Monday, January 02, 2006

Are Scientists Stupid?

Wolfish Musings points out an excellent letter to the editor (scroll down to "Cheap Shots At Scientists Don't Change Truth.") I get so sick of religious people who understand less science than the average college bio major but are positive that they know the fatal flaw in the scientists' theories.

Virtually every point made by Rabbi Eidensohn in his letter of December 9 reflects significant misunderstandings about the science that he is attempting to criticize. However, it's not the errors in Rabbi Eidensohn's letter that I find most troubling. What disturbs me more is the smug belief, evidently shared by many in the yeshiva world [I would add "many in the ID/Creationist world," too --JA], that the working scientist is on average less intelligent than the typical potted plant.

How else can we explain the rabbi's readiness to believe that he has discovered fundamental problems in the theories of physics or biology that have escaped the notice of scientists who study these fields professionally? Such an attitude reflects either an unusual degree of hubris or a fundamental belief that scientists are all bumbling idiots. I suggest it's the latter.

For example, the rabbi triumphantly cites the second law of thermodynamics as evidence against the possibility of evolutionary processes. Does he think the scientists who study thermodynamics and biological processes have absent-mindedly overlooked this issue? Or that because of their unfortunate stupidity they just cannot quite grasp the basic principles of thermodynamics that the rabbi somehow innately comprehends?

Surely even the faintest degree of respect for scientists' intellectual capacities would have led the rabbi to inquire whether they had previously considered this issue. And they have. It's discussed in many popular science books and on about 300,000 websites, which I assume are not yet banned in Monsey.

(Incidentally, if the rabbi will re-read his own letter, he will find that his repeated use of the term "closed system" provides an important clue to understanding why evolutionary processes do not violate the second law.)

The yeshiva world has long found it convenient to ridicule science and scientists, and the rabbi's letter exposes a common conceit that a yiddishe kup and high school diploma provides better insight into the fundamental questions of science than does eight years of dedicated graduate study and a career of scientific experimentation. Well, let me break the bad news — a yiddishe kup and high school diploma [or reading a few creationist websites and books --JA] provide virtually no insight whatsoever into the fundamental questions of science, especially considering the cadaverous state of most yeshiva science curricula.

I don't mean to suggest that the layperson shouldn't exercise his or her full intellectual abilities in trying to critically assess and assimilate the latest scientific findings. One need not believe everything one is told, by scientists or by anyone else.

But the fact of the matter is that scientists are generally highly educated and intelligent people who have a substantial level of competence in their fields of study. Their methods of investigation and analysis have proved staggeringly effective over the past 300 years.

The image of the "idiot scientist" conjured up in Rabbi Eidensohn's letter may be comforting to some, but it's ultimately just crude escapism.

David Fass

Highland Park, NJ


(All emphasis added.)

The Wolf adds that perhaps people don't think scientists are stupid so much as that they are conspiring to hide the truth. As he points out, if you're going to believe that, you might as well believe that the moon landings were faked or that the government is hiding evidence of alien life at Area 51.

50 comments:

CyberKitten said...

There are people out there who believe that scientists are either charlatans, liars or fools. That belief is based on a conflict between science and their own strongly held beliefs. If science is right it means that they are wrong.

Therefore scients are charlatans, liars or fools. QED.

CyberKitten said...

Thats:

Therefore scientists are charlatans, liars or fools. QED.

InterestedJew said...

JA--This is a bit off-topic, but something that has been concerning me for sometime. Recently I had an conversation with a charedi woman in which she told me that she expressed the point of view that a terrorist attack on a charedi bus in israel was punishment from God, or a message from God, for charedim to be "better" in their religious observance. It fascinates me that people could actually believe in such a God. I understand that people like to find meaning in suffering, etc., but this to me seems like the ultimate in "blaming the vicitm," or at least internalizing the view (often perpetrated by bigots and racists) that the Jews are somehow responsible for, or even cause, their own suffering. Can you help me with this?

oracle25 said...

