"Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" by Rabbi Shmuel Waldman
I am ashamed to admit that I read through most of this book in the past few days. I did so because a certain Rav with whom I have a very good relationship asked me to read through it. Yes, I'm being Kiruved, but being that he is a very reasonable man whose companionship I value, I acquiesced to his request. Admittedly he is naive in having me read this, but that's his business.
In any event, I must warn you before I launch into my Kefirotic tirade. I do so, because the author of the book himself warns against reading the book, or certain parts thereof, unless it's necessary. I'll paraphrase his warning, the gist of which is as follows:
"Since I will be talking about things which Chas V'Sholom can Chas V'Sholom bring one Chas V'Sholom Chas V'Sholom to Chas V'Sholom Chas V'Sholom Chas V'Sholom doubt any part of the Holy Toira Chas V'Sholom Chas V'Sholom, I BS"D hope, and ask that only readers who already Lo Aleibu Chalila are having Chas V'Sholom d..d..oub..ts Chalila V'Chas V'Sholom Lo Aleinu open and read this book. If you've picked up this book, and you Baruch Hashem BS"D have no Sfeikois Cholilaa V'Chas about the holy Toira, I trust you will heed Daas Toira and drop this book, never to think of it again. So only those who Lo Aleinu Nebach Chas V'Sholom have a need to strengthen their Emuna against doubts Chas V'Sholom, are allowed to read this book."
This is the warning, and having paid homage to it (in the spirit of Satmar websites banning the Internet), we proceed to 'critique' this masterpiece. The first three chapters are the main points being made; proofs of God's existence, proofs to the Torah, and proofs that there is punishment and an afterlife. These chapters and an appendix 'disproving' the theory of evolution are the main thrust of the book. Other gems of 'proofs' include 'proving' Moshiach, and the resurrection of the dead. In addition there are chapters about the uniqueness of Klal Yisroel, it's survival in exile, and the 'right' attitude towards the holocaust. I only read through the first two chapters, and an appendix titled "The Downfall of the Theory of Evolution". More than that I couldn't read, I hope the readers will forgive me.
The first thing that struck me was the lack of command of the English language. It's written as if by a seventh grader. Now, I'm no professor of English, but a book of a few hundred pages should live up to some standards. Admittedly, a book shouldn't be judged by its cover or the writer's command of the language, it's content that matters, but it did leave a bad taste in my mouth. Alas, on the content front, it was immeasurably worse. I can hear the readers murmuring to themselves, "what was he expecting? It's a Kiruv book for goodness sake". True, and as mentioned I wasn't expecting much, I was reading it as a courtesy to this Rav. But this one was worse than anything else. I've read other Kiruv (or similar) books, some of them at least try to sound a bit knowledgeable of the subject matter they're discussing. Of the two main topics in the book, the theory of evolution, and the Torah's historicity and circumstances of its origin, he knows so little as to not even realize the immensity of ignorance he has to hide.
Now to the subject matter.
The first chapter, titled "Compelling Evidence of a Creator" starts of with the usual examples of the intricately complex and wonderfully interwoven systems found in nature. The orange and the banana, how they turn ripe and acquire a bright color at the same time, thereby attracting animals, as if knowing how to do so. From that he goes onto the Venus fly trap, bats and their system of echolocation, the complexity of the human body and the brain etc. All of this to show that it's statistically impossible for any of these phenomena to arise randomly. I assume all the readers know that, so I won't go into explaining why he was destroying a straw man. Waldman also realizes that for those 'tainted' by the theory of evolution as he puts it, one needs more than just showing the impossibility of generating such complex systems randomly. He writes that he intentionally didn't discuss the theory of evolution in the first chapter and left it in the appendix, so that only those who (Nebach, Chas V'Sholom) are in need for such refutations read them.
