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Friday, February 08, 2008

Homnick on Darwin and Genesis

Even the greatest walking encyclopedia of the King James Version of the Bible can't begin to penetrate the mysteries of the Book of Genesis without being grounded in Judaism, and more precisely, the rabbinic tradition.

Hereabouts, we're lucky to have a fellow who is---Jay D. Homnick. Christians and atheists, creationists and Darwinians alike need to understand the Torah as it understands itself before they start spouting off about it.

Jay's essay on what Genesis really means to those who wrote it should open a lot of eyes and ears about "what the Bible says." Translating it into English---and reading that translation 400 years later---frustrates any search for truth.

Homnick's most interesting points are that The Creator doesn't go poof!, here's the world. The Seven [well, Six Working] Days of Creation show a process, and each succeeding life form [evolution?] comes from the existing material on God's Good Earth and is not plunked down ex nihilo at every stage. Life lives, grows, is fruitful and multiplies. It's permitted to find its own course, to grow and differentiate, from the trees to the grasses.

There's more there than one can do justice to with a brief tout. Read it. All I can say is that the great Jewish medieval Maimonides [b. 1138], when introduced to Aristotle and the wisdom of the Greeks (while living in Muslim Spain!) was a reasonable man.

{{{Jay D. Homnick [artist's conception]

He [Maimonides, not Homnick] wrote that if Aristotle were proven right, he'd accept the Greek view that the universe was eternal, always had been and always will be. Seemed reasonable, but in the meantime, he'd hold onto an idea, the idea, of Creation as set forth in his scriptures.

Good call, Moses Maimonides, משה בן מימון I mean, أبو عمران موسى بن ميمون بن عبد الل القرطبي الإسرائيلي. [Moshe ben Maimon, AKA Abu Imran Mussa bin Maimun ibn Abdallah al-Qurtubi al-Israili.]

Big bang. Heavens. Earth. Life. Man comes in at the end. After nearly 1000 generations of squalor, God says hello to Abraham. Read the Homnick, already, it's all there.

Ex-nun Karen Armstrong wrote a popular book called "A History of God," where man comes first and starts developing his notion of God. The Bible, in contrast, is a History of Man, told in first-person perspective---not merely an autobiography but a diary, and we see him grow in his understanding of himself and his God day by day and chapter by chapter.

That he gets many of the essential details about his origins right from the very very first, topping even the most reasonable of men in their time and for over 1000 years, the ancient Greeks, suggests to Mr. Homnick---and perhaps us all---that man's autobiography has an omniscient point of view that could only originate from Divine Inspiration.

The genesis of Genesis, if you will.

Well done and thank you, Jay. More, more!

Jay D. Homnick, most recent sketch [Courtesy: FBI]



James F. Elliott said...

An honest, healthy mind, fearless of consequences, cannot look at this spectacularly complex world, made up of spectacularly complex subatomic particles, interacting in spectacularly complex couplings, without concluding it was designed to be just what it is. End of conversation

That's not honest. That's limiting the terms of debate to those designed to privilege one's view. One should not hold themselves opposed to Hitchens, Dawkins, et al. and commit the very error they accuse them of. Plank, mote, yadda yadda. It's the argument from incredulity writ eloquent. Beautifully stated fallacies are still fallacious.

Jay D. Homnick said...

Eloquence itself disproves random evolution. As does beauty.

James F. Elliott said...

Eloquence itself disproves random evolution. As does beauty.

Um, wow. I'll never fault you for lack of chutzpah when it comes to making declarations, that's for sure. But when it comes to actual skill at reasoning, you make the ghosts of philosophers past weep in pain.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, it's an argument, Mr. Elliott. Ridiculing it, waving it away, is not a refutation or counterargument.

I myself am content to argue for the possibility of God along Mr. Homnick's lines. Surely agnosticism, the proper philosophical stance, allows for that possibility as well.

