny, insignificant nit I have to pick with the post: “we know that it happened once”. I would have to put “at least” into that sentence. ;-)

        • Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

          For that matter, it’s also entirely reasonable to suggest that abiogenesis is still going on, to this day. It’s just that the results of said events are generally regarded by modern microbes as, “lunch.”

          In the land of pre-cellular life, a one-celled microbe is a Tyrannosaurus Rex, indeed.

          Cheers,

          b&

          • Kevin
            Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:53 am | Permalink

            I had that exact same thought during the whole Peanut Butter Man debacle.

            How do you know that the jar of peanut butter doesn’t contain a completely new life form, sprung into being merely from the chemicals of peanuts and butter (yes, put a smiley face there)?

            You might have abiogenic life forms in every peanut butter sandwich and not know it. Have you looked? Then how do you know?

            • H.H.
              Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

              Oh, the creationists have looked. In fact, they consider the lack of new life in heat-pasteurized peanut butter to be a slam-dunk argument against abiogenesis. It’s the atheist’s nightmare!

              • Kevin
                Posted March 7, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

                Oh no, they didn’t look. They merely opened the jar.

                Abiogenic life would be tiny. Microscopic. Undetectable by the naked eye.

                Maybe that’s why you got a belly ache the last time you ate peanut butter. The new life form disagreed with you.

          • Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:01 am | Permalink

            Not likely. Not just the results of abiogenesis are considered “lunch” by other microbes – the same goes for the building blocks of primitive life.

        • Sajanas
          Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

          Well, since all organisms use the same genetic code (though there are differences in mitochondrial genomes, which is weird) it implies that all life derives from a single common ancestor from a time after the genetic code and the amino acids used had stabilized. I was reading on Small Things Considered that mathematicians found that our genome is actually one of the better configurations to protect against amino acid changes from point mutations, so its quite likely that there were lots of code variants and ours won out in the long haul. I would certainly expect that there were a lot of early life variants though, its a shame they’re all gone.

        • henkm
          Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

          This last question had me going after reading some postings. I suppose, though, that when earth was still a stormy, windy, hot and unfriendly environment, situationsat various points might not have been quite the same. To me it s quite possible that little differences (air pressure, presence or absence of certain chemicals, temperature) could lead to different forms of life/cells.
          Then again: I am no biologist.

      • Zwirko
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

        Many modern cosmologists are more than happy to talk about what happened before the big bang.

        • sasqwatch
          Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:35 am | Permalink

          I know. As well as the possibility that it is an inchoate concept, depending on what kind of universe we’re in. It may always be an open question either way. Too OT though, ain’t going there.

      • Rob
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:15 am | Permalink

        The north pole (magnetic and planetary poles are not coincident, so there is a vector between them. As to whether that vector can still be considered “North” is up to debate)
        :-P

  7. Gregory James
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    Well he has this going for him: he isn’t lying for Jesus.

    • Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

      A lie is a lie is a lie.

      • Nathan
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

        Unless it’s for Jesus. Then, by the same properties that allow Catholics and other Christians to practice ritualized cannibalism every Sunday, the lie becomes the truth.

        So, actually, that’s a *bad* thing for the Rabbi…
        ;)

  8. Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    Evangelical Christians can be as moronic as they want

    Oh now that’s a bit of an exaggeration. It’s not as if you never breathe a word about them!

    • Nathan
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 3:40 pm | Permalink

      Allowing them to be as moronic as they want does not mean Jerry won’t turn around and show off their moronicity (copyrighted :p)…

  9. Matt G
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Argument from Ignorance.

    Next!!

  10. Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    I hate this argument. We don’t know, we may never know, therefore it’s perfectly reasonable to believe that A Supernatural Intelligence did it.

    The hell it is. It’s reasonable to not know; it’s not reasonable to believe that an absurdly magical whatsit is the answer.

    • Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

      Worse, it’s an unapologetic full-frontal assault on scientific inquiry. “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain,” indeed!

      Look, Rabbi. You’re too dumb and unimaginative to understand how some complex chemistry can crystalize, and how the principle of natural selection can drive those crystals to increasing levels of complexity much the same way that gravity compresses interstellar molecular clouds to the point of self-sustaining fusion. We get it.

      But how dare you insist that we wallow in your own ignorance, and how dare you hinder our attempts to learn about that which you’re too afraid to contemplate?

      If you want to stay in the cave, fine. That’s your choice. But get the fuck out of the way of those of us who want to get out there and find out what’s making those strange noises. Yes, we know — it might be a bear that’ll eat us. But that’s our problem. It stopped being your problem the moment you decided to cower under those deerskin hides (that you had no part in procuring) rather than face up to the world like a mature adult.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • sasqwatch
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        But wouldn’t you know it… the second you leave the cave to figure out what the noise was, that pervy bastard slithers out from underneath the deerskin and bites the tip off your baby’s pecker. Sometimes you just can’t win.

      • Grendels Dad
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:38 pm | Permalink

        The accommodationist view of Plato’s parable would have the gnus as children who just can’t resist making little shadow horns on the people who choose to stay in the cave.

    • Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      And not only that – a magical whatsit that we can by definition not know anything about.

      Other than that it created the universe, apparently. And inspired a certain book.

      But nothing that requires getting out of your chair and actually take a look at how the world works.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

      …and even the statement that “we may never know” is absurd.

      There have been 14 International Conferences on the Origins of Life. The last one was 2 years ago in Florence.

      The next one will be this summer in Montpelier, France. It will be a combined conference with the International Astrobiology Society.

      It’s co-sponsored by NASA, among many other players. Players doing real science.

      To throw one’s hands up and say “we’ll never find the answer” is to denigrate all the work that’s gone on before and continues today.

    • embertine
      Posted March 8, 2011 at 1:01 am | Permalink

      Particularly when you look at all the questions that humans have struggled with in the past.

      Number of mysterious phenomena that have turned out to be the result of supernatural/deistic entity? Nil.

      Number that have turned out to be the result of natural processes? All.

