Monday, July 16, 2012

Can Judaism be Reconciled With Science? Part 3: Finishing Creation

                 And God said, "Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kind, cattle and creeping things and the beasts of the earth according to their kind," and it was so. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kind and the cattle according to their kind, and all the creeping things of the ground according to their kind, and God saw that it was good. And God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the heaven and over the animals and over all the earth and over all the creeping things that creep upon the earth." And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the sky and over all the beasts that tread upon the earth." And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good, and it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day.

                So, on day number six, god creates living creatures, cattle, creeping things, and finally, man. Before we go on to man, I just noticed something, whoever wrote this book lists "creeping things" on day six and "every living creature that creepeth" back on day five. Well, so much for constancy. In addition the bible views all other living things as a precursor to man and gives man lordship over them. This begs the question, what about living things that are around today (or will be around in the future) that did not exist 5772 years ago? The other problem with this is the view that man is the final product, when in reality, we are but a link in a chain, and we will evolve into much greater things than we are today. We shall one day be a species so far removed from "modern" man, as modern man is from the simplest amoeba.
                Here is another fantastic gem, when it says "fill the earth and subdue it,” the word for subdue in Hebrew that is used, is וְכִבְשֻׁהָ however it is missing the letter vav. Rashi explains this:

                And subdue it: The“vav” in וְכִבְשֻׁהָ is missing, [allowing the word to be read וְכִבְשָׁה, the masculine singular imperative] to teach you that the male subdues the female that she should not be a gadabout (Gen. Rabbah 8:12),

