Wacko rabbi tries to pwn biology and physics; accuses atheists of needing psychoanalysis

March 6, 2012 • 6:36 am

UPDATE: I posted a link to this after the Rabbi’s article (my first post on HuffPo!), inviting Lurie to reply.  I doubt that will happen, or even whether my comment will survive moderation.

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When will I learn that Jewish rabbis can be just as ignorant as goyishe clerics?  Another painful instance has just surfaced in HuffPo, with Rabbi Alan Lurie expatiating on “Why the universe has a creator (and why some atheists refuse to even consider it).

Now I’m not going to say that Rabbi Alan Lurie has no business pronouncing on science since he lacks advanced degrees in the field, but his “unique background,” as detailed by HuffPo, doesn’t give us much confidence that he’ll be able to show that all evolutionists and cosmologists are wrong about their trade:

Alan Lurie has a unique background. He is currently a Managing Director at Grubb & Ellis, a national real estate service firm, following a 25-year career as a licensed architect. He is also an ordained rabbi, teaching, leading prayer services, and writing on issues of faith and religion. This combination of meeting the demands of the business world while attending to the needs of the spirit gives Alan both insight into, and access to, a diverse community.

His article, like his tuchus, has two parts: a “proof” that the Universe was designed, and then an analysis of why atheists won’t admit that. Let’s take the science first. I may get so peeved posting this that I’ll deal with the “why atheists reject creationism” argument later today.

Throughout recorded history the majority of humanity has seen the existence of a Creator, Who intentionally brought the Universe in to being and sustains all life, as an obvious truth . .

Scientific discoveries have only reinforced this realization, as it becomes even clearer that the Universe was carefully designed. Prominent British mathematician Roger Penrose calculated the probably of random chance producing a Universe conducive to life at vastly less than the scientifically accepted definition of “zero.” Even if one were to accept arguments from those who claim that the Universe is not so “fine tuned,” we must rely on the mind-boggling, and empirically unproven, concept of multiple Universes, and even then the probability of random events leading to life only budges from staggeringly unimaginable to extraordinarily unlikely.

The fine-tuning argument has become the last weapon in the arsenal of apologists.  But although I don’t have Marshall McLuhan behind this sign, I do have a smart physicist, Sean Carroll, who, when I sent him Lurie’s piece, told me that the good rabbi knows nothing about physics. Sean doesn’t address the idea of multiple universes, but you can read his great essay “Does the universe need God?” to see why multiverses are not a desperation move to save physics from the supernatural, but a natural outgrowth of some theories of physics.  Anyway, here’s Sean’s response to Lurie’s nonsense, quoted with permission, of course:

First, the phrase

“vastly less than the scientifically accepted definition of “zero””

is just nonsensical.  The “scientifically accepted definition of zero” is, in fact, zero.  There are plenty of numbers less than zero, but they are all negative.

I suspect that Lurie is talking about the entropy problem of the early universe, which Penrose has indeed championed, and which is a very important problem.  My last book, From Eternity to Here, is all about what it means and how we might solve it.

We have a universe with a certain amount of stuff in it, and we can think about all the different ways that stuff (photons, neutrinos, atoms, dark matter) could be arranged.  Almost all of those ways look like thermal equilibrium — basically, huge amounts of empty space plus a few particles with some extremely low temperature. But that’s not at all what the universe actually does look like; the matter is arranged into planets and stars and galaxies.  So we are “low entropy.”  The early universe was an even more non-typical arrangement (even lower entropy), with all that matter very smoothly distributed over a large region of space.  If you randomly chose a configuration that the universe could be in, the chance that it would look like our early universe is about 1 in 10^(10^120).  Very small, and certainly something that cries out for an explanation. (If you explain the low entropy of the early universe, you also explain the not-quite-as-low entropy of the current universe, since we’re in the midst of the gradual march toward equilibrium.)

From this we can safely conclude that our early universe is not well explained by choosing a random configuration of stuff. Nobody disputes that, and people like me are hard at work trying to come up with physics mechanisms to account for it.

However, we certainly can’t conclude that it’s designed.  Indeed, theologically-minded folk who pick on this particular cosmology problem have fallen completely into a trap.  The point is that if the universe were designed for life (in particular, for human beings), there is absolutely no reason why the entropy at early times would have to be anywhere near as small as it was.  The “God did it” theory, to the extent that it accounts for anything at all, makes a prediction: the universe should be finely-tuned enough to support us, and no more.  Every galaxy in the universe has a much lower entropy than it might have, and none of those galaxies (over 100 billion) is at all relevant to the existence of life on Earth. Indeed, the other stars in our galaxy aren’t really relevant.  You could have done with just the Sun and Earth, maybe the Moon if you’re picky.  (You need some heavy elements to create biochemistry, which in the real world come from supernova explosions — but God can just snap His fingers.)The rest of the universe should be in thermal equilibrium — a smooth gruel of ultra-cold particles spread thinly throughout empty space.