      Religion has never been the right answer to any question. Ever.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 8, 2011 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

        That’s always what cinches it for me. Look what we’ve learned so far about “impossible” things.

  11. Sal Bro
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    From the rabbi’s shit-poor scrabble analogy, it seems he needs to pick up a copy of The Blind Watchmaker. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weasel_program

    • lamacher
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      Agree. The scrabble analogy is pathetically inadequate, a variant of the wind in the junkyard assembling a 747.

      • Mr. Fright
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Permalink

        Man, I’m trying to read Blind Watchmaker, but can’t wrap my head around some of it yet.

        I read the part about the 747, but don’t think I totally get it yet.

      • Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:17 pm | Permalink

        I can’t believe people have the nerve to invoke these ridiculous, childish Gaps/Ignorance arguments when in the same breath those same people turn around and accuse US of not being conversant with the latest sophisticated theology.

        OK then, I’ll make a deal with those people: YOU read & comprehend evolutionary biology to a basic 8th-grade level, and I’ll read whatever theological master you think I should be familiar with in order to not accept your claims that God codes DNA with a wee spining wheel or appears to people disguised as a fucking waterfall.

  12. Martin
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    “The non-believer is thus faced with two choices: to accept as an article of faith that science will eventually arrive at a reasonable, naturalistic conclusion to this intellectual black box…”

    By what possible stretch of the intellect is it an article of faith to say, “I don’t know but I’m going to try to find out”? This, for me, is one of the important differences between the religious and scientific world views – the idea of incompleteness, that perspectives can change as new discoveries arise. Religion is based on a belief in a static ‘truth’, it assumes science must operate the same way.

    And the last sentence of that Crick quote really is excellent.

  13. Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Science says we don’t know yet how life started. Science says life likely has its origins in chemistry, but it doesn’t have a complete explanation yet. But it is working hard to figure out how it works, progressing by leaps and bounds. And it’s not stopping there – it’s figuring out how chemistry follows from the laws of physics, and it’s even trying to find out where those come from.

    This Rabbi, on the other hand, says “Goddidit”, and is leaning over backwards, thinking he’s done. He has no idea that his “explanation” is even less complete than the one he thinks he’s replacing. No explanation for how God did this. No explanation where God came from. And no urge to find out either.

    But let no-one say that there is a fundamental difference between a scientific and a religious world view.

    • henkm
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      And last, but probebly not least:
      He didnt explain who created his god.

  14. Mr. Fright
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Life began on Earth. You can’t explain that.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:03 am | Permalink

      Awesome.

  15. Hempenstein
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Since the topic’s gotten onto abiogenic origins, I went to see if the YTs of Jack Szostak’s 2010 Lasker Lecture had gathered more hits (they have, but only up to a puny 1200; if you go looking, part 6 is mis-labelled 2009). But once at that page I found this, which, if I’m correct in thinking is a one-video Arabic(?) summary, is enormously encouraging:

    But, I could be wrong. Input from anyone who can read Arabic, please!

    • Hempenstein
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:09 am | Permalink

      Hmm, looks like it’s an Arabic translation of (without putting the whole URL in) this one: U6QYDdgP9eg

      Very good! (Now for that Arabic translation of WEIT…)

    • stvs
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

      Yes, this is a pro-evolution Arabic video. From the first few frames:

      ١.
      أصل الحياة
      ارفع الصوت قليلآ خطير حقا :)
      ٢.
      منذ فجر للانسانيه ، اخترعت الحضارات القديمة للأساطير  لتفسير أصولنا.
      ٣.
      لم تكن قصصا واقعية ،  فقط ‎معتقدات ، وخلقت للآلاف من للأساطير المختلفه وكلما لما قاسم مشترك …
      ٤.
      الخارق للطبيعة .
      ٥.
      لم تكن بامكان ألعقل البشري  تصور وسيله لنشأة الحياه من خلال املياه طبيعيه بحته
      ٦.
      الحياه لا تاتي ألا من الحياه ، وبالتالي أصل طبيعي لم يكن وارد علي الاطلاق
       

      is

      1.
      Origin of Life
      Lift the sound a little dangerous indeed:)
      2.
      Since the dawn of mankind, invented by the ancient civilizations of myths to explain our origins.
      3.
      Stories were not realistic, just beliefs, and created thousands of different myths and the more the common denominator …
      4.
      The supernatural.
      5.
      Were not the human mind can imagine a way for the emergence of life through purely natural water
      6.
      Life comes only from life, and therefore natural origin was not out of the question

  16. nerdomics
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Use of the word ‘moronic’ or any similar word only adds fuel to the fire. Take the high road. This evolution/creation debate has too much emotion from both sides. Generally speaking, when one bases a decision off of emotion it is oftentimes the wrong choice that is made. Once a Christian sees that type of word he/she is not going to actively investigate the evidence for evolution. Instead, he/she will remain blind to the facts of evolution. My point… Those of us who know the truth of evolution need to be kind to those who do not believe in evolution. Their ignorance does not necessarily make them moronic. Perhaps they appear to be moronic due to their lack of education on the topic of evolution, but that does not necessarily make that person a moron.

    • Matt Penfold
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:07 am | Permalink

      Would wilfully ignorant be better then ?

      Only simply ignorance cannot really be an option. Not for a Rabbi living in the US in C21st. He has no excuse for being so ignorant of science.

    • Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      Note that no person was actually called a moron in this article. The rabbi’s comments were called dumb, yes, but that’s not the same – and saying so isn’t necessarily emotional either.

      Speaking with authority on a topic you are not educated on at all is actually quite stupid. Common, but stupid.

      But your concern has been noted.

      • nerdomics
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        Yes I know that nobody was called a moron. My only concern is for those types of words being thrown out there on both sides of the debate. I see it all over the internet, and I’m sure you do as well.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:59 am | Permalink

          I do, but it doesn’t concern me in the least.

        • Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

          Someone Is Rude On The Internet?????!?!???!??

        • Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:00 am | Permalink

          Then why don’t you go to those places “all over the internet” and complain there?

      • Dominic
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

        You say “Speaking with authority on a topic you are not educated on at all is actually quite stupid” Deen, but that would mean I cannot comment on theology as I am not trained in it, wouldn’t it? I know what you mean though because as RD says I think, it is hardly a proper subject, while biology is.

        • Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:30 am | Permalink

          Yet I doubt you’d use your authority as a scientist (or whatever your expertise is in) to write an article about theology in the Huffington Post.

          Besides, with you hanging out on this blog and others like it, odds are you know more about theology than this rabbi does about biology. I agree it doesn’t require a degree or even formal training to comment on something, but this rabbi doesn’t even seem to have the informal education to know what he’s talking about.

    • Kevin
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Wally? Is that you?

      • Helen Wise
        Posted March 8, 2011 at 7:08 am | Permalink

        heh

    • Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      Tone troll duly notes tone. Noted. “Moronic” is used as ridicule. See this:

      http://www.daylightatheism.org/2010/08/on-the-uses-of-ridicule.html

      and this

      http://www.daylightatheism.org/2011/01/on-the-uses-of-ridicule-ii.html

      Anything of substance you’d like to contribute?

      • nerdomics
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:55 am | Permalink

        I will check those links shortly. One last thing I’d like to say is that this sort of talk with words such as moronic or stupid or whatever negative term used would not be tolerated at a lab meeting or a talk at a scientific conference. So why here? Just sayin…

        • Tulse
          Posted March 7, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

          You haven’t been to the conferences or lab meetings that I have.

    • sasqwatch
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:28 am | Permalink

      Seeing how you love learning and growing intellectually, you might want to look into “concern trolling” and how to avoid even the appearance of doing it, even if this was not your intention.

      • nerdomics
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

        What exactly is “concern trolling?”

        • sasqwatch
          Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:36 am | Permalink

          Google is your friend.

          • nerdomics
            Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:40 am | Permalink

            Ok so I did google “concern troll.” I fail to see how my comment should imply that term. I am in no way attempting to disrupt or undermine the message in this post.

            • Matt Penfold
              Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink

              But you are very concerned not about the content of what Jerry said, which you did not bother addressing, but about the tone in which he said it.

              That is pretty much the definition of a tone troll. So quit acting all surprised you got called on it.

              • nerdomics
                Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

                Call it what you will. I’m new to this. Geez. That was actually my first post here. Is it too much to ask for respect? I don’t think so!

                My point is that if one wants to get their message across, then showing some respect is the best way to go about doing it. I’m sure you would prefer that others show you respect. So don’t act like it’s not an issue.

              • Matt Penfold
                Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:59 am | Permalink

                Respect is not a right, it is earned.

                And to be honest you have not exactly done a lot to earn any.

                Now you have any substantive to add ? Only all I have heard from you is whinging, and to be honest it is becoming a little irritating.

                And for someone telling Jerry how to get his message across you really do not seem to have much a clue how to get yours across do you ?

              • Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

                nerdomics: You’ve stepped on a bit of a hornets nest with your comment. So I’ll step back and say “Welcome”. Please do stick around.

              • Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:42 am | Permalink

                Call it what you will. I’m new to this.

                If you really have been “all over the internet”, as you claimed in your initial comment, you’d have seen concern trolling many times already. You’d know why people have a problem with it.

                You may be new to this particular blog, but I’m highly skeptical that you’re new to concern-trolling.

            • sasqwatch
              Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

              I believe you. Best to avoid appearances, as that conversation is done to death (usually by theists wanting to be nice). Also see “tone troll”, which is what I should have had you look into first.

              • nerdomics
                Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

                I just feel that these issues that are talked about, such as this post by Jerry, go a lot better when each side shows respect for the other. So I may not have commented on his bottom line, but my comment was directed at how he presented a part of it. And I’ve read some of his other posts, which use similar terminology. Then there are people like truthspeaker below who called my comments moronic. To that I take offense!

              • Rob
                Posted March 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

                @nerdomics:

                Since when has theism showed respect to atheism?

                They’ll get respect when

                a) they don’t say moronic things

                b) Show the same respect.

                I ain’t holding my breath.

    • TheMusings
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:32 am | Permalink

      Very well said nerdomics. The tone of the debate has become ugly, very ugly…on both sides. Those of us who believe that evolution is a fact should remind ourselves that is was only a mere one hundred fifty years ago that Darwin came up with the theory. You can live, love and have a completely fulfilled life and give no thought to evolution. It is not like the evidence for evolution is there staring us in the face as we go about or daily lives or the theory would have come to the fore much sooner in human history. So let those of us ‘who are in the know’ raise the bar and the level of decorum as the discussion continues.

      • Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:33 am | Permalink

        “has become?” For the last 2,000 years the tone from their side has been “YOU ARE GOING TO BURN IN HELL AND I WILL LAUGH BECAUSE YOU DESERVE TO BE TORTURED YOU SOUL KILLING DEMON.”

        If the tone has become ugly on both sides, that implies that there was once a time when it wasn’t ugly on their side. Care to name a century in which that was true?

    • truthspeaker
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      Your moronic comments are noted.

      • nerdomics
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:55 am | Permalink

        So posting a comment about showing respect for others is somehow moronic? Perhaps you should take a look at your comment again and think about it. Not too hard. Wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          I don’t think it is disrespectful to call someone’s arguments “moronic”. Your comment wasn’t about showing respect for others, it was about policing language in hopes of influencing how other people think about what we say.

          Some of us happen to be fans of plain, direct speech. The rabbi wrote a moronic article. Jerry described it as moronic. I don’t see anything disrespectful there.

          • nerdomics
            Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:22 am | Permalink

            If making rude comments is direct speech, then that is one debate I don’t want to be in. There are better ways to phrase words. I am going to concede the point being made and let it go. I’ll choose the high road over the low road at all costs.

            • Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:34 am | Permalink

              You can choose the high road right into the auto-de-fa.