Are evolutionist's stupid? no. Are they ignorant? yes. Evolutionist are usually atheists with a vested interest in trying to prove there is no god. So they often overlook or come up with bogus arguments to support clearly contradictory evidence.

mike said...

interestedjew: "blame the victim" is a core belief in religious circles. it helps explain how god can be merciful and just, and how tragedies happen. simple: it isn't god's fault that these things happen, it is our fault. god is always just and right and merciful. it is us, the victims who are at fault for not having the proper level of religous observance.

interestedJew said...

Thanks, Mike. I guess I understand the theological argument, but not how human beings can accept it. I guess when we are talking merely about accidents, this could be a somewhat satisfying way of looking at things. But when we are talking about acts of terrorism or the Holocaust, why isn't it more satisfying to look at social and political explanations?

interestedJew said...

Thanks, Mike. I guess I understand the theological argument, but not how human beings can accept it. I guess when we are talking merely about accidents, this could be a somewhat satisfying way of looking at things. But when we are talking about acts of terrorism or the Holocaust, why isn't it more satisfying to look at social and political explanations?

The Jewish Freak said...

JA:

1. I am surprised that the Jewish Press printed that letter. I give them credit for that.

2. A quick anecdote: A rabbi of mine in high school once told the class that the fact that Jews are not born circumcised is a proof against evolution. All of us who paid attention in biology class knew that he was an idiot. BTW, that rabbi was a college graduate. - JF

CyberKitten said...

JF said: A rabbi of mine in high school once told the class that the fact that Jews are not born circumcised is a proof against evolution.

Did he explain how he arrived at this 'conclusion'...?

Jewish Atheist said...

oracle25:

"Evolutionist are usually atheists with a vested interest in trying to prove there is no god."

This is not true. A majority of people who believe in evolution are theists. (Proof: slightly less than half of Americans believe in evolution AND only about 10% of Americans are atheists.)

interestedJew:

"It fascinates me that people could actually believe in such a God. I understand that people like to find meaning in suffering, etc., but this to me seems like the ultimate in "blaming the vicitm," or at least internalizing the view (often perpetrated by bigots and racists) that the Jews are somehow responsible for, or even cause, their own suffering. Can you help me with this?"

Many religions do it. Falwell said that 9-11 happened because of feminists, gays, and the ACLU. Muslim clerics said that the tsunami happened because Muslim women weren't covering their hair, etc. Basically, in order to answer the question, "How can an Omnibenevolent, Omnipotent God allow evil to happen?" you must conclude that somehow we deserve the evil. That way God remains just.

The Jewish Freak said...

Cyber: He wanted to say that since Jews have been circumcising for 3000 years that we would evolve into foreskin-free beings (maybe that's what happened to the girls). - JF

CyberKitten said...

JF said: He wanted to say that since Jews have been circumcising for 3000 years that we would evolve into foreskin-free beings.

I thought that was what he meant... Strange how many people think like that....

The Hedyot said...

I wrote this at Wolf's blog, but I'll raise the issue here too:

The response to R' E. is practically identical to what frummies tell me whenever I say anything that challenges a gadol's position(or even your run-of-the-mill local rav). They'll say something like, "How can you even think to challenge the thinking of such a great talmid chacham like Rav X!? You're nothing compared to him! Your knowledge of the subject is nothing compared to his expertise! He's spent decades studying Torah, you're barely out of yeshiva, and you think you know enough to argue on him?!"

What's the difference?

mike said...

interestedjew said: "why isn't it more satisfying to look at social and political explanations?"


interstedjew:

b/c B.T.V. is simpler, neater and easier to digest. and it fits in better with the worldview that everything happens in this world directly from god, not political or social happenstance.

Jewish Atheist said...

The Hedyot,

Appealing to authority is appropriate when you're talking about an issue that the authority is a specialist in. Gedolim are experts in Talmud, perhaps, but certainly not science. I would never claim that the Gedolim were wrong about the interpretation of a tosafos because 9 out of 10 scientists disagreed with them, for example.