Of course you could say that God made all the other stars and other galaxies because he wanted to create not just humans, but 10^22 other intelligent civilizations. And that the universe is dominated by dark matter and dark energy, even though they are also irrelevant to life, because God likes to give astronomers and physicists something to keep themselves amused.  That’s the great thing about God — whatever happens in the universe, you can say that’s exactly how God would have wanted it.

Or you can be intellectually honest, and take the predictions of your theory seriously. If God made the universe in order to support life on Earth, the skies should be empty.  They are not. QED.

But Lurie isn’t content to just go after cosmology, for he takes on biology as well:

And we are still left with such clearly designed, and incredibly complex, mechanisms as DNA and the brain. . .

Clearly designed? Maybe to Lurie! The rest of us are working on how the hereditary material and the brain evolved.  Lurie’s creationist explanation would have us stop all this work and just fob it off on Yahweh.  And, OMG, Lurie brings up Anthony Flew:

Late in his life the previously ardent atheist Anthony Flew famously noted, “What I think the DNA material has done is that it has shown, by the almost unbelievable complexity of the arrangements which are needed to produce life, that intelligence must have been involved in getting these extraordinarily diverse elements to work together.”

. . . And to make the claim, as did the late Christopher Hitchens (who I deeply respect for his exposure of injustice), that there is no Creator/Designer because Hitchens did not approve of the way that eyes are designed, is also the pathetic voice of ego; it is the refusal to say “thank you” for the gift of life and the miracle of sight. This is very sad.

This, of course, is a combination of intelligent-design creationism and a God-of-the-gaps argument.  It’s the argument that “unbelievable complexity” could not have evolved by natural selection (Lurie isn’t even smart enough to use the concept of “irreducible complexity”, which, if true [it isn’t], would be a genuine problem for neo-Darwinism). And to say that Hitchens’s argument rested on his “disapproval” of the way eyes were designed is fatuous.

If you read Hitch’s argument, you’ll see that he doesn’t really “disapprove” of the eye’s design, but asserts, correctly, that the human eye is a botch, with the nerves and blood vessels running in front of the retina, where they not only impede vision, but can efface it if a blood vessel ruptures.  And those nerves have to then gather together into the optic nerve and dive back through the retina to get to the brain, leaving us with a blind spot where they go through.  That’s evidence not only against an intelligent creator, but for evolution, since this bad design is a byproduct of the origin of the vertebrate eye as an evagination of the brain.  (Cephalopod eyes don’t have the problem of a blind spot—the nerves and blood vessels are behind the retina—because in that group eyes evolved as an in-pocketing of the head.)

Here’s a video showing Yahweh’s incompetence vis-à-vis the eye, and here’s another showing how the eye could have evolved gradually.

Now Lurie has the temerity to assert that his argument is not a god-of-the-gaps argument. But in so doing he shows that it really is:

This is not a “God of the Gaps” explanation, any more than looking under the hood of a car and deducing a designer is “Engineer of the Gaps.” To postulate a random, undirected, meaningless, existence in the face of this unbelievable complexity and purpose of life is, in actuality, the much more irrational, and less logical, conclusion. This has been compared to proposing that a hurricane whipped through a junkyard and randomly assembled a jet plane.

That is, to Lurie design implies a designer.  Shades of William Paley! Does Lurie not know that the complexity of life has been rationally explained by Darwin and his successors, and that natural selection is not a “random” process but a deterministic one, one that produces the appearance of purpose: the “purpose” of adapting plants and animals to their way of life? The “hurricane” argument is simply recycled and ignorant creationism. I’ll take a well-understood process, known to operate in nature and be capable of producing complexity, over an unevidenced sky-fairy who disapproves of bacon any day.

To make the scientific claim that one will “go where the evidence leads,” and yet consider such utterly unsupported hypotheses as multiple Universes, alien seeding (which, of course, still leaves the questions of where the aliens came from), mind memes (a total fantasy) and lightening strikes that animated primordial chemical soup to create life (which has never been scientifically reproduced), while not even considering the obvious possibility of a deliberate Creator, is to be intellectually dishonest at best.

What are the reasons for this irrational, and often very nasty, refusal by some to even consider the existence of a Creator as a viable hypothesis? I offer several possibilities:

We’ll get to those possibilities later today, which includes the accusation that those who won’t accept God’s design are mentally ill.  But let me note again that multiple universes, as Carroll points out in the article cited above, are not “unsupported,” but natural predictions of some theories of physics.  And who among us, except for a few eccentrics, believes in “alien seeding”? I don’t know what Lurie means by “mind memes,” but it’s irrelevant here. And he really needs to learn to spell “lightning”, as well as “free rein” (which he misspells as “free reign” later in the piece). And yes, we don’t yet understand yet how life originated, but does that prove that God did it?