              But don’t expect us to meekly follow you.

              • Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:36 am | Permalink

                My point being: being polite didn’t really work out so well. So maybe trying this whole rude thing will work better.

                It can’t bloody work worse.

        • sasqwatch
          Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink

          Yes. Read this, then consider lurking more until you get it. I’m trying to help, really.

          • nerdomics
            Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:20 am | Permalink

            I’ll take a look. Thanks. I’m not a troll. I just didn’t know.

            • Matt Penfold
              Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:31 am | Permalink

              Ignorance is hardly showing us respect is it ? You want to comment on “tone”, you should be aware of what has happened before.

        • Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:44 am | Permalink

          Not too hard. Wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself.

          Hey, what happened to your philosophy of always showing respect all of a sudden?

        • Posted March 8, 2011 at 6:49 am | Permalink

          Oh, cry me a river! We grown-ups care about truth and not tone. Also, contrary to popular belief, ridicule is quite effective.

    • GaryU
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:14 am | Permalink

      Hi nerdomics. Hoping to help you out since you’re new and all: Talking about tone has been done to death, and is pretty much a sore point. You might not want to go there.

      • nerdomics
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:18 am | Permalink

        I am going to agree with you on this point.

        • Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

          If you’re still reading, nerdomics: Not only has “tone” been a sore point, but to let you know (assuming you are not Wally) this guy created a whole bunch of fake pseudonyms to lecture people about “tone”, got caught doing it and telling all sorts of other lies, phoney-apologized, disappeared for awhile, then just recently got caught doing it again.

          So not only are people here really not in the mood to hear about tone, but your timing (again assuming you aren’t Wally which, fair or unfair, I’m not 100% convinced of yet) automatically casts a veil of suspicion on you, even if it turns out you aren’t doing anything wrong.

          If you really aren’t Wally, then I apologize for how you are getting dumped on. I happen to think you are wrong, but you aren’t wrong in a way that justifies the vitriol you are getting (assuming you aren’t Wally). You just had bad timing.

          • nerdomics
            Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

            Nope I am not Wally. My name is Daniel. I don’t know how to convince you or anyone else that I am not Wally. I guess other than the fact that I will never post anything like this again. I told my wife I regretted it, but can’t go back in time.

            May I know your reasoning why you think I am wrong?

            • Posted March 7, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

              Others have basically already covered it… the rabbi may not be a moron but the article was pretty dumb; some of us appreciate plain speaking; this is a blog, not a conference proceeding or lab meeting; not all conferences and lab meetings and such are so sterile that plain speech like this might no be occasionally used; etc.

              In addition, there’s the fact that not all that long ago, even saying that the good rabbi was wrong about the existence of God would have been thought of as scandalous, not something to be said in polite company. We’re pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable to say about religion, and I think that’s a good thing.

              As far as who you are, I am pretty sure I believe you, your style doesn’t appear to be the same as the guy I am referring to. It’s really not your fault — but you gotta understand, a guy who basically advocated for a similar position to yours just got busted for the second time carrying on a long term orchestrated campaign of deception, that included showing up in the comments of various blogs pretending to be a newcomer…

              Long story, but one time I got “caught” wandering around a campus dorm at a college I didn’t attend at a weird hour of the morning — unbeknownst to me, just days after a woman had been sexually assaulted at that same campus. Campus security gave me the third degree, understandably so, even though I hadn’t done a damn thing wrong. I’m sure the relevance of this story is clear…

            • truthspeaker
              Posted March 7, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

              I would dispute that using words like “moronic” “adds fuel to the fire” as you say.

              First, I doubt very many evangelical Christians are reading this blog. Jerry was talking about them in the third person to other people.

              Second, Jerry isn’t trying to convince the likes of Kent Hovind, Ken Ham, and Pat Robertson. I doubt he respects those people and, if he’s anything like me, he doesn’t care if their feelings are hurt.

              The people he is trying to convince are believers who don’t know their leaders have been lying to them about evolution, and people who aren’t believers themselves but are unaware of just how moronic the claims of young earth creationists are.

              In short, the people who would get all hot and bothered about the use of the word “moronic” are not likely to be reading this blog and are not its target audience.

              • nerdomics
                Posted March 7, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

                You may be correct, however, using those types of words does do more harm than good. When someone talks down on another that person comes off as being a narcissist. I suppose it depends on one’s point of view. If someone were to talk down on me, then I will shut him/her out and not listen. That is what I mean by adding fuel to the fire. To do that to me would only irritate, and though I may be wrong on the subject being debated, I will never know because of the other person’s rudeness. If I don’t get respect, then I’m not gonna give it to that person. That’s just how it is. So from my perspective it is best to give respect to avoid conflict.

              • whyevolutionistrue
                Posted March 7, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

                Look, nerdomics, you are rapidly becoming an annoying tone troll, and you’ve had your say. Enough already.

                You have no idea whether “using those types of words do more harm than good”, especially since they’re directed not at the target, but at bystanders who might be persuaded.

                How many times do you need to say the same thing? And didn’t you say, “Lesson learned here”?

              • Posted March 7, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

                nerdomics, I have no more interest in pretending to respect somebody who claims the ultimate moral authority is an angry giant from a bad faery tale who personally drowned every kitten on the planet than the NAACP has in pretending to respect a white supremacist’s rantings about “mud people.”

                In neither case is respect deserved or even appropriate. And anybody telling me I have to respect such bullshit…well, he can fuck right off, too.

                Cheers,

                b&

              • truthspeaker
                Posted March 7, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

                “So from my perspective it is best to give respect to avoid conflict.”

                I’m not trying to avoid conflict.

              • truthspeaker
                Posted March 7, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

                Jerry – not going to tell you how to moderate your own comment section, but I should point out that in this case, nerdonomics was responding to a comment of mine that was a response to one of his, so if he’s dragging this out then I’m an accomplice.

    • Posted March 7, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

      You’re Not Helping.

      • nerdomics
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

        So I see that. Great input! Way to go!