I guess the key point is that knowledge of shas does not remotely qualify one to debate science with scientists.

The Hedyot said...

I'm speaking about a situation where one would argue with a Rav in an area of halacha or hashkafa, the sort of thing which would be considered the Rav's area of expertise.

Jewish Atheist said...

There are other differences, too. Hashkafa, for example, isn't really something one can be right or wrong about. With halacha, there's always a Rav on the other side as well. Neither halacha nor hashkafa is strictly a factual question, whereas evolution is.

aj said...

People can talk about "70 faces to the Torah" (i.e. each issue and topic in Judaism has many truths and levels). No one can say that there are "70 faces to science"

asher said...

1. Evolution is a theory
2. Scientists understand the theory
3. I am not a scientist
4. Scientists are smarter than me

Therefore, evolution must be scientific.

Give me a break.

I read that letter when it came out. (I hate to admit I read the Jewish Press each week) This blind adherence to what "scientists" have to say should give us all some pause.

Please read "Planet of the Apes" at chabad.org. I would link it here but I don't know how to do it. Please clue me in. It's written by a scientist.

asher said...

By the way:

Happy New Year to you all.

Chana said...

If people used to bow to faith and God, then now they bow to reason/rationalism and science.

Where it used to be- "If he's righteous and he says so, it's true!" many people have turned to, "If he's a scientist and he says so, it must be so!"

I doubt it's right to idolatrously serve one or the other, the answer would seem to exist somewhere at the center. A healthy dose of skepticism is good for almost anyone.

I agree with the author of the letter with regard to his main point- bashing scientists/ trying to argue with them without understanding is stupid.

But if a religious person who understands science (is a scientist/ has a degree (BA, MA, PhD, onwards) in science and so forth and so on wishes to argue, I think that's his right.

The point being- I think this idea is always true. If you're qualified to speak/ argue, then do so. If you have a degree in science, speak up. If you understand literature, argue literature. But if you're not qualified to speak, oftentimes it's better to remain silent.

(I like the potted plant reference ;) )

Chana said...

*I didn't mean BA, MA (that's of the Arts) but BS, MS, etc

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

I just don't get what creationists and Young Earthers are thinking. Why can't they come up with one, just one peer reviewed scientific experiment to prove they are right instead of just poking holes in existing science, which is what they all attempt to do?
Fact is, they can't. Does this ever cross their minds or are they just bent on being intellectually dishonest?

Ben Avuyah said...

Firstly, that is a great letter, it pinpoints a major flaw in the yeshivish religious system's methodology for dealing with Modernity.

I am glad someone spoke up and told them they can't abate the crisis of "science versus religion", by spouting unsuported views of thermodynamics.

In answer to Hedyot's question there is an enourmous difference between the authority of science and the authority of Gedolim.

Science welcomes challenge, it asks for it... no, it demands it. That is why even powerful Newtonian physics can be replaced with Einstonian ideas. Science, never claims to be correct on authority alone, and accepts any challenge that is scientifically sound, and will infact revise it's most preciously held theorums if the evidence better supports a different model.

Hence the authority of science is not tied to any one individual, or that individuals success, but rather is inherent in the methodology.

The authority of a Godol, is not based on demonstrable evidence, nor can it be challenged with fact, disputed by any means, or called into question. It is an appeal to the power of the man and his infalibililty, that is not supported by anything, but worship, and does not deserve comparison to the feild of science.

cipher said...

Daas Heydot is correct. I was thinking the same thing as I was reading - that these rabbis have no trouble challenging scientists over points about which they have little or no understanding, but become incensed if someone challenges them on any point of Jewish law. They believe themselves to be correct merely by virtue of their credentials. During the Noson Slifkin affair, one of the rabbis became furious with Slifkin for defending himself - his argument was that in the process of disagreeing with the rabbis who condemned him, he was jeopardizing the faith of simple Jews who rely upon these rabbis to define the parameters of their lives!