As for our refusal to consider the existence of a Creator as a viable hypothesis, science used to do that! That was, in fact, how natural historians explained the “design” of organisms before Darwin. And earlier astronomers claimed that God’s hand was needed to keep the planets in orbit. But, as Laplace noted, we no longer need the hypothesis of a creator in science, for many of the unexplained phenomena once attributed to God have fallen to purely naturalistic explanation. There’s no reason to think that the others won’t.

God is simply a science-stopper, an appeal to ignorance.  And, of course, there’s not a shred of evidence for Lurie’s God, but plenty of evidence for natural selection. So which is more rational to believe: the methods of science and naturalism, which have worked and made enormous progress—or the methods of theology, which haven’t helped us understand anything about the universe?

We’ll get to the psychoanalysis part in a post later today.  Now I want to talk about Oreos. . .

105 thoughts on “Wacko rabbi tries to pwn biology and physics; accuses atheists of needing psychoanalysis

  1. ‘Throughout recorded history the majority of humanity has seen the existence of a Creator,…’

    We are in a minority, are we?

    Don’t worry, secularists will soon grow in numbers when theists need to explain why the world is so messed up.

    It must be the fault of that tiny minority of people, sorry, oppressive , persecuting majority of people in the world who reject God for emotional reasons.

    1. “Throughout recorded history the majority of humanity has believed the sun revolves around the earth.”

      “Throughout recorded history the majority of humanity has believed the world is flat.”

      “Throughout recorded history the majority of humanity has believed that slavery is acceptable.”

      1. I can’t get my mind around the fact that grown people offer ad populum and think they’ve scored a point.

        Honestly. I’m left wondering how these people dress and feed themselves.

    2. Yes – how does he know ‘the majority of humanity has seen the existence of a Creator’??? Where is his evidence? Has he interviewed those people? Most of them just believed – or followed – what the ruling religion dictated, and I would speculate that without large established societies and settled agricultural communities, the predominant religions would be animistic/shamanistic.

      1. And if you’re going to use the majority rules argument, how does he reconcile the tiny, tiny number of Jews, when compared with all the other religions?

        The arguments against god work for all gods, but do these arguments really presuppose that Moses really existed, yet somehow completely avoided leaving any archaeological traces?

  2. Presumably this creator of the universe intelligently designed pigs and then forbade humanity to eat them.

    And intelligently designed foreskins and then commanded humanity to chop off part of the intelligently designed body he had created.

  3. Eyesight: harumph, I had to have a nice man with a laser beam burn part of my eye away so I could see clearly (without glasses).

    1. I’ve had people point to me that the eye is intelligently designed, as explained in this book they will read to me, once they have found their reading glasses.

  4. well, the good rabbi has done fine claiming that Tezcatlipoca created the universe and that his god is a piker.

    ‘Throughout recorded history the majority of humanity has seen the existence of a Creator,…’

    and the majority of humans believed that pregnancy wasn’t the union of a sperm and an egg. so gee, it must have been the stork no matter what we know now!

    1. Look I don’t dispute your stork theory Vel, but my ma told me I was found under a gooseberry bush.

  5. Throughout recorded history the majority of humanity has seen the existence of a Creator…

    Yes, but not YOUR creator. Explain to us why those other folks’ God-claims are unsubstantiated and should be scientifically ignored. (Then, step 2…)

  6. I just want to say I am so thankful that I read your book and found this blog. I look forward to your posts daily.

  7. Woody Allen wore me out when I was 25. He really wears me out now. Good to know that rabbis can be stupid too and that Baptist preachers aren’t all alone in the universe.

    1. How did WA wear you out? Do you mind me asking how old you are now, and how it is that WA still wears you out?

  8. >>>”lightening strikes that animated primordial chemical soup to create life (which has never been scientifically reproduced)”

    Err – how about the Miller-Urey experiment? Now I grant you that it’s unlikely that the M-U experiment represents an accurate picture of abiogenesis (the Earth’s atmosphere was not at that point high in methane, ammonia and hydrogen) but that’s besides the point here: Luring proclaims it has “never been scientifically reproduced”. Well it has and it works.

    Anyway, we have several abiogenetic models. The current best one seems to be Martin’s & Russell’s Serpentine vents model (as well explained in Nick Lane’s rather excellent Life Ascending – which I encourage everyone to read).

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Life-Ascending-Great-Inventions-Evolution/dp/1861978189/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1331043195&sr=8-1

      1. I’m surprised no one has mentioned the great NSF-funded video “Primordial Soup with Julia Child,” in which she explains and shows the apparatus from the Miller-Urey experiment. It uses her traditional music from her PBS cooking show! Now that’s how to teach science! It’s at YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7pt0rIZ3ZNE).

