Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Tammuz 5765 - July 13, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Seeing Hashem in His Creation

by Mordecai Plaut

Although many people today do believe in G-d, the modern world is definite proof that even deep knowledge of the material world does not force one to be a believer. Nonetheless, if someone has a healthy mind (as HaRav Elchonon Wassermann calls it in Kovetz Ma'amorim) and has "perfected his mind" (as the Rambam calls it in Moreh Nevuchim) to be able to see things clearly, he can find many things in the world that lead to emunoh.

We truly live in an amazing world. There are many things that cannot be dismissed as coincidences. There are many things that, when normal people see them, they feel that they see the work of a Higher Intelligence, and not just the result of blind, random nature. I have catalogued some of these here.

All of these are logically and philosophically variations of what is known as the Argument from Design, the idea that the world we live in shows evidence of order and design that implies a Designer. However putting it that way is much drier than reading about the specific examples that are given. Even reading about these ideas and examples is, for many people, not as convincing as actually seeing some of them in person and working with them.

The Human Body

The human body is really in a class by itself. Aside from the human mind, that is categorically different from anything else in the world, and the human soul, that is altogether not of this material world, even the human body has numerous systems that are vastly different from any other physical system, and many that are clearly different in superior ways.

It seems that the unusual aspects of the body are separate and independent of the human mind. Even though many of the physical systems may improve human survival abilities, we may not have really needed them all. It would seem that with our minds, if survival were the only organizing principle, we could have excelled without the varied advantages that we have from our bodies. We explain our selves by saying that our bodies are also in the Divine image, and thereby geared towards helping our spiritual tasks. Even our bodies seem to show the stamp of higher purposes than mere physical survival.

For example, aside from the intelligence to speak (which is also a complex ability composed of many logically distinct parts) the physical apparatus that we have in our throats in order to form words is far superior to anything else that other animals have for this purpose.

Other examples of physically superior subsystems include the arms, hands, legs, and the design of the head, all of which are generally superior and also in ways that are uniquely human, such as the fact that all the organs of the higher senses are concentrated in the head which is itself a unit distinct from the rest of the body. In some cases the superiority is more pronounced than in others, and in some cases elements are shared with other animals, at least to some extent.

In Chayei Olom (Part II, Chapter 2) HaRav Yaakov Kanievsky zt"l notes that humans are unique among larger animals in walking on only two legs. Other animals use their forward two legs to walk. Also in the human body the stomach is not facing the ground, distinguishing people from fowl which also walk on two legs.

Some people who have studied engineering reported that they found the human hand much more impressive, and saw the need for a Designer much more clearly, when they actually tried to design a robotic hand themselves.

Another point that has been made is the robust nature of many biological systems. For example, the digestive system of humans (and animals, though for the most part to a lesser extent) is capable of breaking down and using a startlingly broad range of substances. One can eat a food never eaten before and the digestive system is able to break it down, discard the waste, and use the useful as it if had been doing so forever.

Systems designed by humans are never so flexible.

The robust nature of our fuel system can also be described as an apparent coordination between the digestive system and potential foods in the world. To some extent the large amounts of human foodstuffs in the world can also be seen as an illustration of the principle of natural selection: good foods are selected over non-foods for mass production. But nonetheless the human digestive system is very robust.


One of the examples of biological systems that involved heavy physics interactions is the vision system.

The function of vision is found in most creatures, yet there are many variations. Relatively simple creatures such as jellyfish have very simple vision systems. They cannot form full images of objects. However they also have relatively simple bodies and could not do anything with more information if they could acquire it.

The human eye is an incredibly complex system. We can and should thank G-d that we just see, but if we stop and think about it, seeing itself is a very complicated thing. Just trying to catalogue all the different ways that we see and take in visual information is very hard. Now that engineers have some experience in building completely artificial eyes, we appreciate more how many distinct parts there are to the visual system.

Darwin himself wrote, in a private letter written just two years after he published The Origin of the Species, "The eye to this day gives me a cold shudder" (Letter to Asa Gray, from Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, vol. 2, p. 273, quoted in a pamphlet from Arachim).

The eye must be able to receive and process visual information. The cells of the eyes have to absorb this information very quickly and pass it on to the brain. If all this takes too long, it is worthless. How could you track a fly in the air to swat it if you could only see where it was a second ago?

In fact each eye has to have a special brain to go with it. A human can process about ten scenes per second, with full color and depth information. It needs to be able to acquire all this information and rapidly interpret it. There are massively parallel connections between the eye and the brain in order to pass on the data fast enough to process it meaningfully.

Other creatures can absorb a lot more information a lot more quickly. Some insects can process 100 scenes per second. They must have a suitable brain that can process all that information or else the eye is useless.