JA, I don't think that Haredim and Christian fundamentalists, for the most part, think of the scientists as stupid (although I could be wrong, certainly). I think that they see them as being in denial, as promoting willfully (consciously or otherwise) a belief system that dispenses with God. As to why they believe that scientists and radical materialists do this - my experience has been that the argument always comes down to this: that the scientists and materialists choose not to believe because they don't want to be held accountable by God. They want to lead licentious, hedonistic, self-directed lives, without suffering any "consequences" - either in this life or in the next. Interestingly, the wording that issues from both camps (Jewish and Christian) is distressingly similar. This seems to be the only way in which they can rationalize it. I’ve believed for years that they attack those whom they perceive as their opponents so viciously because they’re trying desperately not to have to confront their own doubts and anxieties, and a well-reasoned argument from the other side threatens their own states of denial.

The Hedyot said...

Ben Avuya,

I appreciate your well-presented distinction between religious authority and scientific authority (or lack of it). Well said.

However, it seems to me though, that in his complaint, what the letter writer is doing is essentially appealing to the authority of scientists. He's making the same kind of statements about scientists that a religious person would make about a rav. He is conflating the two, and aren't those who agree with his position doing the same? According to how you present it, wouldn't any challenge be welcomed, no matter how foolish the proponent of said view may be?

(I know this all may sound like I'm taking the wrong side in this argument, but I'm just trying to be fair and logical in my thought process.)

The Hedyot said...

Ben Avuya,

I appreciate your well-presented distinction between religious authority and scientific authority (or lack of it). Well said.

However, it seems to me though, that in his complaint, what the letter writer is doing is essentially appealing to the authority of scientists. He's making the same kind of statements about scientists that a religious person would make about a rav. He is conflating the two, and aren't those who agree with his position doing the same? According to how you present it, wouldn't any challenge be welcomed, no matter how foolish the proponent of said view may be?

(I know this all may sound like I'm taking the wrong side in this argument, but I'm just trying to be fair and logical in my thought process.)

oracle25 said...

BEAJ said: "Why can't they come up with one, just one peer reviewed scientific experiment to prove they are right instead of just poking holes in existing science, which is what they all attempt to do?

Isn't this argument getting a little old? creationists have shown the scientific evidence for creation time and time again. Furthermore, we are not "poking" holes in evolution, the holes are already there, we are just pointing them out. Evolutionist, however, seem only able to attack our credible science instead of giving any real answers (hint: there aren't any) to there own. And yes I am aware that many evolutionist's try to defend there theory's. I have yet to see one that cannot be easily rebutted.

Even leading evolutionist' admit that there theory seems unlikely (at best). hence titles like "Climbing Mount Improbable".

The way I see it evolutionists are the ones who can't seem to find a leg to stand on.

Ben Avuyah said...

I see what you are saying, Hedyot, but I think there is a difference.

The letter writer is not appealing to the authority of "a scientist, or a group of scientists." But to the idea, the community, the methodology of science.

No one is required to take the methodology of science on faith. Not scientists, not clergy, not car mechanics, no one.

The authority of science rests in it's predictive abilities. It understands and explains natural phenominon to the extent that it can predict what will happen next. Belief in this does not require faith, merely observation. Want to know exactly where the earth is in relation to the sun or moon ? Science can tell you to within a meter.

The reason why an, "appeal to authority" is generally looked down upon is strictly becuase there is nothing else aside from authority; one is basing their answer, or plea, or argument solely on the fact that a given Godol is so Great. "He's great, so he must be correct." NO outside evidence, no confirmatory study, no observable data, just authority.

I don't think the letter writer, or scientists mind this particularly Rabbi's question. The difficulty is that he doesn't state it as a question he states it as a disproof. And he does this, apparently without research, as this question has been dealt with at length. He is not here making a viable attack against science, he is just puffing up his chest and spouting nonesense, and to those who don't know better it seems he has a good scientific point. He is alowing the masses of orthodoxy to feel they have good scientific reasons to remain in their cardboard boxes, and ignore the changing world around them.

