Friday, August 07, 2009

Interesting Posts and Articles #192

  1. Blog in Dm takes note of the Koren Siddur on Yedid Nefesh.

  2. Life In Israel and the Yeshiva World on a kabbalistic attempt to prevent swine flu.

  3. The New York Times on how doctors now recognize the importance of the spleen.

  4. From last week's Jewish Week, an article about Kew Gardens Hills. And also an article about a facilitator to tzaddikim:
    He urged me to get a blessing from a gadol, or sage, citing a commentator who stated that just as gazing into the face of a wicked person causes evil, looking at the face of a wise person brings sanctity to one’s soul. He told me about a Sephardic kabbalist who lives in the heart of the religious neighborhood of Mea Shearim. Nearing 100, the rabbi has, according to some, the spiritual power to bring about peoples’ wishes. (It would cost me about $75 an hour for Pessin to pull off the match.)
    I wondered if he could help me win the lottery.
    Apparently, the article was written towards what would be interesting for its audience. This fellow does this as a parnassa, but also because his rebbe is of the position that people take tours of archaeological places in Eretz Yisrael, but they should be visiting all the tzaddikim
    . And this fellow takes people on tours to meet with the tzaddikim.

  5. Dawkins vs. Wright:

    and it continues in more parts.

  6. Daf Notes on the protection of a mezuzah.

  7. HaEmtzah on the directionality of dan lekaf zechut.

  8. Zoo Torah on the secret of the stincus.

  9. Askonim try unsuccessfully to convince Rav Steinman to ban organized group vacation.

  10. All sorts of crazy: Redemption5768 musters the ever malleable power of gematria to reinforce a Christian Ethiopian myth:
    If you know anyone from Ethiopia, ask them a simple question. "Do you know where the Holy Ark is located?" You'll be amazed when they respond, "Of course I do. Everyone in Ethiopia knows that it is kept in a special treasury next to the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Axum, Ethiopia. They'll also tell you that the ark cannot be seen by anyone but the high priest of Axum, an elderly, holy monk who is charged with its care and preservation for life. He doesn't leave the premises and names his successor on his death bed. His name is Abba Tesfa Mariam. He is the 30th guardian in history who never left that same enclosure. He as well as the guardians before him, worship 13 hours a day in front of the Holy Ark. So how did the Ark wind up in Ethiopia?
    Why must we adopt the meshegas of all the nations? We don't have enough of our own? And when the Christian myth that it was taken in the time of Shlomo conflicts with Jewish tradition, that we were in possession of the aron until the reign of Yoshiyahu, who hid it to protect it from the coming Babylonians. And when a church leader claimed six weeks ago that he would reveal the Ark of the Covenant, but meanwhile nothing has happened? (And that even if they are in possession of something, there is no assurance that the relic they are in possession of is the Ark?)

    When our gullibility extends to accepting the reality of many of the claims of other religions (for example as seen here at Mystical Paths, in the post and comments), it makes me think that it is mere lucky accident that these gullible people believe in Judaism, but in slightly different environment, they would be just as committed to any other superstitious religion.

  11. See my posts on parshat Ekev.


Michael said...

Hi Josh,

I only saw the first and seventh one.
What do you think of the Dawkins video? I think Dawkins was less militant against religion than he normally is and did not put forth his strong atheist opinion andtry to make it a holy war Religion vs Evolution. So he came through better.
There are alot of question on evolution, though, that have not been answered by the scientists.

joshwaxman said...

indeed, dawkins kept his militant atheism in check, as he notes explicitly in one of the parts.

overall, i found myself agreeing with Dawkins, while the woman came across as an ignorant moron. this might only come across best in some of the other videos.

regarding questions on evolutions, are substantive and do they undermine the very heart of the theory, or are they swatting at flies at the edge? do the scientists answer them but their opponents do not consider them answers (like in some of the examples in the video)? can you give an example of such a question?

kol tuv,

Michael said...

Hi Josh,

I agree with your analysis. My questions with regards to evolution are basically:

1. Evolution evades solving the problem of abiogenesis. How did the first life forms begin. There is an irreducibility about it. Even the most primitive cells are extremely complex. What is the statistical probability of the spontaneous abiogenesis of dna codes?

2. Where is te laboratory testing of evolutionary processes. Have scientists managed to create meaningful mutations with, lets say, fruit flies? Most mutations, tend to be detrimental, as loss of information, even if beneficial. For example, red hair mutation may be beneficial in low UV climates, but it is actually a defective mutation, where complete melanin synthesis is blocked. There are no reverse mutations (back to black melanin) recorded in human genetics.

of course the creationist position is complete rubbish, and against the scientific evidence, but evolution is also defective, as a complete theory.

joshwaxman said...

it may be so as a complete theory, though i don't think it needs to be a complete theory to be persuasive in terms of what it does describe.

even in terms of evolution, i am more than willing to view it as a process divinely guided.

but i am not certain that abiogenesis, which is origin of life, should be conflated with evolution, which is development of life into the forms it has now. these may be entirely different questions.

in terms of irreducible complexity, i don't know. first, many mutations can occur without manifesting themselves in the underlying organism (see the idea of pseudo-genes), such that only after a bunch of separate mutations can it suddenly jump to a completely new function. but also because things which *seem* to be irreducibly complex might only seem to be so as a result of the paucity of our own imaginations.

See these videos for the debunking of this idea for bacterial flagellum:

in which it turns out the parts do have some use, just not the same use that it eventually has.

it is also possible to say (perhaps) that the same process is happening all over the place in an infinite universe, which then results in getting rid of some statistical improbability. only in the infinitesmally small places out of the entirety of the universe where this happened did life as we know it evolve, and that is where, with our limited knowledge, we observe. but in the googleplex other instances, it did not work out.