        Bon appetit!

  9. If a god created the universe for life, why is so much of it deadly? Apart from one very thin layer on a mote of dust, all the universe would kill us. Quadrillions of cubic light-years of vacuum at 3K hardly seems “fine-tuned” to me.

    Heck, even on the surface of earth itself only a small percentage supports human life directly. We can’t live in the oceans, or at the poles, or in deserts, or anywhere it is too warm or too cold, without a lot of technology that we (not a god) invented.

    When someone hauls out “fine-tuning”, I just see that as a massive failure of perspective, and an expression of profound hubris. What is amazing is not that the universe is fine-tuned for life — what is amazing is that life has managed to arise in an environment that is so manifestly hostile to it.

    1. Yes, in fact the habitable volume of the solar system just taken out to Pluto (which is not the end of the solar system) is something like 1 part in 1E-28.

      But here’s the fine tuning counter-argument I like best: there are organisms that have more stringent physical, chemical, and biological requirements than us humans. Since the fine tuning argument relies on improbability of match, they have a stronger claim to be the focus of the design than we do, since the probability of a universe where they could thrive is smaller than the probability of a universe where we could.

        1. Or, perhaps, even better – because it attacks that most favoured organs of creationists: the eye – Loa Loa.

          The universe was fine-tuned specifically so that a particularly nasty parasitic nematode could burrow into the most ‘perfect’ of god-designed features!

          1. Yes, I tend to think ‘parasites’ too. Smallpox, for example, has more stringent requirements because it needs all the same physical and chemical laws we do, plus it needs us. We don’t need it. Ergo, the probability of a universe where smallpox exists is smaller than the probability of a universe where humans exist. So God made the universe for smallpox.

      1. Just based on the unlikelihood of probabilities, I have come up with the Tulseopic Principle, which is that the universe was clearly designed to produce me. After all, it was far less likely that this exact universe would arise than the multitude that look almost like it, but without me. Clearly I am the purpose of all creation.

        (This is also known as the Calvin Hypothesis.)

    2. When someone hauls out “fine-tuning”, I just see that as a massive failure of perspective, and an expression of profound hubris.

      Yes, this.

    3. …what is amazing is that life has managed to arise in an environment that is so manifestly hostile to it.

      Careful, Tulse. I’ve had that argument used as QED, god did it.

      1. But clearly both arguments can’t be right — creationists don’t get to claim both that it is a miracle life exists in such a hostile universe, and that the universe is uniquely tuned to life.

        This seems to be a standard ploy in theology, where somehow contrary sides of the same issue demonstrate the existence of a god.

  10. Every time a misspelling gets my goat and I can’t resist taking a pedantic shot at someone, I screw up myself.
    You wanted to say “he misspells”, not “his misspells”. It’s OK, you were pissed off, Jerry.

  11. I stopped reading when he made the false claim that monotheism has been the dominant idea throughout history.

    Bullshit is bullshit, and the title ‘Rabbi’ doesn’t make it glitter any better.

  12. Same tired creationist arguments, different religion. His god of the gaps comment seems to indicate Lurie knew he was weaving air.

    And who among us, except for a few eccentrics, believes in “alien seeding”?

    Tangentially, I’m a fan of Alien and Ridley Scott, but I’m unsure about his new film Prometheus and its planetary Engineers. Supposedly the Engineers have on-hand a variety of DNA sequences including human. Isn’t natural selection pointless when we’re already programmed with the end result from Jar 13? Scott stated he was influenced by Erich Von Daniken (ugh) and that some ‘scientists’ felt intervention was needed.

    1. Sci-fi is rife with the ‘ancient alien’ stuff, either aliens that alter or create humans, or that evolved into humans. The latter really annoys me, and even good sci-fi writers like Ursula LeGuin make that a major plot point, while it shows up again and again in movies and video games (Halo, for instance). Seriously people, remember fossils?

      I can understand why they do it though… if you presume aliens are running around, their lack of interference in our lives is pretty odd. So, either they have some sort of rule against it, or they’ve been here all along, moving in the shadows. I still don’t really like it that much though… it just seems like they are saying that the way humans really evolved isn’t interesting enough, and needs moar lazers.

      1. You have to chalk some of it up to the need to explain why most of your screen aliens are people in makeup. Daniken’s bullflop (and other visiting alien stories) are at least good backstory for “I have a low budget.” I’d expect that with better, cheaper special effects, we might see more wierd aliens and less pointy-eared vulcans. Or maybe not – if it is difficult for consumers to empathize/get in to nonhumanoid aliens, the practical need for them will remain…and their backstories will too.