CS Peirce was a fabulously brilliant, fabulously overlooked American logician-scientist-philosopher with whom the world is just now catching up. His Neglected Argument passes muster here, I think.

James F. Elliott said...

My point, Tom, was that Jay has consistently demonstrated a complete inability to grasp the basic internal tenets of the very theory he is attempting to refute.

Eloquence itself disproves random evolution. As does beauty.

This is an empirically false statement. Eloquence and beauty can do no such thing, as fractals, chaos theory, and flocking algorithms can attest to when graphically represented. They are, in the course of their permutations, capable of immense, randomly-generated, beauty. Most importantly, evolution is not random. It is subject to forces within the environment.

There is a great deal of wiggle room and argumentation to be made in favor of deism, of which Judaism and Catholocism are simply social interpretations.

Jay persistently selects axioms on which to make his stand that are predicated on a level of misunderstanding that even a lay person such as myself can refute. That is unacceptable in anyone who deigns to lecture others.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, I can't disagree more about beauty. For one thing, we and not the animals can appreciate it.

Neither do I think it's a purely subjective thing, despite what the moderns would have us believe. None of us are immune to a beautiful sunset, unless we educate ourselves out of it, reducing it to merely a function of light and atmospheric diffusion.

In considering the phenomenon of beauty and man's innate ability to appreciate it---and one should and must muse on such things---one might follow CS Peirce [no orthodox religionist he] all the way to God.

Matt Huisman said...

If I'm following the Neglected Argument correctly, it sounds similar to what I've read about Schopenhauer. He basically says that we have no grounds for believing that the outer limit of what we can have any thought or awareness of should be even remotely close to the outer limit of what actually exists.

Like Peirce, the notion our scientific thoughts could so successfully coincide with ultimate reality requires supreme faith. The only plausible possibility of a reality completely corresponding to our conceptions of it rests on the possibility that reality itself could be mind-like, or could be created by a mind, or by minds.

Matt Huisman said...

As for beauty, I can never tell if James misses the point or just doesn't accept it.

If a fractal can be truly beautiful, then its relative beauty points to an absolute beauty (ones ability to apprehend it nothwithstanding). If not, what else do you have but atmospheric diffusion, which points to ???

James F. Elliott said...

As for beauty, I can never tell if James misses the point or just doesn't accept it.

Come on, that's an entirely different debate! I point out that Jay doesn't understand evolutionaly theory, and how his assertions are wrong, and both Tom and Matt proceed on a tangential topic as though what Jay had said was "Ah, but beauty itself proves a designer, and that means evolution is wrong." But that's self-evidently not what he said.

Jay's assertion was that beauty and eloquence disprove random evolution. The problems with this are:

1) Beauty and eloquence are possible in physically random sequences. Thus, randomness (is that even a word? Oy.) is capable of beauty. Even were it not...

2) Evolution is not random, Jay's assertions to the contrary notwithstanding.

The implications of man's ability to perceive beauty don't have implications for evolution unless one creates a straw man of evolutionary theory and then moves the goal posts in order to conflate the two topics to target the straw man. This is argumentation and reasoning 101, guys.

Jay is welcome to not believe in evolution, or to believe that "microevolution occurs but not macro" a la Hunter, or to even believe that evolution is merely one of god's tools. But it is incumbent upon him to have a basic level of understanding about evolution if he's going to critique it! I've taken the critique of not apprehending certain basic texts to heart and gone on to read them (such as the New and Old Testaments, the apologias of C.S. Lewis, etc.). The least Jay could do is read the Cliff's Notes to Origins of the Species and maybe skim a high school biology textbook.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Elliott, I don't believe Mr. Homnick's source article says what you say it does. In fact, it indicates that the Torah presages the scientific concept of evolution.

Please read it again and report back.

Matt Huisman said...

Would it make a difference if Jay had said 'unguided' instead of 'random' evolution? I can understand your not liking the word 'random', but you're almost trying to miss his intent here.

