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No longer take comments. Post's 'labels' are unreliable for linking or searching. Use the INDEX OF POSTS instead. A fairly accurate, but incomplete INDEX of Posts & good overview and understanding of this blog READ SOME REASONS TO REJECT ORTHODOX JUDAISM my April 2014 post or click link above. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family (1950's) and went to Orthodox Yeshiva from kindergarten thru High School plus some Beis Medrash.Became an agnostic in my 20's and an atheist later on. My blog will discuss the arguments for god and Orthodox Judaism and will provide counter arguments. I no longer take comments. My blog uses academic sources, the Torah, Talmud and commentators to justify my assertions. The posts get updated. IF YOU GET A MESSAGE THAT THE POST IS MISSING - LOOK FOR IT IN THE INDEX or search or the date is found in the address.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Every Life Is On Fire How Thermodynamics Explains The Origins Of Life by Jeremy England 2020 - book review

Every Life Is On Fire How Thermodynamics Explains The Origins Of Life by Jeremy England 2020

Jeremy England  who claims to now be Orthodox Jewish wrote a book that explains a hypothesis of how life emerged from non life by purely natural means (i.e without invoking supernatural beings or god(s)).  If you encounter a religious person arguing that life could not emerge from non life because of probability problems or irreducible complexity etc:  refer them to JE’s book and my blog post Proof of God from Origin of Life.  In many scientific passages Jeremy had a knack for providing good analogies and explanations so that laymen could access the gist of the science.   I would highly recommend his  book to learn about how Thermodynamics explains the origins of life.  

Jeremy peppered his book with his interpretations of the Bible and some of  philosophical digressions. This post will not be discussing science but some of Jeremy’s  Bible and philosophical material.
I am not really sure why he injected all the Bible talk into the book. Maybe the publisher thought it would increase sales ,  maybe Jeremy really sees correlations or analogies of his science with the Bible,  maybe to share his Bible interpretations or perhaps he had other motivations.  I found his Bible talk a distraction and not helpful. Also it reminded me of a person who wears red sun glasses and then sees red where it ain’t.  What I mean is Jeremy is really into his science as well as his Bible studies so he begins to see the Bible as providing analogies, relations  or insights into science and Thermodynamics that are not there.  It requires squinting real hard,  ignoring a bunch of other stuff, twisting yourself into a pretzel and then imposing interpretations on the Bible text that I believe just about nobody else would find convincing. (This post will include  a few examples of what I mean.) My comments in blue.

Beginning Page 7 Jeremy mentions the Exodus (chapter 3) story  of Moses at the burning bush. The Lord provided three signs for Moses to show the enslaved Israelites.  A staff turns to a serpent and then back; Moses hand gets snowy and unsnowy; river water and dirt turn into blood. Jeremy thinks the three signs can be a comment on the border between life and non life; hammers home the question of where life comes from ; and how to distinguish life from the inanimate material background from which it might have emerged. He goes on to claim the signs are a “cogent and detailed guide for explaining emergent lifelikeness in the language of physics.”

This has to be the most novel interpretation I have ever seen for the signs, is inconsistent with the Exodus text and is pure invention. Moreover I did not read in the Exodus a “cogent and detailed guide for explaining emergent life likeness in the language of physics”.  Maybe Jeremy was doing the backward translation he advocates  - see below for more about his backward translation advocacy.

Page 59 - Jeremy is explaining Statistical Mechanics with a thought experiment of putting a frog in a blender.

I found it funny that he chose a frog which in many translations of Bible have as one of the plagues.

Beginning Page 148 Jeremy discusses hilltops where small changes in the direction you roll down can greatly impact where you end up. [The book had described the physics of rolling up and down Energy hills etc:] He then proceeds to discuss the burning bush story in Exodus 3 which took place at Mount Horeb, which Jeremy translates as Mount Sword and swords can stab etc: Jeremy explains the sword making process - hammer glowing red hot (now soft) metal.  Unlike hammering cold metal, the hot metal will allow permanent shape change. That is an example of not all states of a material are as good at absorbing energy and bringing about shape change. A hot state is at a higher energy level and closer to tipping points.  Jeremy then mentions Genesis 4:22 Tubal-Cain invents black smithing, Yaval discovers animal herding Gen 4:20 and Yuval invents musical instruments.  Jeremy writes this is a stunning combination of collective behavior (herds), irreversible reshaping by external drive ( black smithing)  and shape dependant energy abortion thru resonance (music).  Jeremy write those three concepts attach to the emblem of the sword, which is also the name of the Mountain where Moses comes to understand where life begins and ends.

Mount Horeb - Ibn Ezra explains Horeb relates to dryness and the mountain was so named because of dryness and little rainfall. Also, the Strong Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible:  Horeb - to parch (thru drought) and then relates the word can be extended:  desolate, destroy, kill,  dry up.  Horeb can also give rise to a cutting instruments (from it’s destructive effect) including swords.

Many scholars give credence to Kenite/Midianite Hypothesis for the Origins of Yahwism.  Those scholars have established a relationship between Yahweh, the Kenites-Midianites and Moshe. The Kenites-Midianites  were  smiths and this suggests they would or potentially had reason to associate a deity with smoke and fire. There are gods associated with smithing for example the Greek Hephaestus or the Celtic Gofannon and others as well.  

{ Page 37 in the book Yahweh and the Gods of Canaan by William Albright 1968 - metal working was a specialty of the Midianite group among whom Moses settled.}

{The Anchor Bible Exodus 2006 by William Propp Page 36 “Fire is the medium in which Yahweh appears on the terrestrial plane: in the burning bush (3:2), in the cloud pillar (13:21-22, 14:24), atop Mount Sinai (19:18, 24:17) and upon the tabernacle (40:38).”   “It is possible epitomize the entire story Exodus as the movement of the fiery manifestation of the divine presence (greenberg 1969:16-17)” } Propp’s verse numbering may vary from other sources.