        • Posted March 7, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

          That was the name of the blog of the guy I was referring to. “You’re Not Helping”

          • nerdomics
            Posted March 7, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

            Oh I get it now. I thought that other person was just trying to chime in. Like I haven’t heard enough. Lesson learned here. I honestly thought I was saying something alright cause I know how debates go when insensitive words are used.

            • Diane G.
              Posted March 8, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

              Just be glad you didn’t first-post at Pharyngula.

  17. jay
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Of course Goddidit!!

    At one time thunderstorms were proof that Thor was alive and kicking.

    But he got replaced by technology.

    • Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      We had a thunderstorm the other night and I told my 7 year old that I’d been told thunder was the sound made by angels bowling.

      She thought that was really silly and we both had a good laugh.

      • Gabrielle Guichard
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        Of course it is silly. It’s god who rolls his barrels.

        • Dominic
          Posted March 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

          “Then the lord arose as one out of sleep,
          And like a giant refreshed with wine
          He smote his enemies in their hhinder parts
          And put them to a perpetual shame”.

          Psalm 78. He does a goodly bit of smoting there. It was singing such stuff as a choirboy that helped me realize that the Hebrew god was just the same as Thor & had no right to be considered any more real.

          • Dominic
            Posted March 7, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

            Smiting! [I smite my head in shame!]

  18. Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    Jerry, really. You should stop being so shrill and stop attacking strawmen and stop dissecting unsophisticated theology.

    Wait, a rabbi publishes a god-of-the-gaps argument? Has he read nothing of theology in the last 120 years?

    Carry on, Jerry, carry on.

  19. Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Regarding the selective quoting from the rabbi, I’d go so far as to call the dear rabbi a liar as he deliberately misleads. I think we should call out people who engage in such contemptible behaviour as the rabbi’s.

    • 386sx
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

      That’s a tough call because he obviously got his grab bag of sound bytes from other creationists. Who knows if he was passing the buck or if he was passing something else. Tough call.

      • Diane G.
        Posted March 8, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        Lazy liar, then, for not even bothering to check original sources.

      • Posted March 9, 2011 at 11:21 am | Permalink

        It wasn’t too tough for me to call that. Perhaps I’m being too hasty? I don’t think so. A person of such intelligence knows what quote-mining is and also knows the need to check references such as quotes. Diane G calls it “Lazy liar”…kind of a half-way-house! Interesting.

  20. Dominic
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    He takes Shapiro & twists him – Shapiro has an alternative to RNA –

    http://www.robertshapiro.org/a_simpler_origin_for_life_78187.htm

    • Kevin
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:47 am | Permalink

      Good find. So, quote mining, more quote mining, and a god of the gaps argument, surrounded by quote mining.

      Yep, sounds like a theist to me.

  21. Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    From the original article
    “One might suppose that in the six or so decades since the discovery of the DNA molecule by Watson and Crick during which researchers have been investigating the origin of life they might have come up with some pretty solid leads to explain it.”

    One might suppose that in the six or so centuries since the discovery of God by ancient peoples during which theologians have been investigating the nature of God they might have come up with some pretty solid leads to explain it.

    There, fixed it for them.

    • Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      DOH. I meant six millennia, not six centuries.

  22. Sigmund
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    There seems to be a common misconception that ‘life’ requires some sort of magic spark. From the reanimation process in ‘Frankenstein’ to the sort of objections to Venters attempt to produce artificial bacteria using synthesized DNA it is this mistaken belief that many people have in mind when they talk about life.
    To a biochemist or molecular biologist this just appears weird. Life is simply (or more accurately, complicatedly) a chemical reaction. It’s much more akin to the formation of an ice crystal or the polymerization of a dessert jello than any sort of ‘divine’ spark.
    All it requires is a simple replicator to exist and you have the basis of life.
    We don’t know what the initial biological replicators were but we can guess that RNA replicators must have been part of the evolutionary process since we see evidence of this in every living thing existing at the moment.
    What we can guess is that the initial process must not have been that complicated since all evidence points to the notion that life began very soon after the earth cooled. If it required a divine hand then why do it then? Why not wait a few billion years?
    Why not wait 4.5 billion years and skip evolution entirely?
    I mean, if its so impossible for just a single self replicating RNA to come about, then whats few more noughts at the end of his statistically unlikely probability for the entire life of the planet to exist?

    • sasqwatch
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      Seems to me though that the RNA replicators, rather than being a part of the earliest processes, must have arisen well after the first abiogenesis event(s), as even RNA replication involves some formidable protein machinery. It’s cool how some RNA can catalyze its own transcription (the husband of my thermo Prof got a Nobel for that one) — but having RNA and a common genetic code (and all l-type molecules) seems to me to be a later consequence of being the last type of critter left as king of the chemical pile.

      • Sigmund
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

        The consensus amongst RNA biologists is that life did not originate with RNA but a world in which catalytic RNA was the most complicated replicator was one crucial stage in ‘life as we know it’.
        One major piece of evidence that catalytic RNA preceded catalytic protein is the molecular machinery that all cells use to build proteins, the ribosome, has at its catalytic heart, not an enzyme based on a protein, but a catalytic RNA.

        • Sigmund
          Posted March 7, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

          *Reminds self not to use the word “catalytic” for the next month in case I wear it out.

      • Kevin
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

        You’ve now entered into the real-world debate.

        RNA first or biochemistry first.

        No “magic man first” in either scenario.

    • Posted March 7, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      Dude, you’re saying that jello-formation is the same kind of thing as Me-formation? That is OFFENSIVE.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

        And he’s saying it in the public sphere!

      • Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:39 am | Permalink

        You haven’t seen the shape my jello is formed in.

        nyuk-nyuk-nyuk :D

    • Dominic
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

      And it is hard enough to define ‘life’ anyway – is a virus alive? Is a crystal?