As for your other arguments, I doubt I'll ever discover what basis you have for using the term beauty. Relative to what?

And getting back to 'random' evolution: are lottery balls randomly selected or are they the product of deterministic natural forces?

James F. Elliott said...

Mr. Elliott, I don't believe Mr. Homnick's source article says what you say it does.

Don't be obtuse, Tom. You're switching gears. Every comment since Jay's has been about his comment: "Eloquence itself disproves random evolution. As does beauty." I made precisely one comment (the first in the thread) about the source article commenting on what I perceived as intellectual dishonesty. Rather than moving goal posts, you're switching sports.

As for Matt, you're analogy to lottery balls is completely inapt. Statistical probability is tangentially related to evolution, but not in the sense that you're trying to go for.

I have no idea what you mean by "basis" for beauty. Isn't beauty a completely perceptual and subjective term? What would beauty be relative to?

As for "unguided" versus "random," if there's one thing I've learned about Jay over the past four years, is that he doesn't choose his words poorly. He may have a broad vocabulary, but it's not jumbled. He meant "random." He's been persistent about it for four years.

Matt Huisman said...

Isn't beauty a completely perceptual and subjective term?

OK. This is good; at least we know where we stand. We're saying that beauty is not ultimately subjective. Some things just are beautiful. Tom mentioned a sunset earlier; I might suggest a family photo. And some things just are more beautiful than others (I'd guess you could take a better photo than me). Once better enters the picture, the notion of the absolute follows.

As Tom says, muse on it.

Matt Huisman said...

As for lottery balls, my only point is that one could say that they're not random (or even statistically probable). The correct lottery sequence could be determined in advance, assuming you had enough of the necessary variables accounted for. Initial drop angle and velocity, airflow direction and velocity, etc.

This is what evolutionary science does. It has all(?) the predictive value of lottery ball science.

So fine, random mutation + natural selection = whatever.

James F. Elliott said...

And some things just are more beautiful than others (I'd guess you could take a better photo than me). Once better enters the picture, the notion of the absolute follows.

Take Tom's sunsets: some are more beautiful than others. Why? So many reasons. For my wife, the beauty of a New Mexico sunset is perfect. For me, it's the beauty of the sun setting into the Pacific off the coast of Carmel. These things do not tend towards absoluteness, but subjectivity. "Better than" does not imply "best," in the sense that "best" reaches an absolute terminal conclusion. Rather, it implies "best yet."

The correct lottery sequence could be determined in advance, assuming you had enough of the necessary variables accounted for. Initial drop angle and velocity, airflow direction and velocity, etc.

Perhaps, given a complex enough algorithm and a complete ignorance of chaos theory. But here's where your analogy fails totally: evolution doesn't predict anything. It doesn't need to to retain its validity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Elliott, Jay's piece is anthropocentric---man being the telos, the purpose, of evolution---but there's nothing wrong with that.

Moreover, nothing is beautiful without an organism that can appreciate beauty, no?

Aesthetics isn't mere science: yes, the tree falling in the forest does makes a sound, the same sound regardless who hears it, or if nobody does.

And yes, there's a subjectivity to a sunset---you and your wife each have favorites---but there are beautiful sunsets and there are blah ones, and you two will tend to track pretty closely on a scale of one to ten.

Now, if humans were all over the map about the smell of roses and dogshit, the subjectivity---randomness---argument might hold some merit, but we all know that if you called dogshit a rose, it would still smell like dogshit.

Are fractals beautiful? Geez, they don't even exist except in the mind of man. Which is why the anthropocentric view of beauty and creation is an OK starting point with me.

It seems to make you angry that for Mr. Homnick it's a priori, but for the honest inquirer who muses on things---like CS Peirce---a posteriori is just fine.

There seems to be something called beauty. Why? To our empirical knowledge, man is all that can appreciate it---no man, no beauty.