                But I digress; let us return to reality, with the true history of our planet. The first animals to walk on the land lived at the latest 415 MYA; however, these are not our ancestors. Our ancestors were more like today’s amphibians, having evolved from fish, they had both gills and lungs, they also had four legs so they could walk around, they lived somewhere around 360-370 MYA. However, these tertapods (tetra means four pods means legs) still lived half their life in the water and lay their eggs in the water. Tetrapods only began living fully out of water once their eggs grew a hard enough shell so that it was waterproof and retained everything inside. The first of these were known as Amniotes, they first arose somewhere around 314-330 MYA. They split into two groups, one, the Sauropsids, would later contain all reptiles, dinosaurs and later, birds. The other Synapsids would eventually contain all mammals. The Permian-Triassic extinction wiped out most life on earth, and surviving ruling beast soon thereafter became the dinosaur. These beasts varied in size from as small as a chicken to larger than a house, they ruled the earth, some ate plants some ate other animals. They reigned supreme from 199 MYA until 65 MYA, far longer a period than humanity's collective lifespan. While the dinosaurs roamed the earth, our ancestors, the precursors to mammals, were hiding out, mostly nocturnal, and survived on insects. However, this may have helped us out as this may have accelerated our evolution, by forcing us to become warm blooded, and start growing fur. The Cretaceous–Paleocene extinction 65 MYA wiped out most of life on earth, including the dinosaurs, the early mammals however, survived.
                Following this age of the dinosaurs, we now face an earth empty of large terrestrial animals, thus setting the stage for the rise of the mammals. Most animals such as the Artiodactyla ("even-toed" taxa such as cows and pigs) and Perrisodactyla ("odd-toed" taxa, including the horses) first appeared between 55.5 and 37 MYA.
And Hashem god formed the man of soil from the earth, and blew in his nostrils the soul of life; and man became a living soul.
Firstly, we are made mostly of water, not earth, why the author chose to describe our creation like this, is beyond me. Secondly, we see clearly that the author of the bible did not think that man came of other animals; man was created on its own. So without further ado, let us once again, check back with reality.
The earliest primate fossils are from 55 MYA; however, recent discoveries in genetics lead us to believe that primates might have been around as early as 85 MYA. Hominids (the great apes), first arose around 15 MYA, of these there are few remaining survivors, only orangutans, chimps, gorillas, and ourselves, survived. The first species that we have evidence that they used stone tools was Homo habilis they lived around 2.3 MYA. However, their brain was the same size as a chimpanzee’s, over the next million years approximately, their brain size had doubled and they had left Africa. Homo erectus had spread throughout Asia and Europe, they had begun to use complex tools, and had mastered the use of fire, these were not our ancestors though. Our ancestors evolved from Homo heidelbergensis, and we remained in Africa until around 50,000-100,000 years ago. Homo sapiens evolved around 200,000 years ago and were anatomically modern humans; however, it was not until 50,000 years ago that our behavior changed to modern human behavior.
In our growth from primitive animal to modern human, we have grown a lot, both physiologically and behaviorally, and each complemented the other. The one aspect I wish to focus on is our brain, what I believe sets us above all other animals. This process of encephalization is what I believe truly sets us apart as humans. Homo hablis had a brain only slightly larger than a chimpanzee at 600 cc. Homo erectus had an even larger brain at 800-1100 cc Neanderthals had the largest with an average of 1200-1900 cc. Modern humans have a brain that averages around 1330 cc. However, our brains do not do all their growing before birth, our brains continue to grow even after we are born, and this allows us to learn language, and social skills for an extended period. As important as size, if not more important, is the structure of our brain. We have grown disproportionately large temporal lobes, and prefrontal cortex, this allows for advanced language, complex decisions, social decisions, and pattern recognition.
These skills served us well, we could not only better track and hunt our prey, we could also outwit our predators, we could plan ahead by better recognizing patterns, and realizing what follows what. We begun to understand more about nature than any animal on earth ever had, we were truly “sapiens” (wise ones.) However, these skills could also betray us; we would sometimes infer patterns that were not there, leading to paranoia, superstition, and religion.
We began to see everything as a tool to be used; this gave us incredible power and advantage over other animals, and over our cousin species. We developed everything, from clothing, to agriculture, to television we learnt how to use stone and metal for any and all uses, from hammers to iphones. We developed language and even written language; we developed art, music, and culture, science and religion, history and myth. We developed methods of traveling, from horses to cars to rockets; we mastered the physical world.
We best did this by trial and error and looking to understand how things worked, we wondered about things no other animal ever thought about, and we wanted to know everything. However, everything, is not readily understood. Sometimes when we could not figure something out, we would give it our best guess, and just assume that that’s how it worked. This is ok, except that sometimes another group of people had guessed something else, and both sides could get passionate about their beliefs. The problem was that people could not discern between truth and assumption, they simply did not have the tools. People made some very wrong assumptions, they thought that the earth was flat, gods existed, and humans lived after death. They thought that everything was made of four elements, and that the planets and stars were suspended in the air on giant glasslike domes, some even thought that stars were the tips of cigars being smoked by dead heroes. In science, we find a revolutionary idea, a new way to deal with claims about reality. This new method tells us to check reality, and see which theory made the most sense. This kicked off a revolution, this lead to everything that defines us as modern humans today from modern medicine, to technology. We have since discovered that reality is a lot crazier than we could have ever imagined.
In closing, I would like to once again, pose to you the question I have posed to you originally. Do these two accounts even resemble each other? If god wrote the torah, wouldn’t he know what happened? How many “metaphors” and “epicycles” must you add to make this readable? Do you, as a sane human being accept this is literal truth? If you do, please comment and we will discuss it. If you do not view this as literal truth, why then do you think that the rest of it is literally true? Moreover, who decides what is literally true and what is metaphor? Is your literally true god hiding only in the corners where science has not arrived yet?
How much more fascinating is the truth, as opposed to superstition and myth? How much more have we gained by growing past it?