        For books…I really have no idea why there aren’t more non-anthropomorphic aliens (as protagonists – there are plenty of antagonist beasties). There are definitely more than there are in movies. But still a huge number of human-like protagonists.

        1. Probably because even in sci-fi, the stories are supposed to be analogies of human experience. Heroes that are really inhuman will fail to gain empathy or even interest.

  13. What are the odds that this guy is completely clueless to the fact that a great deal of psychoanalysis is not evidence-based?

  14. I am always puzzled when people are unable to accept some aspect of the universe (DNA, the eye) because they just can’t imagine how it could have occurred naturally. They quote (or misquote) all kinds of numbers to make them sound terribly unlikely. Somehow God is an answer. But I’m an engineer. I would like to see the specs for God.

    First off, how do you construct a disembodied intelligence? In his article, the rabbi was very suspicious of abiogenesis because it “has never been scientifically reproduced”. Well, when has a disembodied intelligence ever been scietifically reproduced?

    And what about the information processing abilities reuiquired of a personal God who keeps track of everything in 100 billion galaxies? Talk about hard to imagine.

    I would like to see the good rabbi lay out a comparison of what is actually required of the God vs. no-God theories.

      1. Only 2000?… the way individuals pick and choose elements of their theology one is hard pressed to find two people who share the same exact concept of god/theology.

  15. Don’t call him Rabbi Alan Lurie, just Mr Alan Lurie. Perhaps ‘Alan Lurie (a rabbi)’ if the background of his religious club explains something.

    Archbishop Rowan Williams is just Mr Rowan Williams.

    The Pope is just Mr Ratzinger.

    They are only men inside fancy dress and deserve no extra respect because of it.

    1. I’m fine with Lurie using whatever title he likes, as long as he returns the favor and refers to me as His Awesome Coolness the Truthful Speaker Cafeeine (Truthful Speaker will do for informal settings)
      If they can make up honorifics so can I.

  16. An excellent book that discusses the Penrose entropy issue, and a lot more about time and quantum strangeness, is Huw Price’s Time’s Arrow and Archimedes’ Point.

    Smolin’s book Life of the Cosmos attempts to address the fine tuning issue directly and his proposal is worth being aware of.

    As a Tegmarkian Platonist who thinks physical existence is just a special case of mathematical existence, though, I don’t see what all the fuss is about. If it is free of contradiction, it has to exist.

    1. Unfortunately physics is more complicated than a blatant philosophic declaration.* As Deutsch points out in “The Fabric of Reality” we can define realism as “constrained reaction on constrained action”, i.e. as Samuel Johnson refuted idealism such as Tegmark’s by kicking a stone and feel it hit back. This tests the prediction that there is an external structure.

      Reality is a basic observation of all mechanics, in classical mechanics it is action-reaction and in quantum mechanics it is observation-observables. That we then see that, say, platonism isn’t real is one thing. But it doesn’t help us test all existing objects.

      I would say that the stumble block is the misunderstood concept of “direct” observation. That qualitative distinction doesn’t exist from the above as we need interaction that necessarily will be slightly removed and later by relativity.

      Instead I think we should aim for unambiguous observation. Eliminate all competing theories until an observation can test uniquely for a property, and we observe what is. Realism is under the feet of, but also standing on the shoulder of, theory giants.

      [As an example, we observe gravity but it is differently interpreted in newtonian gravitation vs general relativity.]

      —————-
      * Yes, I know Tegmark relies on parsimony, which I am sympathetic with. But the problem comes when we want to test for realism as per above.

      1. I’m not taking your meanings very well.

        Unlike Tegmark, I wouldn’y try to argue that mathematical realism is empirically testable. I’m content that it remain a conjecture indefinitely, but I find it comforting that there can be a non-circular and non-supernatural potential explanation for existence, that’s consistent with all observation. Also it seems very plausible and compelling and even perhaps obvious to me. I think it follows pretty directly from the idea that mathematics is discovered rather than invented. Of course many people don’t agree math is discovered, and these people cannot be platonists, I would assume.

        I don’t understand how kicking a stone and feeling its Newtonian reaction is any kind of problem for realism. These are both mathematically describable, and I don’t understand why anyone would think that there’s any other reason math works on it than that the world is ultimately a mathematical object. To think otherwise seems to me to suppose that math turns to magic at some level. What would be the justification for thinking that?

        Seems to me also that physics at least makes the implicit assumption that existence is mathematical at all possible levels. No competent physicist should be satisfied with a universe starting from a singularity, for example. And they’re not, that’s why they work on quantum gravity theories that can remain descriptive before, during, and after big bangs.