The Midianite were blacksmiths and sword making is something they may do.  Mount Sword would be an apt name for a war god as well as a blacksmith deity. We do know that Yahweh is a war god and in addition is associated with fire.  I am not claiming that Horeb should be translated as Mount Sword. But if Mount Horeb was really Mount Sword that would provide additional support for the Kenite/Midianite Hypothesis, as well as Yahweh being a smith deity.

I am not sure what Jeremy means by Moses comes to understand where life begins and ends at Mount Horeb and where this is in the Bible text.

Page 181 Jeremy discusses the burning  bush and asks how can the bush survive the fire while many other things ordered structures would be consumed ?  According to Jeremy it is because from the perspective of a living thing the particular driving forces swirling around it do not look like a flame because they have a pattern to them that the life was born to recognize.

I do not think the Torah story is related to the physics Jeremy is describing, but I am not sure that was part of Jeremy message. Anyway it is a poor analogy. 

If there is a kernel of truth to a burning bush here are several natural explanations:

A) Certain crystals can form on desert plants and in an evening light their glow appear as a mysterious fire that appears to burn but not consume. (Page 403 The Torah A Modern Commentary Plaut, Bamberger, Hallo1981) B) Discharge of atmosphere electricity like St Elmo’s fire (Page 39 The Interpreters One Volume Commentary On The Bible 1982) C) Volcanic steam  seen from a distance rising over a shrub on a mountain (page 230 Myth Legend and Custom In the Old Testament by Theodor Gaster 1969) D) Some scholars have proposed that Moses, some of his followers and some Prophets were in altered mental state(s) brought about by consumption of or absorbing certain chemicals, or brought about by other means. E) Related to certain gas emanating from the Earth. The gas would burn but leave the bush unharmed. I had read this a while ago where the author explained it in more detail but can not recall the text. Per my recollection something like this can occur in volcanic regions.

Page 245 Jeremy critiques Intelligent Design attacks on Darwinian ideas. Our inability to think of a model does not mean we will not find one in the future.  

I agree with Jeremy  and will add that ID relates closely to my post God of the Gaps and the Argument from Ignorance.
Page 248 Jeremy points out some intelligent people behold the awesomeness of the Universe etc: and feel confirmed that G-d-Did-It. But then explains that is not an inescapable conclusion and in addition too many smart people feel they have no need of G-d for it.

I agree with Jeremy.

Page 248. Jeremy is critical of those who attempt to disprove the Bible’s account of the World or who claim there is no evidence to support the Bible.

Why be critical ?  Would he be critical of people who attempt to disprove the Koran’s (or any mythology or holy text) account of the World or who claim there is no evidence to support them ? It would be good to know when the Bible is accurate and when it is not. Why should I accept any story as true unless there is evidence to support it ? This applies especially to the Bible.

Page 248 Jeremy claims “The Bible does not propose itself as a set of falsifiable claims;” Some things “superficially” sound like claims. The Bible tries to teach a method to interpret human history and individual experience that leads one to speak in a new language about humanity and one’s life.

If the Bible makes certain claims we can sometimes figure out their likely truth. I agree some parts of Bible may be metaphor, allegory, figures of speech and the like, but that is not license to claim other portions are that as well. The Tenach does try to interpret Israelite history which  in a nutshell is G-d-Did-It because.... and it makes up reasons. Not sure what Jeremy means by a new language because the Tenach shares much of the perspective of some other ancient near east cultures. (Jeremy explains what he means by a “new language” shortly see page 249).

Page 249 Jeremy explains the “new language”. “This new language essentially is learned thru backward translation, by assuming the biblical text is faithful in it’s account of things even given what else one knows to be true about the world, and engaging in the painstaking work of constructing arguments for what the scripture might have meant when it said something.”  Calls for proof and evidence miss the point entirely.

Sometimes we need to figure out what the bible meant. The best way to do this is by studying ancient near east cultures, religions, languages and myths. Sometimes the Bible seems pretty clear what it meant. I wonder how Jeremy will decide which “backward translation” is the appropriate one.  

Why assume the biblical text is faithful in it’s account of things ?

Would he grant that assumption to the Koran or other alleged holy texts ?

Jeremy claims calls for proof and evidence miss the point entirely. It depends what the point is. If the point is to determine if events in the Tenach  are true then calls  for proof and evidence seem relevant. Also religions often make demands on the society. For example IF the Torah prohibits say homosexuality because the Lord said so, and IF the Torah provides death penalty for homosexuality  because  the Lord said so and IF people want to follow the Lord’s word shouldn’t  those people  find out IF the Torah is even from the Lord or IF  the Lord exists ?

Page 211 Regarding the Exodus’s  signs, Jeremy writes:  “The staff and serpent point out that the same thing can look different depending on how one talks about it.”  The snowy skin sign provokes us to think about boundaries between categories, and reminds us that complicated structures can gets assembled from simpler parts that condense together.

Really ?

Page 223  Thru the Exodus  signs the Lord was teaching Moses how to argue against the dehumanizing slant of some versions of physical materialism according to Jeremy.

Really ? 

Page 225 According to Jeremy some people believe humans are nothing but clumps of dust and thus committing murder is  easier for them.

This is related to a common religious argument. See this post Proof Of God From Morality

To conclude this already too long post I will repeat that I only cited and written about some of  Jeremy’s Bible and philosophical rumblings and ramblings and I hope to eventually comment on more of them. When reading Jeremy’s book do not skip his Bible stuff because he sometimes discusses science in those passages.