For part one of this series got to
Part 2

In an unrelated note, I will be offline for the next month or so and will not be posting. Until then, go research everything I say, never take my word for it, correct me if you can, and above all learn as much as you can.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Tribute to Thomas Jefferson, The Visionary Who Shaped America And Reshaped The World

                In honor of the 236th birthday of the declaration of independence, I think it would be appropriate to say a few words in honor of its author, Thomas Jefferson. Thomas Jefferson is my favorite president, I am a strong believer in Jeffersonian democracy and I feel that our country, while maintaining the core structure might have strayed from his original goal. I hope that this will inspire some of you, my readers, to find out a little more about this great man, and who knows? Maybe this will inspire you to get up and get involved.
I believe the foundation of Jeffersonian philosophy is as he himself said, “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others..." In other words, every man should have the right to do as he pleases, so long as he does not infringe on the rights of his fellow man to do the same.
Jefferson was uncomfortable with a big government, or a government that got too comfortable with its power. He knew that government was unavoidable and therefore wanted to keep it small and in its place. In a letter to Abigail Adams he wrote, "The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all." In another letter, this time to William S. Smith, he wrote, "And what country can preserve its liberties, if the rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms." He felt that the needs of the people must always be the first priority of the government, and that people should be involved in the government. He called for a unified and educated America; he founded the University of Virginia and donated all his books to the library of congress.
Probably the single saying of his which I love the most is
“The question Whether one generation of men has a right to bind another, seems never to have been started either on this or our side of the water. Yet it is a question of such consequences as not only to merit decision, but place also, among the fundamental principles of every government. The course of reflection in which we are immersed here on the elementary principles of society has presented this question to my mind; and that no such obligation can be transmitted I think very capable of proof. I set out on this ground which I suppose to be self evident, "that the earth belongs in usufruct to the living;" that the dead have neither powers nor rights over it.”
The honesty and humility, in that statement is why I admire him so much. Although he authored one of the greatest documents of all time, he was aware of his limitations as a human being. He knew that he could only ever say, that this seems to be the best idea that we have right now, and I will leave the door open for future generations who might have better ideas.
Jefferson was also a great supporter of human rights, as he famously stated in the declaration of independence “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal” and the idea that people have “unalienable rights, that among these are, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”. Unlike most governments of his time, he truly tried, and succeeded, to create a secular state, and famously called for “a wall of separation between church and state”.
He was also a skeptical philosopher and his belief in god was limited to Deism. Although, in a letter to his nephew Peter Carr he famously wrote “Fix Reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than of blindfolded fear. ... Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it end in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others which it will procure for you. -- (Jefferson's Works, Vol. ii., p. 217)”
He was an inventor and a philosopher, he is quoted as saying that he would have loved to dedicate his life to being a natural philosopher but his duties to his country came first, a true American Marcus Aurelius.
I raise my glass to you Thomas Jefferson, my favorite president, and thank you for your work in the establishment of the ideals of this country, which has made my life so much better. While America may not be perfect, it is surly one of the freest countries in the world, it has been the leader and light bearer for many countries that followed suit, and thanks is due to you.
Happy Fourth of July!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Can Judaism be Reconciled With Science? Part 2: Creation, Early Life

