December 17th, 2017


Scott Walker's Challenge --- and Ours

 Jonathan Rosenblum

By Jonathan Rosenblum

Published March 23, 2015

On a recent trade mission to England to promote Wisconsin cheese, Governor Scott Walker, the current frontrunner for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, was asked at the end of a 45 minute press conference: "Are you comfortable with evolution?" This is by now a standard question asked of every Republican politician designed to demonstrate that he is an unlettered boob too stupid to be considered for any office above dog-catcher. Walker's questioner admitted as much by describing the question as de rigueur for Republican candidates.

Walker punted on the question, which was probably a mistake. Any Republican running for office should expect it. And the answer, I think, should be something along the lines: I'm a public official, not a theologian. So if you want to ask me a question connected to public policy I'll be happy to answer.

Of course, the above answer will not avail when it comes to the other question used to paint Republicans as primitives who reject Science: Do you believe in catastrophic anthropogenic global warming? That one definitely has public policy consequences, and a political candidate should be prepared to discuss the topic in an informed fashion. If he can, he will in all likelihood be far in advance of his questioner and may wish to have some fun asking his questioner in which of the half-dozen or more scientific disciplines bearing on the climate debate — e.g., meteorology, oceanography, paleontology, cosmology — he has expertise.

The subset of political journalists who were even undergraduate science majors I would guess is infinitesimal, and the same is likely true of Democrats in Congress as well. If we are ever privileged to see President Obama's college transcripts, it will be interesting to see how many science courses he took.

Richard Cohen, a liberal columnist in the Washington Post, opined that being asked about evolution is "no different than asking whether one believes the theory of gravity or general relativity," raising more question about his qualifications than Walker's. Gravity is a fact; evolution describes a multiplicity of theories, each with unsolved riddles.

IT IS A MYTH that scientific sophistication is the province of the political Left and its opposite of the Right. A recent study found that rates of non-vaccination for a host of once vanquished diseases that are now reappearing are higher in neighborhoods that host Whole Food Markets, which journalist Michael Schulman has labeled "America's Temple of Pseudoscience." Another study reveals that those on the Left are far more likely to believe in para-normal phenomena (i.e., those without any scientific validation), as long as they have nothing to do with a Divine being Who imposed certain responsibilities on human beings.

The rejection of scientific evidence by those on the Left can come with a hefty cost. At the insistence of former senator Tom Harkin (D.-Iowa), for instance, Obamacare covers a wide variety of alternative medical remedies that have consistently failed the test of scientific validation, such as aromatherapy and homeopathy, at potential costs in the billions of dollars annually.

The worldwide campaign against the alleged dangers of genetically modified organisms (GMO) would destroy agricultural advances that have greatly enhanced food production and increased the supply of arable land, and thereby further endanger the food supply of millions of human beings on below subsistence diets. The alleged dangers of GMOs have been consistently disproven.

Huge government subsidies for so-called "green energy" have only benefitted large political contributors to the Democratic Party, while doing nothing to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. The ethanol boondoggle raised food prices world-wide, exacerbating the food crisis, while increasing the profits of large agribusiness. It did nothing, however, to reduce carbon outputs, as producing gasoline from ethanol itself turned out to be carbon intensive.

In Europe, where green energy is even more of a fetish than in the United States, increased reliance on unreliable wind and solar power has greatly upped energy costs and contributed to making European industry ever more non-competitive.

Meanwhile, the one proven source of clean energy, with the capacity to dramatically reduce the reliance on fossil fuels — nuclear energy — is rejected out of hand by the environmentalists who constitute a large portion of the Democratic donor class.

Before one can claim to think scientifically, one must first show the capacity for rational thought at all. President Obama's recent veto of the Keystone Pipeline, at the insistence of the largest Democratic donor, Tom Steyer, demonstrates a lack of the latter. The oil from Canadian tar pits is coming out of the ground, one way or the other. The only question is will it do so in a manner that creates American jobs, strengthens relations with America's largest trade partner and closest neighbor, and contributes to American energy independence, or will it be sold to China. Even from an environmental point of view, transporting the unrefined oil by pipeline is far less likely to result in environmental disaster than transporting it by railcars, with their unfortunate tendency to derail.

THE EVOLUTION QUESTION posed Gov. Walker is not just a matter of concern for Republican political strategists. It is no less a concern for Torah Jews. The manner in which the question is wielded like a club applies equally to believing Jews: Are we to be deemed unworthy of being taken seriously by proper society for our refusal to worship at the Church of Darwin? And, unlike Republican politicians, we cannot evade the question as irrelevant.

