Friday, June 15, 2012

The Bird Brain

[no dummy]

The expression "birdbrain" is used to mean someone stupid. With a brain about as big as human thumb, we certainly wouldn't expect birds to be terribly intelligent.

Actually, birds exhibit intelligence sometimes associated with apes and small children.

In addition, birds are remarkably sensitive.

The New York Times recently wrote that robins can find worms with their sense of hearing. The worm’s tiny bristles rustle against the sides of their burrows.

Birds are able to navigate using a magnetic sense, still not completely understood.

They have other talents which humans do not. They can use each eye independently. They can fly with one eye closed and half of their brain asleep and still navigate better than a human driver texting in traffic.

The proverbial "eagle eye" is not a myth either. Bald eagles are renowned for their excellent eyesight. They have two foveae or centers of focus, that allow the birds to see both forward and to the side at the same time. Bald eagles are capable of seeing fish in the water from several hundred feet above, while soaring, gliding or in flapping flight. This is quite an extraordinary feat, since most fish are counter-shaded, meaning they are darker on top and thus harder to see from above. Fishermen can confirm how difficult it is to see a fish just beneath the surface of the water from only a short distance away. Eagles, like all birds, have color vision. An eagle's eye is almost as large as a human's, but its sharpness is at least four times that of a person with perfect vision. The eagle can probably identify a rabbit moving almost a mile away. That means that an eagle flying at an altitude of 1000 feet over open country could spot prey over an area of almost 3 square miles from a fixed position.

When we see the birds fly by, remember that we are seeing creations of God which are far more sophisticated than any man-made drones.


Ironmistress said...

A beautiful text. Whether birds are products of evolution, creations of God - or both - they still are marvellous wonders of the nature.

Anonymous said...

YAWN. Watchmaker, watchmaker make me a watch... Ad Infinitum.

jewish philosopher said...

I'll stop writing about the watchmaker analogy when Scientific American and National Geographic stop writing about their magic evolution fairy.

Ksil said...

Evolution is an amazing thing...thanks for pointing it out!

jewish philosopher said...

I believe in reason, not magic fairies. Evolution is really just a magic fairy without a brain.

I'm sticking with "God did it".

Dave said...

The bird is indeed remarkable.

However, as long as you're going with the "god did it" explanation, please explain why he created millions of species that went extinct.

In fact, it is estimated that over 99.9% of all species (including early humanoids) that ever lived are extinct.

I have never heard a good theological explanation for extinction.

From an evolutionary perspective, extinction makes a lot of sense. But from a theological point of view it makes no sense.

Of course in theology you can have god do whatever you want so its no refutation. But I would like to hear a logical explanation, of why a perfect, loving, all knowing and all powerful god would create billions of species only to have most of them killed/die off.

jewish philosopher said...

Well, I would say a couple of things.

First of all, God's motives are incomprehensible to mere mortals. We are literally light years away from being able to create a bird from simple chemicals.  Therefore to question God's motives for creating something is like an ant questioning human motives.

"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast the understanding." Job 38:4

I have a post elaborating on this.

I do have a theory however that God created earlier worlds to prepare everything we need in our present era.

Dave said...

The first answer evades the question, the second doesn't make any sense if the premise of an all powerful and knowing god is true. For, if evolution is not a mechanism, then why create Neanderthal man only the have him go extinct to be replaced by modern man? Couldn't he just create a proper world, end of story? Alternatively, if god "needed" to create the earlier worlds in order to prepare the proper conditions, why would evolution be any more heretical than that? He's using a mechanism!

"We are literally light years away from being able to create a bird from simple chemicals."

And god is light years away from making a drone. SO? What does being able to build something have to do with understanding a reason for something?

jewish philosopher said...

"And god is light years away from making a drone."

Not really. He made the people who make the drones.

Take it one step further and ask "why did God create anything?"

To which I'll say:

God's motives are incomprehensible to mere mortals.  To question God's motives for doing something is like an ant questioning human motives.

"Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? Declare, if thou hast the understanding." Job 38:4

I have a post elaborating on this.

And by the way the fossils actually contradict evolution. The indicate catastrophism not evolution.

natschuster said...

MIdrash Rabbah says that G-d created and destroyed worlds before He made this one. He was showing his love for humans by destroying the worlds that "weren't good enough" for people. My made me fancy cookies for our anniversary. She threw away the ones that didn't come out perfect. That's how she showed her love for me. G-d did the same thing with the world.

ksil said...

nat, smart guy like you will believe anything, eh?


Dave said...

Natschuster-- no personal insult intended, but that is the most idiotic explanation that I have ever heard. Ever.

Why would an all knowing god make imperfect worlds that need to be destroyed in the first place?

And, for most of man's history, nobody even knew of the fossils or "previous worlds", so who is He showing his "love" to? And, I am supposed to be appreciative that he didn't put me on a planet that I couldn't survive on in the first place? Or appreciative that he destroyed billions of other living organisms to "show his love for me?" Sounds kind of psychopathic to me. Like Hitler showing his love for the Germans by killing all of the Jews.

Are you out of your fucking mind?

"Take it one step further and ask "why did God create anything?""

That is a very good question.

Since you'd rather dodge the question by saying, "you're too stupid to understand", even though I'm trying to make sense of your theology, I'll choose to believe that your whole theory is bullshit and you don't know what you're talking about.

jewish philosopher said...

If you could understand all of God's motives, that would me that is not much more intelligent than you are - a frightening and of course absurd suggestion.

Dave said...

What would be so hard about god telling us his motives?

jewish philosopher said...

Try this experiment. Go into your backyard and as you destroy an ant colony to plant rose bushes, try and explain to the ants, in a way which they understand, what exactly your motives are. Let me know how that goes.

natschuster said...


You asked for an explanation for why there existed previous worlds. I provided one. It might not be an explanation that you like. I can't help that.
To G-d, a world doesn't have to be any more significant than a cookie is to my wife.

And people might not have known about fossils, but they knew the Midrash. Anyway, that is the best explanation for the appearance of the fossil record, with all those mass extinction and all. So the science supports it.

Anyway, what exactly is your point? Destroying worlds is immoral? What is your basis for saying that? What is your basis for saying anything is moral, or immoral?

Dave said...

"To G-d, a world doesn't have to be any more significant than a cookie is to my wife."

You summed it up nicely. That is not consistent with a loving, compassionate and personal god which you and JP constantly spout about. Does god love, cherish, and manage each of his creations, or not?

"So the science supports it."

That is a meaningless statement.
Science does not support or oppose anything. It is a method of evaluating evidence.

"Anyway, what exactly is your point?"

The point is that religionists themselves cannot give an adequate, logical theological explanation for extinction. Why a loving and perfect God would make mistakes or rely and creation and destruction to "show love" or make something better. Sounds more human to me.

Of course if you believe that the universe just exists and there is no god, your sentence fits perfectly. Ultimately, nothing matters except what is in our heads and what men can agree upon.

natschuster said...


G-d loves all his creations. He loves humans more. He doesn't have to love anything.

And when I said the Science supports it, I meant that the empirical evidence is consistent with it. It shows what we would expect to see if it was true. The evidence does not show what we would expect to see if evolution was true.

And G-d was acting like a human. This is because he wanted to communicate His love to humans ina way humans would understand.

Dave said...

" try and explain to the ants,"

That is a poor analogy, as theology claims that god DOES communicate and talk with us in great detail, via the prophets and the Torah, and we are supposed to understand his words.

So while God drones on in the torah repeating 12 times in excruciating detail the Tabernacle offerings of the tribes, he can't bother explaining something like, "by the way, I made many worlds before yours for the reasons x y and z. "?

In contrast, we don't communicate with ants.

jewish philosopher said...

This helps us to understand why, in Judaism, prophesy is so extremely rare and limited to only the most elevated individuals on rare occasions. It's like a man trying to communicate with an ant, which probably is possible but only in a very limited way.