2. in terms of laboratory testing, i am not aware enough of the research. but here, scientists evolved new proteins from scratch:
and here they evolved a complex genetic trait of hornworms:
and here they evolved a virus to slip past the human immune system:

In terms of computer science, which might differ in various ways from the reality on the ground in the natural world, there is an entire field of genetic algorithms, in which one uses a pattern of bits, instead of DNA, and mutates and mates the mutations, and selects based on results the best crop for the next generation -- for example for a sorting algorithm, the one which puts the items in closest sorted order. and the result is a sorting algorithm that can be proven to be optimal, that is that you could not design a more efficient algorithm. and looking at the instructions in these bitcodes, you see some very clever tricks that looks like they were designed by a very clever programmer.

so they might have answers to these, or these answers might exist even though they presently do not have them.

kol tuv,

Michael said...

Hi Josh,

I have a few problems with your examples. Let's say that evolution is divinely guide. What would be the mechanism of divine providence. If it is some kind of Mind over Matter, where G-d is influencing the probability outcome of the random processes? That seems to contradict your second example where you imply that these random jumps are probable. If they are probable, who needs divine guidance? If they are statistically improbable, evolution is not a scientific theory.
True, Abiogenesis is not evolution per se, but that is just running away from the source problem, from a scientific point of view. A hard-science physicist would not run away from a problem like that the way the biologists do, without trying to get down to the source of the problem.
As for the protein evolution, I don't think protein is the same as dna, protein is just 'dead matter'. DNA has information encoded for making the proteins. The case of the hornworms, they didn't actually change the genes, but selected for hormonal activation of genes already existing in the genom.
I have not researched into this much, but I think they are jumping to conclusion to quickly. The problem in these experiments is that there is always a sentient being(scientist) directing the outcome of the experiment.
Now, even if we finally come to the conclusion that the laws of nature are exactly tuned, such that evolution must happen, that would be an even greater proof of divine providence.
I have my own theory, that might harmonize, what is perceived as an evolutionary process, yet is divinely guided, but it involves some kind of pan-psychism. I donwt know how that would fit with Judaism, but it certainly cannot be worse than the materialistic monism that the biologists are putting forward.

joshwaxman said...

it is unlikely we'll come to an agreement on this, but i might as well respond.

in terms of the second example contradicting divine guidance, absolutely! not everything i write here is what i believe, and therefore not everything will be consistent. i am just considering the various possible responses. and of course i am no expert on these matters.

one approach one can take is Divine Guidance of the evolutionary process, which is guided evolution. there is also punctuated equilibrium, or punctuated evolution. perhaps one can make them work together, or perhaps not.

how can divinely guided evolution work? perhaps by changing the likelihood, or changing conditions that allow the sperm carrying particular DNA to reach an egg. or bringing about the mating of many of the individuals, then across the entire species. ELOKIM MOSHIV YECHIDIM BAISAH, MOTZI ASIRIM BA'KOSHAROS. or by modifying environmental conditions such that survival of the fittest will ensure that the creature evolves to match particular conditions.

even IF big jumps are probable, those big jumps can occur in different ways. should the big jump to be having a third ear or a fifth nostril?

and even if they are probable and entirely bederech hateva, what a remarkable way of creating the laws of nature such that we have this almost infinite variation and the ability to evolve. we can see the wonder of God in the nature He established in His Wisdom.

joshwaxman said...

abiogenesis is not evolution per se. and not every scientist works on every problem. many scientists see micro-evolution in action, as germs evolve, and they are involved in practical research towards bettering the human condition. not every thing must be the field of study of every scientist. a biologist might not be concerned with astronomy. and even an astronomer can be interested in one aspect of astronomy without researching, e.g., dark matter. and there can even be theories in one area which don't account for everything in another matter, in the same field. and certain things might not yet be discoverable, because of human limitations, and yet the theory does account for the observed phenomena in an elegant and simple way, and in a way that predicts future results. such would be a better theory than one which does not.

you don't think they can create positive evolution in a lab? they can take bacteria, apply anti-bacterial agents, and allow the surviving ones to propagate. eventually, they will have a strain of bacteria resistant to that antibiotic. this happens in the wild all the time, and it should be trivial to create it in the lab. and this is a positive evolution from the perspective of the bacteria, rather than a devolution.

"The problem in these experiments is that there is always a sentient being(scientist) directing the outcome of the experiment."
indeed, which might be a nice argument for guided evolution as a theory. on the other hand, experiments are conducted in a much shorter timespan than exists in the natural world, when we have thousands or millions of years to work. and the idea that it must be guided might smack of the idea that evolution is a progression towards a goal, and a perfection. it is not. Darwin and subsequent evolutionists were not progressionists. There is no idea of coming up with a desired, perfect outcome. Rather, the organism *eventually* develops to thrive in whatever environmental conditions exist; and those might even change over time. a human is not "better" than a gorilla in this regard. rather, both the human and gorilla evolved from a common ancestor, and mutated, and thrived based on different features which developed. a gorilla has its strength, and fur to keep it warm. a human has its intelligence and language. and so on. if the scientist is choosing which get to survive to the next round (based on what looks better), he is mimicking natural selection provided by the environment. and is he trying to prove evolution correct? i think they take this as a given. he is trying to get a particular result.

"Now, even if we finally come to the conclusion that the laws of nature are exactly tuned, such that evolution must happen, that would be an even greater proof of divine providence."
yes, that is a nice way of presenting it, and iiuc, might match Rav Shamshon Refael Hirsch.

to sum up, sure. one can say many things, and some of them might even be correct. ;) and i am not really staking out my own position here. i do think that there might well be answers to many questions here, and that evolution is a strong likelihood.

kol tuv,


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