I must be honest; I am running into a few problems here. The first is that I wanted to tell the two versions of the history of the universe (biblical and scientific) in parallel, however the two accounts are so drastically different in the order of what came first, that it now seems impossible I shall however try my best to keep it somewhat readable. The second problem, which is not as big as the first, is that I am leaving my comfort zone of physics and wandering into the unknown waters of biology and geology. However, please join me, as this will be a learning experience for both of us. If I say anything that is wrong, assume the mistake is mine, and I will try to give you as many references as I can.
Now where did we leave off? Ah, yes. Day Three;
“And God said, "Let the water that is beneath the heavens gather into one place, and let the dry land appear," and it was so. And God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas, and God saw that it was good. And God said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, seed yielding herbs and fruit trees producing fruit according to its kind in which its seed is found, on the earth," and it was so. And the earth gave forth vegetation, seed yielding herbs according to its kind, and trees producing fruit, in which its seed is found, according to its kind, and God saw that it was good. And it was evening, and it was morning, a third day.”
                The bible would have you assume that the earth was covered in water when it was first formed and then god miraculously pushed the water aside so that dry land would rise up. How did this work? Did he spilt the sea? We know he is good at this trick. Did he dig a deep hole in the ocean so that the sea levels will go down? Or did he just do it, and “stop asking so many questions about god already”? Anyways we also have the first life mentioned in the bible, plant life. Grass, fruit trees, and vegetation of all sorts arises on our lonely planet earth. According to midrash the trees were commanded to make their bark taste like the fruit, but they disobeyed. Tsk, tsk, tsk, the naughty trees did not listen to god, thus setting the stage for the rest of history. 
                Notice that this is the first life form mentioned in the bible, there is no mention of the most plentiful and earliest of all life forms, bacterium and viruses. It is also ignorant of the fact that there were many animals before plants and trees appeared on the land. An all-knowing god would know about this, Bronze Age herders would not.
However, let us go back to reality,
                We left off last week just as the earth was being formed. So let us begin with the earliest history of our planet. Our early earth did not resemble the comfortable friendly environment we live in today, the early earth was a ball of hot molten rock, and it looked more like hell than paradise. The first layers to cool down were the outermost layers around 4.4 - 4.5 BYA (billion years ago) the oldest detrital zircon crystals that we have today is from that time period. The early earth was hit by many meteors each one heating up the planet. According to the prevalent theory our moon was formed when an object the size of a small planet collided with the early earth, this is known as the giant impact hypothesis. Although we are not sure that this is indeed how the moon formed, we do know that the moon was formed 4.5 BYA. As the outer layers of the earth got cooler and the inside remained hot, the heat from the inside began flowing outward. Mantle convection, the process that causes most of the earthquakes and volcanoes we experience is due to plate tectonics, which in turn is due to the heat from the middle of the earth flowing outward.
We think that the first real life was formed somewhere around 3.9 – 3.5 BYA. How it came about is still unclear, there are many competing hypotheses all of them possible, some of them more likely than others, we just don’t know yet which one actually happened.  The most probable of them seems to be the "Primordial soup" theory which has been experimentally been shown to be possible. With all the false starts and different ways which early life had formed, around 3.5 BYA a single line of “protocells” seems to have been the source of all life currently on earth.
Early life was simple and lived in the water; it survived the next few billion years while the earth went through the process of freezing over repeatedly. The last of these freezing phases happened around 600 MYA (million years ago), it was after this that evolution began to take off in earnest. Around 542 MYA was the beginning of what is called the Cambrian explosion. This was one of the most exciting times in the history of our little earth. Life diversified and grew in leaps and bounds. The first animals with shells, the first vertebrates, and the first fish evolved in this phase. This lasted until around 488 MYA, however all this diversity of life was all in the water, nothing on the land yet.
The first life moved onto the land around 2.6 BYA, but these were simple single celled Prokaryote. Multi-cellular life, in the form of fungi and algae didn’t make it to the land until the late Cambrian or the early Ordovician around 500 MYA, the oldest fossils of this kind date back to around 470 MYA. We are not sure when the first creatures left the water, the oldest clear evidence goes back at least 450 MYA, however footprints have been found on land that date back to over 530 MYA indicating that animals may have been on land before plants were.