        I believe science is up to the task, at least in the long run, of discovering the mathematical structure or class of structures that are isomorphic to our observable universe. At that point, we would have a mathematical model that predicts every aspect of our existence, not just that the rock pushes back, but how it feels, or what seeing the color red feels like, or what have you. I see it as a dichotomy between magic and math, and see no reason to suppose magic takes over at any level. But I don’t try to argue that it’s a testable proposition. Our universe may indeed turn out to be one of those universe types most likely to support life, as Tegmark supposes, but what about the people who live in the unlikely one? Do they get denied scientific confirmation of realism on this account?

        1. Seems to me also that physics at least makes the implicit assumption that existence is mathematical at all possible levels. No competent physicist should be satisfied with a universe starting from a singularity, for example.

          Sorry, Paul, I’m not sure I follow this? Isn’t mathematics quite happy to handle infinities?

          Surely, physicists are unsatisfied with the universe starting from a singularity because it’s unphysical, not because it’s un-mathematical … ?

          /@

          1. It’s both unphysical and unmathematical. One over zero is undefined mathematically.

            A singularity at the start of the big bang in any case is a failure of general relativity to apply at that scale. The (possibly implicit) assumptions of the theory are violated there. It is making no prediction.

  17. Jerry — I can’t find your comment among the many that have appeared in response to Lurie. My time and patience are limited this morning though. It would be better, more prominent, if you wrote an actual article for HuffPo just like Lurie did. You’d have a sympathetic audience there too — Lurie seems to be getting hammered in the comments.

    1. It isn’t there, though my comment was pretty polite, just pointing to the website post and saying that a physicist and biologist had refuted his arguments. It also said that he should learn more about science before criticizing it. I have no idea why it wasn’t posted.

      I was offered a HuffPo column by the Science Editor, but I prefer writing here. If they won’t pay me, but make money off their writers (which they do), then why should I bother? That’s a form of exploitation. I don’t crave the publicity,and I quite like the community here.

      I have to admit, though, that the chance to pwn Lurie at HuffPo is tempting. . .

      1. A sound decision, IMO. HuffPo, for all it’s liberal reputation, is exceedingly exploitive of writers.

  18. Perhaps the rabbi should comment on how many rabbis have been convicted of abuse of children. I was so surpirse to see how many offences there has been . I was disturbed when I found on the internet lists of priests and rabbis found guilty of these crimes.

  19. One small point vis-a-vis the origins of life.

    We do understand how life on Earth started. It was chemistry.

    We don’t have the formula, yet. But any time any person has declared such a problem to be unsolvable by science, science has gone ahead and solved that problem. So, stay tuned.

    The point is that we’ve known since the early 1800s (before Darwin) that organic chemistry was not different from chemistry. The early Earth had a planet full of carbon, lots of energy, and a wide range of “vessels” for carbon to form different structures. And it didn’t take long for the planet-wide chemistry experiment to succeed. Indeed, almost as soon as the Earth was cool enough to support life, it did.

    But, as with the origins of the universe, the motions of the planets, and the diversity of life forms on this planet, we have no need of the god hypothesis to explain “life”.

    There’s no gap.

    1. We are getting darned close to producing life de novo in a lab. There has been a huge amount of progress made in this area in the last decade or so. I’d be willing to bet a substantial sum that we will see self-replicating, metabolizing entities produced from basic chemicals in the next thirty years. And I wouldn’t be surprised if that were ten years.

  20. “For many, the belief in a Creator is rooted in a personal, direct encounter, in which God is experienced, often as pure consciousness, pure creation, endless love, the animating energy of everything, or the Ultimate Reality.” A. Lurie

    …or as whatever. This is gibberish!

    “The childish concept sees God as some kind of being…” – A. Lurie

    And according to the “nonchildish” concept of God he is a nonbeing?

  21. Scientific discoveries have only reinforced this realization, as it becomes even clearer that the Universe was carefully designed.

    One would have hoped that meticulously researched videos like ‘Debunking the Kalam Cosmological Argument of William Lane Craig’ and these offerings by Dr. Jonathan Pararajasingham would make sophisticated theologians think twice about claiming scientific endorsement of the cosmological and teleological arguments.

    One continues to hope that one day, settling these arguments will literally be child’s play and that the conversation imagined in this recent Nirmukta article ‘A debate between generations’ is not as far into the future as the author imagines it.

  22. The Rabbi simply has not done his homework. There is nothing new in his arguments. He might do better to direct his arguments against those who have taken his religion and transformed it into Christianity. He ignores the fact that Christianity has closed heaven’s doors to Jews. The Rabbi can better use his limited time and intellect to defend judaism against Christianity instead of attacking atheism.

  23. Tired old arguments without any evidence to back them up. HuffPo should be ashamed for allowing trash and not allowing an intelligent rebuttal.
    We may not have figured out exactly how life came to be, but we’re starting to, Chemist John Sutherland is on the trail of RNA as the building blocks of what would then become us. What will these “believers” do when the scientists of the world ARE able to put a plate of evidence in front of them? Oh, right…. that’s exactly how God must have meant it to be. Ugh! Sickening!