      • Sigmund
        Posted March 8, 2011 at 4:12 am | Permalink

        A virus? Opinions vary. In my opinion a virus is part of biological life. It is alive in the sense that it can replicate, undergo mutation etc in the correct environment (within the appropriate living cell).
        A crystal (if we forget the fact that you can crystallize some viruses) is not life, although it is a chemical with the ability to ‘grow’. If it produces a replicator with the ability to undergo mutation then it enters the sphere of ‘life’.

    • Sal Bro
      Posted March 8, 2011 at 9:13 am | Permalink

      If it required a divine hand then why do it then? Why not wait a few billion years?
      Why not wait 4.5 billion years and skip evolution entirely?

      Maybe this is what you were getting at, Sigmund, but those are exactly the beliefs of young-earth creationists: the earth was created divinely and suddenly 6,000 – 10,000 yrs ago. To folks who have no real understanding of chemical processes, this seems much less improbable than “RNAdidit”.

  23. Posted March 7, 2011 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I wonder if Jacobs appreciates that what “some of us call God” is a matter of no minor dispute among theists of all stripes. It’s maddening that they (theists in general) are downplaying that very real and inconvenient fact just to nibble at the pant legs of atheists/materialists. With us out of the way, they’d be back to their own little battles over who the last prophet was – or wasn’t.

  24. Thanny
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    We know it happened *at least* once.

    I don’t know if Jerry intended to imply “only once”, but that kind of claim really gets on my nerves when I read it elsewhere.

    It’s entirely possible that the same type of life originated multiple times in multiple places (a lot of biochemistry is not as contingent as widely believed – even the DNA code shows signs of being at least partly predictable). It’s also possible that quite different types of life originated multiple times, and only one survived to the present day.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:22 pm | Permalink

      No need to be grumpy; what I meant (and I thought was clear), is that we know life originated at least once and may have originated more than once, but only one of those origins gave rise to all living species. If it happened other times, those “taxa” left no descendants.

  25. Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    I believe the relevant technical term is a shanda fur die goy.

    I am glad that the Rabbi has presented an irrefutable argument that Brahma created the world.

    Why Brahma you ask ? Why the bicyclists?

    Antisemite: The Jews are responsible for the world’s suffering.
    Jew: And also the bicyclists.
    Antisemite: Why the bicyclists?
    Jew: Why the Jews?

  26. Andrew
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Jerry, can you please explain why you identify as a ‘cultural Jew’? My nearest ancestors were Christians, but that doesn’t mean I feel like a cultural Christian, and it doesn’t mean I get embarrassed when a Christian says something stupid. Is it because you think Jewishness comprises both racial and religious identities?

    • Posted March 8, 2011 at 2:46 am | Permalink

      @Andrew(#26): I’ll answer as a cultural Jew. I hate the word “racial.” And yes, most Jews agree that when you strip religion away there is an underlying thing called “Jewishness” which remains.It’s a complex historical identity, not something you get by adhering to a set of commandments or saying prayers in Aramaic. And a great number of us are atheists. ;)

    • Sal Bro
      Posted March 8, 2011 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      And I’ll chime in as a cultural Christian who’s partnered with a cultural Jew. We’re both skeptics, so the god part is irrelevant. But I sing Christmas carols, decorate a Christmas tree, and make Easter baskets, while he lights a menorah, cooks noodle kugel, and (he says) feels guilty about everything.

      It has to do with cultural norms that we’ve been raised with that are secondary to the influence of a particular religion. If you think Christmas stockings and Easter eggs are normal, you may be a cultural Christian. Some atheists eschew those religious artifacts completely, but some of us still find pleasure in them.

      • AdamK
        Posted March 8, 2011 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        I was raised by atheists, one a cultural Jew, the other a cultural Christian. Christmas trees, menorahs, Seders and Easter baskets are all normal to me, and none of them imply anything about belief.

        • Sal Bro
          Posted March 8, 2011 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

          Yes, my point was that the “cultural” modifier usually suggests lack of belief when people use it to describe themselves. Some in your position might describe themselves as “cultural judeo-christians”. See cultural Judaism on Wikipedia for an explanation, though some people use the term even more loosely than what is described there (e.g., more analogous to cultural christian). Some also intentionally write “jewish” or “christian” without capitalization to further separate themselves from belief.

          Going beyond pure definitions, though, sometimes the term “cultural X” is used to acknowledge the privilege (or lack thereof) that a person receives (or doesn’t) from being automatically lumped into particular cultural majority/minority that has been heavily influenced by one religion. As an example, most Americans (even many atheists) wouldn’t bat an eyelash at serving ham and decorating with red and green lights for a “winter” festival, not realizing that such associations have been heavily influenced by Christianity (as opposed to another religion or no religion at all).

          • Andrew
            Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

            Thanks for all your comments. The focus of your comments seems to be that cultural Jews still engage in superficial cultural practices like lighting menoras, not eating pig and not engaging in Christian festivals. Those things I can understand. But what I want to know is why ‘cultural Jews’ feel some kind of kinship with other Jews: why they get embarrassed when other Jews say stupid things, or finding Barbara Streisand even more attractive because she is Jewish. Marc, you say it’s not racial, but I can’t help but think it is.

            • Diane G.
              Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

              Perhaps one thread involves the idea that, theistic or not, all Jews have been subject to the same persecution over the years…

            • Sal Bro
              Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

              But what I want to know is why ‘cultural Jews’ feel some kind of kinship with other Jews… [Y]ou say it’s not racial, but I can’t help but think it is.

              Cultural Xs may identify as such for a variety of reasons–out of pride in their heritage, as a quick explanation for habits or customs they may have, or, as I stated above, as an acknowledgment of privilege or persecution. You can’t really assume where a cultural X may draw the line in the customs they’ve chosen to keep, so it’s best to just ask them.

              Assuming that one is culturally “neutral” (as you seem to be doing) is not only incorrect, it’s usually only possible from a position of privilege. The reality is that people in minority groups are often stereotyped by others, so while a white middle-class guy in the U.S. can say something stupid without affecting what a majority of Americans think of all white middle-class guys, stupid things that a Jewish rabbi might say are more likely to reflect negatively on other Jewish people (in the eyes of non-Jewish Americans, the majority).

