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Posts Tagged ‘Paul Krugman’

Does Questioning Evolution Make One Anti-Science?

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman thinks Republicans are knuckle-dragging Neanderthals. In the not-too-distant future he sees a Republican half-wit winning the presidency and dragging America back to the Stone Age. 
 
One of these years the world’s greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge,” Krugman recently wrote. “And, in a time of severe challenges – environmental, economic, and more – that’s a terrifying prospect.” 
 
Krugman’s ire was piqued by Texas Governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry’s comments that evolution is “just a theory” that has “some gaps in it,” and that global warming is not a proven fact.
 
While I cannot comment on climate-change science, I do have a great deal to say about evolution.
 
I am not a scientist. But beginning in about 1990 I started organizing an annual debate at Oxford University on science versus religion where the focus was almost always on evolution and which featured some of the world’s greatest evolutionists like Richard Dawkins, who appeared several times, and the late John Maynard-Smith of the University of Sussex, who at the time was regarded by many as the greatest living evolutionary theorist.
 
While I moderated the first few debates, I later participated in a debate against Dawkins at Oxford (which he later denied ever took place, forcing us to post the full video of the debate online where Dawkins is not only the principal proponent of the science side but actually loses the debate in a student vote at the end). I debated Dawkins again at the Idea City Convention at the University of Toronto, the video of which is likewise available online.
 
What I learned from these debates, as well as from reading extensively on evolution, is that evolutionists have a tough time defending the theory when challenged in open dialogue. Indeed, David Berlinski, author of The Devil’s Delusion, while an agnostic, was on the religion side of one of the debates against Dawkins and tore large holes in evolution that Dawkins and Maynard-Smith struggled to address.
 
This does not mean evolution is not true. But it’s a theory. Unlike, say, the laws of thermodynamics, it has never been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. Indeed, Dawkins and the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould fiercely debated basic presumptions about evolution. Gould was not a theist and did not believe in creation. But he argued that the large gaps in the fossil record make a mockery of a theory of gradual evolution, which is why Gould advocated “punctuated equilibrium,” a variation on Darwinism in which evolution takes place in dramatic periods of change followed by long eons of stasis.
 
Gould maintained this position precisely because, as Perry said, the theory of evolution has “some gaps in it,” in the case of the fossil record quite literally.
 
No scientist has ever witnessed evolution directly and science itself says this is impossible given the vast amount of time needed for species to evolve. Rather, evidence for evolution is brought primarily from the fossil record and natural selection from some famous contemporary observations, like the peppered moths (Biston betularia) thatproduce offspring that can be light or dark, much like the same family can have redheads, brunettes and blonds.
 
Before the Industrial Revolution, the vast majority of peppered moths were light in coloration, which helped them blend in against lichen and trees and avoid predation by birds. Dark-colored moths stood out against this background, and so were more often eaten and killed. However, with the rise in pollution, the lichens and trees against which the light-colored moths habitually hid from predators were darkened with soot. Suddenly, the light-colored moths were conspicuous to predatory birds, and the dark-colored moths were well camouflaged. The plights of the two populations were reversed – the dark moths survived, and the light moths were eaten and killed.
 
A similar proof for natural selection is brought from the Galapagos Finch, which Darwin theorized was originally a single species but over time each population of finch changed very slowly in response to the demands of the environment in which it found itself. The signal trait Darwin seized upon to distinguish one species of finch from another was the shape of its beak. For example, the large ground-finch had a big, powerful beak that seemed well suited to cracking open seeds while the vampire finch had a long, pointed beak that allowed it to puncture the flesh of other birds and drink their blood. In each case, Darwin reasoned, beak shape evolved over time to provide its possessor with an adaptive advantage.
 
The problem with both these observations is that they are manifestations of horizontal, rather than vertical, evolution, as they describe how members of a species may change within the range of characteristics they already possess. No new traits are generated. Rather, the traits that already exist are merely distributed differently. Vertical evolution, whereby natural selection can supposedly create entirely new structures, has yet to be directly observed and is thus a theory.
 
Other questions remain regarding evolutionary theory, most notably the anthropic principle that maintains that if the physical laws and constants governing our universe were even slightly different, we would not be here to notice it because the emergence of life could not have occurred.Our universe is a delicately interconnected network of laws that is balanced and tuned for the seemingly express purpose of supporting self-aware life.
 
The English cosmologist Sir Martin Rees argues in his book Just Six Numbers that the values of six numbers determine to a great degree many of the large- and small-scale properties of our universe. If any of these numbers were changed even slightly, the universe would exist in a radically different, and quite unfriendly, form – if it existed at all.
 

Let’s look at the second number, epsilon, which is roughly .007. Epsilon describes, roughly speaking, how durable matter is, because it tells us how much energy is required to separate an atom into its constituent particles. Clearly, this is a very important number. But the remarkable thing about it is how delicately balanced it is against the other five numbers. If epsilon were .006, the universe would consist entirely of hydrogen. No other elements would form, because the process of nuclear fusion could not occur. The universe would be bland and uninteresting. There would be no planets, very little light, no nebulae, no comets and certainly no life.