On top of that, the eye is able to acquire information from many angles, and from a moving platform. At the same time, it can also focus near and far. This is accomplished by muscles that change the position and focus of the lenses in the eye itself. Thus, the eye also needs a very special muscle system to control its operation.

In addition to all that, people have two eyes placed about 2 inches (about 5 centimeters) apart that each see the same scene from a slightly different angle. Processing these separate images and then combining them gives us our ability to perceive the third dimension. Although we are so familiar with this at almost every waking moment, it is not simple.

We need to have two magnificent eyes and then to coordinate them and be able to process the images separately and then to combine the differences in order to see this third dimension. And again, this can be done while rapidly moving our bodies and our heads, and also watching moving objects.

A Dog and a Mathematician

In there is a report about a mathematician who found out that his dog can do math better than he — and his dog never spent a day in school!

Mathematician Tim Pennings noticed that when he threw a ball into the water, his dog would first run along the beach and then go into the water and swim to the ball at an angle.

Now the shortest distance to the ball is a straight line through the water from where the dog is standing. However the dog can run much faster than he can swim. So up to a point, it pays to run along the sand. Even if the total distance the dog has to traverse is longer, the total time is much shorter.

After carefully measuring the distance that the dog ran along the beach and the distance he swam, the mathematician was able to show by calculation that his dog invariably picked the fastest route to the ball. Though he could not teach a course in calculus, it turns out that the dog can crunch the numbers with the best of them!


The whole idea of migration is amazing: how it can ever get started and how it works. It is easy to see that it confers survival advantages for those who can do it, but it is not clear how a local gene, inside an animal could ever come up with the "idea" of trying out long range migration.

How could a body even know that it is warmer somewhere else when it gets colder where it is located? How would it know in which direction it was warmer? How — and really why — would it try going back to the more temperate areas next fall? Moreover, some of the travel plans are quite complex and require high-precision navigation.

Migration is an apparent example of a system that is irreducibly complex in the sense given by Michael Behe as we explain below in more detail. All its elements require each other in order to be meaningful.

However, migration appears to be something stronger: it seems to be irreducibly goal-directed. It cannot be described without referring to a goal which is not part of the description of the system itself. The behavior of the flying animals seems clearly to be "migration" and not just "flying around."

The point of the idea of natural selection proposed by Darwin to explain our wonderful universe is to show that behavior that appears to be goal-directed can emerge from a system that has random variations that are shaped by a purely material principle. However, when a species makes a migratory flight that consists of three very-precisely-navigated legs it does not seem reasonable to describe it as an emergent result. If so, the principle of natural selection is itself too fantastic to be a purely material constraint.

Some young birds make their first migratory flight after all the adults have left for the season since they are not ready when the rest of their "family" goes. Nonetheless, they somehow manage to travel thousands of miles and arrive at exactly the same spot as their older relatives.

The New Zealand bronze cuckoo, is a case in point. After breeding in New Zealand, the adult birds fly about 1500 miles west across the Tasman Sea to Australia. After resting for a few days, they continue northwest for another 2000 miles to New Guinea. From there they continue northeast for a few hundred miles more, again over open, featureless sea, to their final destination, a group of islands called the Bismarck Archipelago.

Cuckoos are land birds and they cannot swim. So unless the entire flight over water is made in one trip, the birds are doomed. The genetic program thus has to be quite precise. Should it instruct travel of only 1000 miles west from New Zealand or in the wrong direction or even at a bad angle, these cuckoos would be dead birds. Did Evolution send millions of cuckoos to a watery death until it finally got it right?

Isn't it incredibly lucky for DNA to have mapped out the route of the New Zealand bronze cuckoo?

"Head west (precise angle provided) for 1500 miles until you reach land. Rest and feed for a few days before the next leg of the trip. (You're dead if you don't, since you cannot swim.) Travel 2000 miles northwest (again precise angle provided) to the next major island. Then turn northeast (of course, precise angle provided again) for several hundred miles until you get to a group of small islands."

Imagine that! There actually is an island suitable for cuckoo habitation at the end of this flight plan. How does it all come together? How did all this come together to work so well?


Monarch butterflies in North America migrate some 3,000 kilometers back and forth in winter and summer. Each Monarch makes the round trip only once. The next year the travelers are one and two generations removed from those who made the trip the previous year. Somehow they know how to do it, generation after generation.

Their flight seems very well-planned. They travel in large groups, and seem to take advantage of air currents to preserve energy. The descendants always go to and from the same areas as their parents — sometimes even to the same tree — even though these trees are set in the middle of vast areas of forest that appear exactly the same to us. How do they do it? We do not know yet. But how can a mechanism set this up? Even one committed evolutionist conceded that it is "seemingly impossible."