And God said: 'Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years. And let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth' and it was so.  And God made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night; and the stars.  And God set them in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth. And to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness; and God saw that it was good.  And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day.
Ok, so we have earth, water, oceans, sky, plants, THEN the sun and stars show up? This is impossible, for so many reasons, firstly, there are stars older than our sun, and the sun is older than the earth. Secondly, oxygen, which is an important part of water, cannot exist until after stars have been born and died. EARTH DID NOT EXIST UNTIL AFTER THE SUN WAS FORMED. Now, on one of these points I was not the first person to notice this absurdity,
                “Rav Pinchas ben Yair says, why did god command on the third day that grass plants and fruit trees should grow and on the fourth day god created the heavenly lights (sun, moon, and stars)? To show you the power of God’s strength that he can make the earth bloom without the heavenly lights.” ( it’s in Hebrew, I couldn’t find an English translation, the translation is mine as well and not perfect. The part I am quoting is on page 16)
                In other words in case you were wondering how plants can grow without the sun, don’t. God did it. This is a very important idea if you want to take the bible as truth.
Now the purpose of these lights were not so that we can stay alive, no. thpurpose of the lights were so that we can have days, and seasons, this could not have been written by someone who knew anything about how important the sun is to life, or else it would have mentioned it.
If you noticed it said that god created two great lights, meaning equal, then it refers to one as the greater and one as the lesser. Rashi explains this as follows
They were created equal, but the moon was made smaller because it brought charges and said, “It is impossible for two kings to use the same crown.” - [from Chullin 60b] Rashi (ad loc.) explains that this derash is based on the discrepancy of the two expressions, “the two great luminaries,” which intimates that the moon was a great luminary, and “the lesser luminary,” which intimates that the moon was smaller than the sun. To reconcile this difference, the Rabbis asserted that the moon was originally created equal to the sun, but, because of its complaint that the sun wielded the same power that it wielded, it was forced to relinquish that power.
If anyone knows anything about the sun and the moon, they know that this is impossible. The sun is a great ball of mostly hydrogen and a little helium, the moon is a small little rock made mostly of metallic alloy. These do not resemble each other at all; in addition, their ages are different as well by at least 10 million years. Rashi then goes on to explain the stars with this gem
 Because He diminished the moon, He increased its hosts, to appease it. - [from Gen. Rabbah 46:4 and Chullin 60b] i.e., The stars serve as the entourage of the moon. When it comes out, they accompany it, and when it sets, they too set. [Gen. Rabbah ad loc.]
So let us set up the timeline here first, there was the earth then the sun and the moon, then they have this fight, then the stars are created to accompany the moon. This is absurd for so many reasons, not counting the fact that the sun and the moon do not get into “fights.” First of all, the stars have more to do with the sun than the moon, secondly the stars are out during the day too, they do not set with the moon, you just can’t see them because the sun is too bright, finally as we have seen already so many times, the stars must predate the earth.
And God said: 'Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let fowl fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.' And God created the great sea-monsters, and every living creature that creepeth, wherewith the waters swarmed, after its kind, and every winged fowl after its kind; and God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying: 'Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth.' And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.
WTF, sea monsters? As usual, rashi comes to the rescue
The great fish in the sea, and in the words of the Aggadah (B.B. 74b), this refers to the Leviathan and its mate, for He created them male and female, and He slew the female and salted her away for the righteous in the future, for if they would propagate, the world could not exist because of them. הַתַּנִינִם is written. [I.e., the final “yud,” which denotes the plural, is missing, hence the implication that the Leviathan did not remain two, but that its number was reduced to one.]- [from Gen. Rabbah 7:4, Midrash Caseroth V’Yetheroth , Batei Midrashoth, vol 2, p. 225].
So at the creation of the world one giant leviathan was allowed to stay alive, so we should find one giant fish somewhere under the water that has no mate. Hmm, we should send out an expedition to find it. Well at least we know what the sea monster is.
Another interesting tidbit here is the idea that fish, flies, and birds are all lumped together. This is just flat out wrong. Fish are one of the first kinds of creatures on this planet appearing around 510 MYA. It is hard to define “every living creature that creepeth” since that covers way too much, however the first creature that creepeth, or anthropods first crawled onto land 450 MYA and evolved from fish. Birds on the other hands evolved from dinosaurs and first arrived at the end of the Jurassic period within the last 100 million years, after the animals described on day six.
I want to point out again, this is not my area of expertise anyone with Google can find everything I wrote here, it does not take genius to say that the emperor is naked, it takes courage and honesty.