Many leading scientists, like Francis Collins, former head of the Human Genome Project and described by the Endocrine Society as “one of the most accomplished scientists of our time,” therefore believe that while evolution may indeed be an accurate theory as to the rise of life and species, it still requires the guiding hand of a higher power in order to operate.
 
In the final analysis, the biblical account of creation easily accommodates an evolutionary ascent, seeing as the narrative expressly relates that God created first the mineral, then the vegetable, then the animal, and finally human life forms.
 
So before Paul Krugman attacks Republican politicians for simply questioning evolution, it would behoove him to recall that the very essence of science is to question – and that stifling doubt is a sin that religion was guilty of in the past and that science should refrain from repeating it in the present.
 

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is in the midst of founding GIVE, the Global Institute for Values Education, and is the author of the forthcoming book “The Church of Evolution.” Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

Local Boy To National Stardom?

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

One of Steven Ari-Z Leiner’s fondest childhood memories, he says while taking a break from campaigning, is when on his 13th birthday the late Bobover Rebbe helped him put on his tefillin. The Bobover Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, and Maimonides are some of his heroes. Some of his secular role models include John F. Kennedy, Mayor Bloomberg, Warren Buffet, and Paul Krugman, he adds.


 That’s an indication – as New Yorkers are soon going to find out – that Leiner is a very unique Congressional candidate. He recently filed papers to run for Congress in New York’s Eight District for the election in November 2010. The incumbent, Jerold Nadler, is being tipped to run for Hillary Clinton’s old Senate seat. And Leiner, or Steven Ari-Z as he is known to his friends, is a leading candidate to replace him.


 Steve Ari-Z’s own background reflects the diversity of the Jewish community of the Eighth District. He studied in the Yeshiva of Belle Harbor and Yeshivat Toras Emes in Boro Park, before spending a year in Israel studying at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh. His father and his grandparents, Max and Bella Leiner, escaped from the Nazis and emigrated to the U.S. in 1942. His great grandparents, from both sides, had been murdered by the Nazis in concentration camps.


 His mother’s family came to the U.S. from Moscow. They were one of the first families to escape the Soviet Union. Steven Ari-Z enjoys swapping stories with members of the Russian-speaking community.


 His family’s release from Russia was secured by his late great uncle Israel Beigel (of Beigel bakeries). His grandmother, Leah Beck, was very involved in Boro Park’s Bobov’s Bikkur Cholim. His grandfather Max Leiner was a regular at the Agudah of Boro Park right until his death. Leiner fondly remembers him cycling in the snow, aged 87, to shul where he learned daf yomi with Mr. Shmuel Roth for over 25 years.

 

 


Steven Ari. Z. Leiner with one of role models Warren Buffet

 Steven Ari-Z is equally at home in the Modern Orthodox Community of Manhattan where he lives. His late great uncle Felix Doppelt also lived on the Upper West Side. To round off the diversity of his Jewish experience, Leiner also has a strong connection to the Syrian Jewish community. He spent summers during his college years living with the Gemal family in Deal, New Jersey.


 He is very proud of his Jewish background. He believes that Jews have much more to contribute on the national stage then they have done so far. He cites the insightfulness and clever ways of dissecting an issue of the Gemara, which he loves studying, as an example of skills that could be of use. He found it of use in his personal business, he says.


 Leiner is a nationally recognized highly successful life insurance businessman. He started while in college at Columbia University where he received a B.A. in political science – to pay for his tuition – and has continued ever since. His awards include admission to the Million Dollar Round Table and the President’s Cabinet.


 He points out that the life insurance business teaches you to focus on the future, not just the present. He views life insurance as protecting people’s families. It’s a very Jewish character trait, he says, to make sure your children are protected whatever happens to you. Steven Ari-Z says politicians in Washington need to understand that too, as they allow the U.S. national debt to grow and fail to make the world better for our children.


 When Steven Ari-Z talks about policy issues, he has the careful deliberation and studious thought of a Torah scholar. He pauses and thinks before he answers a question. He speaks with a sincerity often missing from politicians. Education is an important issue to him. He believes something needs to be done to help families who are coping with high tuition fees. Parents, he says, should not be forced to choose between bankruptcy and providing their children with a Jewish education.


 Steven Ari-Z is equally at home speaking about economics. He thinks the economic crisis we are in was preventable. As a businessman, he understands how higher taxes and a complex tax code stifle business development. “As Jackie Mason might say, our country should be making a profit,” he says with a chuckle.


 Before Leiner returns to the campaign trail, we ask him about the origin of his name “Ari-Z.” He smiles. He was originally called Zvi-Ari, he says. But the late Rabbi Poupko of Flatbush told him to put the Ari (lion) ahead of the Zvi (deer). Leiner listened and never looked back.

 Daniel Freedman is the director of policy analysis and communications at a strategic-consultancy company. Previously, he was the foreign-policy analyst for Rudy Giuliani’s Presidential Committee, a United Nations official, and Senator Joseph I. Lieberman’s senior writer. He also serves as a consultant to Steven Ari-Z Leiner. He can be reached at DF9713@gmail.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/local-boy-to-national-stardom-2/2009/11/04/

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