    1. What will these “believers” do when the scientists of the world ARE able to put a plate of evidence in front of them?

      We really need to get them to commit now, in writing, that if scientists are able to produce life in the lab, they will agree that their god doesn’t exist.

    2. God will always have a gap to exist in. I am of the same mindset as Marx that religion is ineradicable. Sadly.

  24. This has been compared to proposing that a hurricane whipped through a junkyard and randomly assembled a jet plane.

    Presumably he has half-remembered Fred Hoyle’s comment about a tornado sweeping through a junkyard and assembling a 747.

    Somehow the fact that he can’t even be bothered to look that up (or think up his own metaphor) sums his piece up nicely.

  25. Jerry, your reaction was more or less my reaction. I agree with almost everything you said. Though I love having a professional biologist and cultural Jew saying things similar to what I think to the rabbi, gives the response more force. I look forward to seeing Alan Lurie respond to you, perhaps in a future blog or something.

  26. And to make the claim, as did the late Christopher Hitchens (who I deeply respect for his exposure of injustice), that there is no Creator/Designer because Hitchens did not approve of the way that eyes are designed, is also the pathetic voice of ego; it is the refusal to say “thank you” for the gift of life and the miracle of sight. This is very sad.

    What the Rabbi is falling victim to here is a very common mental error on the part of theists. It’s the good ol’ Affirming the Consequent (a.k.a. “begging the question”, although I’ve begun to avoid using that phrase because of the confusion sown by it’s new meaning), in a form that is standard for believers.

    If we take for granted that God designed the eye, then one might make an argument that it was ungrateful to say, “Um, Lord, but… it’s backwards, you see.” Sure, we can get into all sorts of problems about how that’s sort of a shitty God that can’t even get the eye right, but that’s not what I am saying. The Rabbi cannot even make the argument that it is ingratitude until we first grant God’s existence and that She was responsible for making the eye.

    By way of analogy… I get sort of annoyed when I cook dinner for my family (I am the primary cook in our house) and my wife spends too much time carping about some error I’ve made. Not that I can’t stand having mistakes pointed out to me, but it rather hurts my feelings when she mentions multiple times that I oversalted the greens when, after all, I did cook for the whole family. I feel it’s a bit ungrateful.

    OTOH, if we had a plate of greens and we were trying to figure out whether she or I had prepared them (say we both are suffering from temporary short-term amnesia…), and she tasted them and said, “Well, these actually need more salt, and since you have a tendency to oversalt greens” (I do, in fact) “I think it’s unlikely you cooked them”… well, that’s a whole different situation. “Ingratitude” doesn’t really enter into the discussion there, now does it?

    In the former scenario, my wife was only capable of being ungrateful to me because we both already knew and agreed that I had been the one to prepare the greens. In the latter scenario, since we don’t know who prepared the greens, what the fuck does gratitude have to do with it?

  27. I’m quite sure no one will see this way down here.

    Here goes anyway:

    The fine-tuning argument is spectacularly stupid, and you needn’t have any expertise in physics to see this (trust me, I don’t).

    While I can find beauty in, and be amazed by, our universe, the simple fact that it is the way it is is not amazing. If it weren’t like this, it’d be like something else! We’re just here. This is just the way it happened. I can go to the beach and pick up a single grain of sand. The odds against me picking the grain I did are staggering. But that doesn’t mean anything supernatural is going on.

    1. I saw it!

      It’s not quite analogous to the sand grains on the beach. While it’s true that that particular arrangement of sand is incredibly unlikely, it is not difficult to see that there are countless equivalent arrangements of sand grains, and that having some arrangement roughly like that is not unlikely at all. In contrast, the fine tuning argument points out that if certain physical constants were different, you would get a universe where the idea of any kind of life appearing is just absurd — not a universe that could maybe support a radically different kind of life, but a chaotic universe without structure. That asks for some explanation, even if the explanation ends up being something like the multiverse plus the weak anthropic principle.

      A better analogy would be if you saw a geometric sequence of ridges in the sand on the beach. Now this begs for explanation! If you just dumped a bunch of sand in a pile, surely it would not randomly form ridges, especially not such beautifully contoured and uniform ridges. These ridges would be tremendously unlikely to have formed from chance alone. Perhaps there was some Beach Designer who made them?

      But of course, it is the receding waves of the tide going out which have deposited these ridges here. The explanation was not a designer, but nor was it simply to point out that any specific arrangement of sand is astronomically unlikely. The concentric ridges were a feature which required explanation.