So let's get to the appendix titled "The Downfall of the Theory of Evolution" and see if that gets us anywhere. He begins by differentiating between macroevolution and microevolution, how the latter occurs within a species, and the former leads to new species. Microevolution is an observed fact, but it doesn't necessarily lead to macroevolution, bla bla bla. Here we come to this piece of brilliance:
"It's interesting to note that in the 1980's many professional scientists decided to accept the facts as they saw them, and the facts clearly pointed to a God. So they developed the "anthropic principle" which suggests that the universe is "man-centered," created by God, with one of man's functions being the responsibility to recognize the amazing design that God put into the universe."
What!?!? Does he know what the anthropic principle is. Where did here about it? I know that some people use the anthropic principle to argue for intelligent design, but scientists "developing the anthropic principle... which suggests the universe is created by God, with one of man's functions being the responsibility to recognize the amazing design that God... " how ignorant can you be. He doesn't have a library in town? A computer? But no, there is still more. Another quote:
"(theory: the Random House dictionary tells us that this is an explanation that has not yet been proven true)"
Only ignoramuses use this definition of theory pertaining to evolution, any dictionary will use the theory of evolution as an example of a scientific system, proven by observations and experiments.
The two basic problems he has with evolution, are mutations and the fossil record. Mutations, he rightfully notes, are almost always harmful. The problem is that he doesn't understand that given enough time, natural selection will favor those rare beneficial mutations, which can evolve into new species. This he conspicuously fails to mention.
The fossil problem he divides in two. The first one is summed up in the following quote:
"Even in the lowest strata we find fossils of the most complex living forms which according to evolutionists couldn't have developed until a much later date."
This claim as far as I know is not true, Waldman himself only quotes one source, also a sign that he couldn't find much more than that, because he loves to quote these type of things.
If anyone has more information on this, please let me know.
The second part of the fossil argument, is the beloved gap problem. I actually do think that there is a problem here, namely that the gaps seem to be large in many cases. What I mean is that, unlike Waldman who doesn't know what he is talking about when he clamors for his bird with half a wing, something that would never happen for obvious reasons. What I'm talking about is that often there are large gaps between specimen, something that one should find less of if all species fossilize randomly. What Waldman doesn't mention is the rarity of fossilization, and how some species are only known from a few fossils, which mitigates (although I think doesn't eradicate) the gap problem.
The last point he discusses, is the age of the universe. Here we have another display of scholarship:
"It's also interesting to note that it has been shown that the methods that scientists use to date different material such as carbon dating, etc. have many inaccuracies."
I won't even discuss the nonsense this is based on, I think the readers are familiar with it, we all know that each of the dating methods are relatively accurate for their respective purposes. But this guy uses carbon dating inaccuracies to show the problem of dating the world as billions of years old. Does he even know what carbon dating is? Does he know anything about it except how to spell it? I'm afraid not.
I do think that the theory of evolution has its shortcomings. First and foremost, as far as I'm concerned it doesn't explain the origin of life. I know all the supposed tries to do so, but they don't cut it for me. I haven't seen anything close to a satisfying explanation of the rise of self replicating systems, life's building blocks. This though doesn't disprove the theory of evolution, it just shows that the theory is either lacking, or not yet fully understood. If someone is so sure as to the only solution to this problem being God, so be it. I think it may be the only solution for now, but it also may be an answer based on ignorance rather than knowledge, because otherwise evolution has too much behind it.
I also find it difficult at times to wrap my head around the idea that all of this complexity is a result of a blind mechanism. If someone feels that this also is only explainable by intelligent design, maybe. I have a suspicion it's unnecessary.
I think that an honest attempt to identify the shortcomings of the theory of evolution, based on a proper understanding of theory, would go only about as far as this paragraph. But obviously Waldman is writing a Kiruv book, and Chas V'Sholom that such a book be based on an actual understanding of science.
I think the post is already way longer than I originally intended, and I'm only half way through. I still didn't get to the real juicy part, chapter two: "The Divine Origin of the Torah." So stay tuned for that display of analytical thought.