Writing in Yated Ne'eman, (parshas Zav, 5759) Rabbi Yehoshua Honigwachs pointed out that the sylvia curruca (lesser whitethroat) lives in northern Europe during spring and summer and migrates to sub-Saharan Africa during the autumn. It is a nocturnal migrant, flying only at night.

These birds use the stars to orient themselves for migratory flight. Some of these birds were taken into a planetarium and shown different views of the night sky. When shown the autumn night sky as it would appear in their home locale during migratory season, these birds aligned themselves and attempted to fly in the direction of their migratory route.

This was true even when the stars on the planetarium ceiling were rotated in such a way that what appeared to be south was really north (to rule out any use of the Earth's magnetic field). When they were shown only diffuse weak light, however, the birds aligned themselves only randomly. Both these facts showed that the birds were using the configuration of the stars for finding direction.

To get to Africa, the birds generally fly southeast from northern Europe, passing over Bulgaria and Turkey. When they come to the area of Cyprus, they turn due south, cut across the Mediterranean and head straight up the Nile valley. They then disperse over a fairly large area of mid-Africa.

As experimenters changed the star map in the planetarium, the birds changed course. When shown the constellations as they would appear over the northern parts of the their trip, their alignment was southeast. But when the stars appeared as if they were over Cyprus, the birds changed direction and headed due south, just as they do in real life. Then when they were shown the sky as it appears over their final destination, they became totally disinterested in migratory behavior and settled down to rest.

Amazingly, these birds were able to find their way to their destination even when they were taken to a locale which they had never experienced. When shown an image of a night sky over Siberia, several thousand miles to the east of where they normally were and a place to which they had never been, they "knew" enough to turn west to get back to where they belonged.

The image was then changed gradually to give the appearance of actual flight to the west. As soon as the stellar configuration gave the birds the appearance of being over Romania, the birds changed course and began heading south, the direction they must take to get to the Nile valley.

Show these birds a totally unrealistic sky, however, and they get totally confused. They face in all different directions. Since this type of configuration never happens in reality, they have no way of "knowing" where they are.

It is amazing enough -- or farfetched-- for evolution to be able to develop a mechanism within a body that is based on a correspondence to something as vast and far away as the night sky. Although there is clearly an advantage to a bird to be able to navigate using the stars, how did its genes happen to stumble, "randomly" (!?) on the information that has proved so useful? And how did the blind hand of natural selection manage to discard all the birds that did not know how to find their way from Siberia?

According to an article in National Geographic (June, 1991) pigeons can sense changes in altitude of as little as four millimeters. They can also see ultraviolet light, and can hear extremely low frequency sound that can travel thousands of miles. These inputs are presumed to help them in navigation, but it is not known exactly how.

Some ants have a very complex eye that has a thousand lens elements! These lenses are sensitive to patterns of polarized light from the sun, and these patterns are used by the ant to find its way back to its home and then out again to recover some prey that it discovered.

Circumcision on the Eighth Day

The Torah says that circumcision is to be performed on the eighth day. Certainly there are many factors that are involved, some known and many unknown.

Although it may not prove anything, it is fascinating to note that earlier than the eighth day, the blood clotting abilities of the newborn are usually undeveloped. Specifically, one of the vital clotting elements, Vitamin K, is not formed in the normal amount until some time from the fifth to the seventh day. Thus, the first safe day as far as making sure that the infant will not lose too much blood is the eighth day.


Each human cell contains 46 chromosomes, each of which is a DNA molecule wrapped around proteins called histones. If all the DNA molecules in one cell were unwrapped from the histones and stretched out end-to-end, the total length would be about six feet (2 meters). Almost every cell in your body contains six feet of DNA, wrapped up into a very compact space.

If all the information in the human genome were printed in small type, it would fill a thousand thick telephone directories. The whole sequence contains about three billion base pairs (the genetic equivalent of alphabet letters), including some 50,000 - 100,000 genes, each of which codes for a specific protein.

The Hagfish

One the most primitive creatures in the ocean is the hagfish, which is similar to many creatures that are long extinct. This primitive, boneless, jawless fish looks similar to an eel, but without visible eyes. The hagfish is a scavenger that consumes dead creatures whose bodies have sunk to the sea floor.

When threatened, a hagfish can emit up to a gallon (four liters) of a syrupy, toxic slime onto itself, that makes it almost impossible to capture. However, once the slime has served its purpose, the hagfish needs a way to get rid of it. It does this by tying its own tail in a knot, and then sliding the knot all the way up past its head. When the knot pops off its head, it slips out of the slime and swims away.

It can also use its ability to tie itself to escape from predators, and to enter carcasses to feed off them.

It is very unusual in that it can also sneeze in order to clear its nostrils of slime.

Which came first: tying itself in a knot or the slime? Can any other animal do anything like that?

End of Part I


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