I think the letter writer's point is that this rabbi feels secure doing this becuase of pervasive ideaology within orthodoxy, that scientists are idiots, and that his high school physics class entitles him to make authoratative statements about complex matters....not so.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Oracle, please show me one piece of scientific peer reviewed research that disproves evolution, or proves a young earth.

Just one.

You obviously don't understand this.
You are evidently in denial. You just spouted a lot of rhetoric, and have no facts to back you up.

Your whole aversion to scientific fact and research and observation has nothing to do with you understanding science. You are against the theories because they go against your Bible.

oracle25 said...

I'm the one who spouts rhetoric? Forgive me but I have not seen one time were you do anything to try to disprove me but attack me personally as somehow unscientific.

If you want to have a serious discussion let me know, until than I shall chose to ignore your dogma.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

I am asking you politely now.

Show me one peer reviewed scientific study that disproves evolution or proves a young earth.

Thanks in advance.

oracle25 said...

I encourage you to go to this web site article:

http://www.answersingenesis.org/news/scientific_american.asp#monkeys

This shows evidence that refutes evolution, while at the same time responds to typical evolutionary responses.

oracle25 said...

Oh, btw, I hope you will read the entire article before you rebut.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Oracle, I read the article. There was no mention of any peer reviewed scientific studies that either disproved evolution, proved a Young Earth, or proved any of their assumptions.

Do you understand what a peer reviewed scientific study is?

For example, if the earth is less than 10,000 years old, the technology is available to creation scientists to prove it. They can't. If they could they would become the most famous person on the planet today.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Oracle, I doubt I'm gonna change your mind. If the Jewish Atheist can't, I have no chance. But read my article and explore the links I provide for it. Try to do this with an open mind:

http://tinyurl.com/ahzj3

oracle25 said...

Okay, I read your article. I tend to not get into the young earth vs. old earth argument to much. In part because I see it as rather pointless to debate over. I know of both old earth and young earth creationists and I respect them both.

As for your request. Understand, I cannot get a scientific study off the internet (at least as far as I know). Virtually all scientific web sites, both ID web sites and evolutionists web sites (yes I go to them both) generally will only reference scientific studies.

I believe what you mean by peer reviewed is that evolutionists have given it the OK. Creationists learned long ago that trying to get science by an evolutionist is difficult (were talking about people who will fire extremely qualified people because they are creationists, this is not the type of people we want reviewing our work) and so we have other creationists review our work (incidentally, evolutionists do basically the same thing). All the evidence you will find in that article has passed scientific critique.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

Oracle, there are many scientists who believe in God and the creator. Even that evolution is guided. But it isn't a big conspiracy, if you have a testable hypothesis that is falsifiable, it will be published.

If it was a conspiracy, wouldn't a creation scientist scream bloody murder and show his results all over the internet? Think about it.

And it doesn't shock me that you stay clear of the young earth debate. If you understood science remotely, you would know the earth is 4.5 billion years old.

oracle25 said...

I would bet that the P.H.D. holding scientists that believe in a young earth have a better understanding of science than you or me.

And I believe you to be wrong about it not being a conspiracy. Evolutionists systematically try to refute ID without any actual understanding of it.

Testable hypothesis' have been published, they are just not published in any leading evolutionist magazines. There are many creation magazines out there that publish studies and other evidence that support there theory. I do not see why the mandate is that it must be published in some magazine that is bent on disproving the theory.

Jewish Atheist said...

oracle25: Please supply a single testable hypothesis from ID. I don't require that it be peer reviewed.

Also, please answer my question in the other thread about complexity. :)

Anonymous said...

oracle25-
You can't even spell Ph.D., but yet you think you are qualified to judge the state of ID as a "science" or not???

PS: we really would like to hear a single testable ID hypothesis.

oracle25 said...

Heres a testable hypothesis for irreducibly complex organism':

http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.php/2/2005/05/25/id_friendly_journal_paper_makes_testable

P.S. anonymous: It is true that Ph.D. was spelled wrong. I admit it. I never said I was personally an expert in science. However, I do believe I posses enough understanding to decide for myself what is science and what is not.

oracle25 said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
oracle25 said...