              Maybe you don’t identify as a cultural judeo-christian now because you have no need to do so–others in your country assume you are so automatically.

              • Andrew
                Posted March 8, 2011 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

                I don’t understand your claim that I am ‘assuming that one is culturally neutral’. Who is the ‘one’ you are referring to? And who said anything about being ‘culturally neutral’ (whatever that means)?

              • Sal Bro
                Posted March 8, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

                Sorry, I meant “one” as a nonspecific third person, like “if anyone assumes he/she is culturally ‘neutral’…”. And by culturally neutral I was trying to refer to my observation that you seem to view your culture as not needing a label that differentiates it from typical (more or less). To provide another analogy, it’s similar to grocery stores that label some foods as “ethnic”, suggesting that the rest of the food in the store is not of any particular ethnicity. I’d just meant to point out that this isn’t the case.

            • Posted March 9, 2011 at 9:42 am | Permalink

              I said I hate the word “racial” – and that holds across the board. It’s just got too many negative overtones. Maybe “ethnic” works better. I’m not saying it’s simple to explain, and much Jewish culture revolves around this difficulty and ambiguousness (great for jokes!). Maybe it’s not such a big deal to be an atheist Jew because “belief” – despite Maimonides’ injunction – isn’t really the bedrock of religious Judaism. Observance is. Christianity puts far more emphasis on faith, as does Islam.

  27. Helen Wise
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I think that there exists a complete set of photographs of the Scrolls. The issue, I think, is how much of them has been translated.

    • Helen Wise
      Posted March 7, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Alas, my comment bounced down here, instead of up there, where it would have made at least a little sense.

      • Doc Bill
        Posted March 7, 2011 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

        You always make sense, Helen!

        I stopped reading the article this morning when I got the the part where the RabbiMoron said that scientists didn’t have the “foggiest idea” and that’s such an ignorant thing to say, so there was no point in continuing.

        I’m sure that “quantum” was to follow and I just couldn’t stand it.

        • Posted March 7, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

          The phrase tickled me personally. I fully accept that scientists don’t the ‘foggiest idea’, as the foggiest ideas fall under the purview of religion. Science tends to opt for clearer rather than foggier notions…

  28. Posted March 7, 2011 at 8:02 pm | Permalink

    I’d been looking forward to your response on this… just knowing how your blood would boil! Excellent post, Dr. Coyne.

  29. Posted March 7, 2011 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    When engaging with Christians about evolution I am willing to grant that some God might exist, the same would go for Jews although I’ve never had that opportunity. But once the facts of evolution are made clear (i.e. the timeline of the fossil record) it quickly becomes apparent that their particular god story cannot be true. And debunking their particular god is all that is necessary. They can posit a god, that’s fine with me. But once he has a name and a book, it’s open season!

  30. 386sx
    Posted March 7, 2011 at 10:14 pm | Permalink

    Wow this is one dumb rabbi. He probably congratulates himself for “pwning” the scientists. Lol.

  31. MadScientist
    Posted March 8, 2011 at 1:16 am | Permalink

    The Rabbi has too many characters on his scrabble blocks, too few blocks, and not enough trials casting the blocks to get his desired outcome of a snippet of Shakespeare. Now even if the Rabbi got that part right, he still doesn’t understand that although the origins of life were ultimately due to random events, organisms evolved because they set the conditions to make certain interactions commonplace. Fortuitous modifications (with no interference by deities) afterwards over billions of years resulted in what we see today. The rabbi obviously hasn’t got a clue about how the world really works.

  32. Wilson
    Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:14 am | Permalink

    “Everyone agrees to the appearance of design”

    That statement by itself, I don’t know where to start with. A “designer” that thinks good design is a species that likes to eat and eat, but gets fat and dies if it does what it likes? Or that struggles to survive the temperature extremes of its own environment?

    “Everyone agrees”, my fat sweaty ass.

  33. Berick
    Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    I simply don’t understand this kind of argument, except as wishful thinking.

    1. Given 4.5 Billion years, I would expect random casting to create “To be or not to be” without any other mechanism at work.

    2. Not understanding means it must be “God”? Does that mean it would have been reasonable in pre-Maxwell, Marconi-etc days, for demonstration of radio messages to elicit “Well, these messages must be carried by Magical Owls, because we can’t understand otherwise.”?

    • daveau
      Posted March 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

      Actually, you could simulate #1 with a computer program, and I bet it wouldn’t take long for it to come up with a coherent sentence. Maybe not the specific one you’re looking for, but something. And that’s proof of concept.

      • Posted March 9, 2011 at 7:04 am | Permalink

        I think the (wrong) assumption here is that “to be or not …” would magically (for want of a better word) just appear from a random scattering of Scrabble tiles.

        It has extremely high odds against it happening, but it could still happen!

        However, the evolution thing doesn’t result in “the finished product” – it gets there after a number, possibly large, of incremental steps.

        So, the sentence “to be or not …” would appear in stages.

        You could throw the tiles and see the word “to” – which has better chance of appearing from “random” – and build up from there, *adding* to the current result until the perfect sentence is attained (evolves).

        And that, as any computer programmer would explain, will take far less iterations than expecting a random scattering of letters and expecting the finished result to appear.

        Cheers,
        Norm.

  34. Brenda Nelson
    Posted March 8, 2011 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Well, he practically has to come up with a rationale for believing in God, doesn’t he? For one thing, he’s Jewish, and the Jews claim to be God’s Chosen People. If there is no God, you’re relegated to being Nobody’s Chosen People. Something of a come-down, isn’t it?

    Secondly, he’s a rabbi – pushing God is his bread and butter.

    Still, I was disappointed in the article. I expect stupid arguments like this from the Christian fundamentalists I grew up with. I always thought Jews were more intellectual. Seems that was nothing more than a prejudice (however complimentary) on my part.