      I think the apparent tuning of our universe does indeed call out for an explanation, and that’s where experts in physics come in. (I won’t call it fine-tuning, because it’s not really finely-tuned for life when life can’t survive in 99.99however-many-9s-you-like% of the universe… but it’s true that there are a lot more ways for a universe to be boring than for it to be interesting, so that asks for an explanation).

      Still, we can refute the Fine-Tuning Argument without explaining the tuning itself by pointing out what a poor explanation a designer would be. Back to our ripples on the beach, even if the receding tide explanation had not yet occurred to us, we could make all sorts of arguments why it was not a designer. For one, we might expect a designer leaving Her mark on the beach to perhaps write a message or a name, or at least some incredibly geometric pattern, rather than simply ripples. Similarly, we would expect the creator of the universe to do more than simply tune it so it could just barely support life in a few incomprehensibly small pockets of an inconceivably vast universe. In both cases, the minimalism and randomness seems to be an argument for natural processes, whether or not we can yet point to these processes.

      It gets even worse when take the Fine-Tuning Argument to say “Ergo Jesus”. Even if we foolishly accept the need for a designer, why could it not be a five hundred foot tall Ronald McDonald look-alike who created the universe as a prank after losing a Superbowl bet? Why is Jesus any more likely? “Ah,” says the believer, “That’s simple: Jesus is more likely than Omega McDonald, because Jesus is Lord.”

      Consequent affirmed, face palmed, desk headed.

      1. You’ve got a nice analogy, there.

        Of course, appearance of order or of design is what Darwin’s theory is all about.

        My point was a little more along the lines of: why is it evidence for god that the physical constants are what they are? Out of infinite possibilities, the constants we observe just happen to support life (or the kind of life we can conceive of). My point was: so?

        In other words, the explanation for why the universe (just barely) supports life is that the constants have the values they do. The universe went to the beach and picked up this set of constants. I don’t think it makes sense to say “these constants allowed ME to happen, ergo god.” Such a person isn’t thinking about all the things that aren’t allowed to happen because of those constants.

        It seems to me.

  28. “…alien seeding (which, of course, still leaves the questions of where the aliens came from)…”

    Yes, it makes sense that he would mock “alien seeding” in this manner because this exact same argument cannot be used against the idea that a creator seeded life on this planet.

  29. Alan Lurie has a unique background. He is currently a Managing Director at Grubb & Ellis, a national real estate service firm, following a 25-year career as a licensed architect.

    We have his Expert opinion on physics and biology.

    Jerry A. Coyne, Ph.D is a Professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago and a member of both the Committee on Genetics and the Committee on Evolutionary Biology. Coyne received a B.S. in Biology from the College of William and Mary. He then earned a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology at Harvard University in 1978, working in the laboratory of Richard Lewontin. After a postdoctoral fellowship in Timothy Prout’s laboratory at The University of California at Davis, he took his first academic position as assistant professor in the Department of Zoology at The University of Maryland. In 1996 he joined the faculty of The University of Chicago.

    Jerry, I’m looking to find a two bed flat with a decent kitchen for less than £650 a month, what do you recommend?

    1. “After a postdoctoral fellowship in Timothy Prout’s laboratory at The University of California at Davis,”

      Ahh, ha! I had my first undergrad genetics class from Dr. Prout.

  30. At Jerry Coyne: I think the “mind memes” the researching rabbi is talking about is a reference to the MOVIE (for crying out loud!!) “The Matrix”, where the reality that people perceive turns out to be a simulation. So the “Creator” of the universe is a computer. I also think the good rabbi has read a bit of Richard Dawkins — or more likely some internet summary of Dawkin’s books — and somewhere in the back of his mind he remembers something about “memes” so then he blends that with his memory of a sic-fi movie??? I dunno, but I think that’s it!! He reads stuff and watches movies and in his own mind confuses the non-fiction of what he has read with the fiction of a sic-fi movie, and uses that to compare with the more? logical “goddidit”.
    Sophisticated – You betcha!

  31. hey, whatabout my chinese gods? i consider this Alan to be a heretic as he doesnt worship my chinese gods; kwan yin, jade emperor, monkey god.. what abrahamic religious gods? i consider all of them to be heretics, failing to follow our true and authentic chinese gods.

  32. The people who need psychiatric care are types like him – totally deluded nut cases!. How I wish Christopher Hitchens was still with us – his acerbic wit, masterful use of rhetoric and incredible depth of knowledge on religions – how he would have dealt with this “Rabbi” and his waffle!!

  33. When the good rabbi say that when we look under the hood of a car we postulate that it must be the result of a designer he is correct. The reason for that is that we have proven the existance of a designer. We call them auto engineers and they work for Toyota. Why doesn’t the rabbi and his com padres feel a need to not just prove that gaps exist but rather truly prove the existance of their designer.

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