I guess I have to copy this all down:

http://www.arn.org/blogs/index.php/2/2005/05
/25/id_friendly_journal_paper_makes_testable

Jewish Atheist said...

oracle25:

Your link refers to the following hypothesis:

Do Centrioles Generate a Polar Ejection Force?

Abstract. A microtubule-dependent polar ejection force that pushes chromosomes away from spindle poles during prometaphase is observed in animal cells but not in the cells of higher plants. Elongating microtubules and kinesin-like motor molecules have been proposed as possible causes, but neither accounts for all the data. In the hypothesis proposed here a polar ejection force is generated by centrioles, which are found in animals but not in higher plants. Centrioles consist of nine microtubule triplets arranged like the blades of a tiny turbine. Instead of viewing centrioles through the spectacles of molecular reductionism and neo-Darwinism, this hypothesis assumes that they are holistically designed to be turbines. Orthogonally oriented centriolar turbines could generate oscillations in spindle microtubules that resemble the motion produced by a laboratory vortexer. The result would be a microtubule-mediated ejection force tending to move chromosomes away from the spindle axis and the poles. A rise in intracellular calcium at the onset of anaphase could regulate the polar ejection force by shutting down the centriolar turbines, but defective regulation could result in an excessive force that contributes to the chromosomal instability characteristic of most cancer cells.


I agree that this is a testable and falsifiable hypothesis, but it's not an ID hypothesis. It's like saying, because I believe in ID, I think God would have given birds light-weight bones so they could fly better. I hypothesize that they do in fact have light-weight bones. Yes, it's testable and falsifiable, but what does it have to do with ID? Both a designer and evolution could have "designed" birds with light-weight bones. So what have we learned about ID? Similarly, why couldn't "a polar ejection force generated by centrioles," if it exists, have evolved?

By contract, a falsifiable hypothesis in evolution is: 1) we will never find any organism which combines parts from several different and diverse lineages, like a mermaid or a griffin. 2) All organisms and all fossils we ever encounter will ALWAYS fall neatly into a nested hierarchy.

If this hypothesis were shown false, then evolution would be false. All you need to do is find a single organism on Earth that clearly has attributes which could not have descended from a single branch of the phylogenic tree. A bird with mammalian breasts, a cold-blooded primate, etc. According to the theory of evolution, there will never ever be such a discovery. Not in the deepest reaches of the jungles of Africa, not in any fossil we discover, nowhere.

It's a bold and falsifiable prediction that would falsify evolution itself.

Show me something like that from ID.

oracle25 said...

If something is irreducibly complex than evolution cannot have created it. That is why it is said to be irreducible. So there must be a designer.

In fact these are the type of organisms that Darwin said would destroy his theory.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

And you have nothing that fits that description. Behe's last efforts of IC were destroyed recently. You know, that if someone could prove the earth is only 6,000 years old, that would destroy evolution theory too.

Oracle, do yourself a favor and watch this video with an open mind. It describes in almost laymans terms why ID got thrown out in Dover, and it also may open your eyes up when it comes to evolution theory:

http://tinyurl.com/d59og

click on windows media. It is long, the real good stuff is at the 40-50 minute mark. But the whole video is great.

Jewish Atheist said...

oracle25:

They hypothesis is about whether the thing exists, not if it's irreduceably complex. Given the spectacular failure of the "irreduceably complex" claim with regard to the eye, I'd be pretty skeptical about any other "irreduceably complex" claim.

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

JA, did you see this video yet http://tinyurl.com/d59og . Ken Miller rips apart Behe's IC on it, and actually proves it is nonsense.

oracle25 said...

If it is anything like the traditional crap responses we get from evolutionists than this should be fun. I hope he's not gonna try to prove that things from the bacterial flagellum could have just floated together, whit 60% of it still missing! That would be a laugh.