  35. Posted March 8, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know who wrote the “response” to Rabbi Jacob’s article above, but if that is the best he can do then I am truly ashamed of “cultural Jews.”
    I’ll limit myself to one point that the writer makes. Rabbi Jacobs did not take Francis Crick’s statement out of context. Crick was being totally candid when he said that it looks like life is a miracle. His caveat afterward is only a reflection on his own illogical and unreasonable committment to atheism. Just because Crick did not have the intellectual integrity to follow his very true assessment of the evidence to its logical conclusion is his problem, not mine.

    If someone was thrown out of a Las Vegas Casino for winning 100 hands of black jack in a row and then pleaded, “I know it seems miraculous that I won so many times by luck, but it’s not IMPOSSIBLE” we would laugh as such a ridiculous argument. This is exactly what Crick does. He admits that a naturalistic emergence of life is “miraculous”, but then quickly adds, “but it’s not impossible.”

    The writer admits that we do not know how life started on Earth but he is confident that in 50 years or so Science will figure it all out. Whoever you are: You are entitled to your faith in science, it is protected by the Constitution. The notion that something that contains the amount of digitally encoded specified information and is as functionally complex as a bacterium could emerge through an undirected process without intelligent intervention is such an absurd notion that it can be rejected out of hand. If you want me to believe such a ridiculous idea then prove it. And don’t be a crybaby and ask for special consideration because we are unable to recover the evidence because of time factors. That is your problem, not mine. The extraordinarily heavy burden of proof is on you.

    • Posted March 9, 2011 at 5:45 am | Permalink

      I have made this comment a full post above, so if you want to reply to Rabbi Moshe, go here please. Thx.

  36. Mike
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    Used to be God was proven in the miracle of a bird flying. Then we came to understand aerodynamics. Or that God was proven in those who lived or died during a plague, but then we gained medical knowledge. Etc, etc, etc.

    I have come to the conclusion that God will continue to be “proven” to exist right up until Man has learned everything there is to know. And, at that point we will have become Gods ourselves – thus validating their point.

    Fortunately, I have no belief that there exists a finite limit to knowledge.

  37. vrk
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    “There is no God.” — Psalms 14:1 (King James Version)

    • Posted March 11, 2011 at 7:27 am | Permalink

      And you must be the speaker: The fool.

      • Cafeeine
        Posted March 11, 2011 at 8:42 am | Permalink

        And there goes another irony meter…

  38. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    The extraordinarily heavy burden of proof is on you.

    It’s a long thread, so sorry if this has been debated already. As the post already made clear, a gap in knowledge doesn’t bear on the whether the claims of religion or not are factual. We know they are not, most of the jewish text describes history that never was.

    But let us discuss the science of abiogenesis, minding that it is about science and not atheism. Then we immediately see that there isn’t any extraordinary about finding natural pathways in nature, extraordinary evidence is needed just for creationism. Also we see that we don’t “prove” empirical facts and theories to diminishing uncertainty, but test their validity beyond reasonable doubt to mutually agreeable certainty.

    That abiogenesis was natural can be tested by testing a natural model for it; if the model can’t be rejected we can’t reject that a natural process happened. We know now that life existed a mere 1 Gy after Earth’s birth (@ 3.5 Ga out of 4.5 Gy). The simplest possible model of repeated attempts of abiogenesis is a Poisson process. At an average normed delay of max ~ 0.2 (~1 Gy out of ~ 5), we find that we can test the process to 3 sigma.

    So in fact abiogenesis was natural. (And easy (!), as evidenced by its small delay.)

    FWIW, here is some arguments that doesn’t bear even on the science of abiogenesis:

    His caveat afterward is only a reflection on his own illogical and unreasonable committment [sic] to atheism.

    The simplest explanation is that a scientist discussing science makes an argument reflecting science and his commitment to science. When atheism is discussed, it is mentioned.

    If someone was thrown out of a Las Vegas Casino for winning 100 hands of black jack in a row and then pleaded, “I know it seems miraculous that I won so many times by luck, but it’s not IMPOSSIBLE” we would laugh as such a ridiculous argument.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    If we consider “a perfectly reasonable sequence of fairly ordinary chemical reactions” as Crick does, we have abiogenesis. As I noted above that was quick and easy compared to Earth age.

    If you consider high odds, you have a creationist argument against everything from everyday protein folding (many, many conformations; one conformation active) to humans (many, many alleles; one combination is an individual).

    Creationists make the claim that in effect humans doesn’t exists and cells doesn’t work. Science begs to differ.

  39. Bryan R
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    There was an interesting recent discussion at the ASU Origins series about the origin of life and the question “What is Life?”

    Panelists are Richard Dawkins, J Craig Venter, Sydney Altman, Lee Hartwell, Paul Davies, Chris McKay, Lawrence Krauss, moderated by Roger Bingham.

    http://thesciencenetwork.org/programs/the-great-debate-what-is-life/what-is-life-panel

    Individual talks by each speaker also available at the Science Network

  40. Dunc
    Posted March 10, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    I dont know if it would be worth it to dissect how Jacobs misuses every quote in his article, but I was curious about Robert Shapiro’s quote. Soo, I dug up this article, which doesnt have that exact quote, but is relevant to that quote.

    http://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2008/10/nyu-chemist-robert-shapiro-decries-rna-first-possibility/


4 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] of things is being presented in articles like this (which I have not as yet read, I merely read a post on Why Evolution Is True  about the topic, but this post of mine is not tied to either piece, and I will read both later) [...]

  2. [...] I can link to Jerry Coyne instead, who takes the silly rabbi apart. I’ll only mention one item that jumped out at [...]

  3. [...] day before that we witnessed the even sorrier spectacle of Rabbi Adam Jacobs arguing, on PuffHo, that because scientists don’t have a full [...]

  4. [...] might remember Rabbi Adam Jacobs, who proved God by using the god-of-the-gaps argument with respect to the origin of life. That, in turn, led to the appearance on this site of another [...]

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