David Berlinski ("The Deniable Darwin," Commentary, June 1996) offers the important insight that Darwinian theory is "unique among scientific interests in being cherished for what it contains, but for what it lacks" — any divine guidance or transcendental forces. "Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist," writes his best known contemporary popularizer Richard Dawkins. Yet as the brochure for the British Museum's 1981 exhibit on Darwin noted: "Evolution by natural descent is not, strictly speaking, scientific because it is established by logical deduction rather than empirical demonstration." University of California law professor Phillip Johnson lays out the specious basis of that deduction in his important book Darwin on Trial: Step One exclude all non-natural explanations as a priori inadmissible. Step Two: If Darwin's theory were true, it would explain phenomenon x. Step Three: No other natural explanation exists so Darwin must be right. Step Four: Because Darwin is right all non-natural causes (i.e., those excluded at the beginning) are vanquished.

Dr. Chaim Presby, a distinguished Orthodox Jewish scientist at Bell Laboratories, with 200 patents to his name, provides a good example of just such reasoning. A colleague published a fascinating paper on a type of starfish called a brittlestar, whose five appendages are covered with thousands of perfectly formed functional eyes. The brittlestar "solved" the problem of making distortion free lenses out of calcite material with a double lens design which directs and focuses light onto its photosensitive tissues. The paper concluded, "The demonstrated use of calcite by brittlestars, both as an optical element and a mechanical support, illustrates the remarkable ability of organisms, through the process of Evolution . . . "

Yet when Dr. Presby asked her to describe the steps in the evolutionary process, she couldn't. So he asked how she and her three co-authors could make a completely unsubstantiated statement and publish it as fact. Her response: "Well, what are the options?" But just as "What are the alternatives?" is neither an argument for the Oslo process or for a nuclear agreement that allows Iran to obtain nuclear arms after the decent interval from President Obama's departure from office, neither does it constitute scientific proof.

The proliferation of such arguments, however, has helped hide the gaping holes in evolutionary theory. Darwin himself wondered how such a complex system as the human eye, which even today is not fully understood by scientists, could have developed via a lengthy series of mutations, and one of the most eminent neo-Darwinians, the late Stephen Jay Gould, declared the question of what good would 5% of an eye be an excellent one.

Richard Dawkins, however, dismisses the question on the grounds that five per cent sight is much better none and six percent is better yet. He apparently fails to grasp that the eye is a complex system, and five percent of an eye is unlikely to result in any sight at all, and thus have no adaptive advantage. The late Gould and his Harvard colleague Richard Lewontin, in a famous paper, ridiculed the "just so" stories developed by evolutionary biologists to explain the advantages of parts of complex systems.

Another colleague of Gould's, Nils Eldridge, admits, "We paleontologists have said that the history of life supports the story of gradual adoptive change, all the while knowing it does not." He and Gould therefore developed a new theory of punctuated evolution, which claimed that stable macro-mutations are possible, though such stable macro-mutations have never been observed. Another paleontologist Otto Schindewolf, facing the same problem, speculated that the first bird hatched from a reptile egg. Each of these "just so" stories, involves the type of major leaps, or saltations, that Darwin himself ruled to be incompatible with his theory.

Given these difficulties, it is no wonder, as Berlinski has observed, that when the lights are dim and the public not looking, evolutionists evince a certain feral streak with one another.

Even if Dawkins and company could plug all the holes in the fossil record or come up with a compelling explanation of how complex systems, each involving numerous subsystems, which confer no independent advantage — think of a blowfish without the poison or the poison without a delivery system — developed, they would not have succeeded in their goal of getting rid of G0D.

For they still could not account for the development of the first cell, from which the wonderful multiplicity of living forms is supposed to have derived. The late Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle compared the chances of that cell coming into being to those of a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and fashioning a Boeing 747.

So perplexed was Sir Francis Crick, the discoverer of DNA, by this problem, that he posited that the first life forms had been sent to earth by hyper-intelligent extra-terrestrial beings. It does not seem to have occurred to him to ask whence those being came.

Dr. Presby relates that he once asked his Bell Laboratories colleague Robert Wilson, a radio astronomer, who won the Nobel Prize for discovering the uniformity of microwave radio waves buttressing the Big Bang Theory of creation, what he thought gave rise to the Big Bang itself.

Wilson's succinct reply: "I refuse to think about it."

That impulse to refuse to think about it does not come from being a Nobel-Prize winning scientist, but from being an average human being, who doesn't want to be bound by Divine commands.

And that is why Torah Jews need not be intimidated when asked whether we believe that the wondrous diversity of life came into being through a completely random process, with no Divine direction.

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JWR contributor Jonathan Rosenblum is founder of Jewish Media Resources and a widely-read columnist for the Jerusalem Post's domestic and international editions and for internation glossy, Mishpacha. He is also a respected commentator on Israeli politics, society, culture and the Israeli legal system, who speaks frequently on these topics in the United States, Europe, and Israel. His articles appear regularly in numerous Jewish periodicals in the United States and Israel. Rosenblum is the author of seven biographies of major modern Jewish figures. He is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Yale Law School. Rosenblum lives in Jerusalem with his wife and eight children.