I'm sure ants are totally mystified by your behavior. Go and try to make them comprehend it.

Dave said...

And, going with your analogy
Since ants are so inferior to me and I don't communicate with them, I don't expect anything of them either.

Unlike your god.

natschuster said...


"We don't know" is a perfectly acceptable answer for atheists and agnostics, e.g. "We don't know the origin of the Universe, life, the human mind, morality, etc. etc. etc." SO why can't theists say "We don't know?"

jewish philosopher said...

"Since ants are so inferior to me and I don't communicate with them"

I'm glad that you have recognized God's unbelievable love - He is even interested in creatures like us.

Dave said...

When a theory of reality, such as yours, includes divine secrets, mysteries, and other "facts" inaccessible to human beings, you can say or make up whatever you want. Since it is not subject to logic or reason, anything goes. Any nonsense will work, since logic need not apply.

So, when you encounter something contradictory or illogical, you can just answer, "its a divine secret and humans are too stupid to understand". And that puts an end to the discussion. No debate.

So this gives you a free pass on statements like, "prophecy was only given to a few, and it doesn't exist now", or "God is perfect and all-knowing, yet had to recreate the world over and over again to get it right, and the reason for that is a secret".

It is not similar to areas of scientific inquiry where knowledge is incomplete. If something is illogical or contradictory, we have to change the theory. If knowledge is missing, we continue our search, rather than saying, "its and secret and we're too stupid to understand that". If we said that each time we hit a wall, we would be living in the dark ages.

Dave said...

"SO why can't theists say "We don't know?"

Because you're not saying 'we don't know" . You're really saying its a divine secret and we're too stupid to ever understand. Rather than reject the theory if it doesn't make sense (like your perception of evolution), instead, when faced with a contradiction, you say, "its a secret".

jewish philosopher said...

It's not secrets, that your straw man. It's limits of the human mind.

Science by the way is apparently hitting a wall, although of course scientists will never be honest enough to admit that.

natschuster said...


We don't stop searching for answers just because we don't understand something. We keep on learning, thinking and probing. Theologians have been discussing theodicy for millenia.

Dave said...

"It's limits of the human mind."

Its not my straw man, its your short circuit to logic, able to be conveniently pulled out when encountering uncomfortable questions such as:

apparently random suffering happening to innocent people

prayers being answered with no apparent pattern


the regeneration of millions of life species from the survivors of a limited size ark

etc etc

God is good and perfect, but we're too stupid to understand why the above things make sense.

(Yet god did create us with moral reasoning to be able to ask these questions in the first place, but not get the answers. )

Doesn't jive, man.

Dave said...


Please provide me with an example of where Jewish theologians have actually made progress with theodicy. When the rabbis have actually made a "theological" discovery. Figured out something about God or how he runs the world.

jewish philosopher said...

"apparently random suffering happening to innocent people"

I explain it.

"prayers being answered with no apparent pattern"

You don't always listen to God. He doesn't always listen to you.

"the regeneration of millions of life species from the survivors of a limited size ark"

The Deluge was miraculous in many ways.

Dave said...

"I explain it"
In terms that only a psychopath could understand.

"he doesn't always listen to you"
More like "never"
If you pray for something miraculous, like your child being cured of CP, he never listens.
If you pray for something that has x percent probability of happening anyway, the chance that he will listen to you is ....x percent.

What does miraculous mean to you, btw?

jewish philosopher said...

I think I'm getting this.

You ask a question.

If I have an answer, you say "That's a bad answer."

If I can't answer you say "That's a bad religion. You haven't got all the answers."

I'm sure you will not be insulted if I don't publish all your comments.

natschuster said...

Theologians ahve come up all kinds of answers for the problem of suffering. They may not be answers you like.

natschuster said...

And Dave, when we say "we don't know" we mean we don't know. Why does it make a difference why we don't know? If atheists can say "we don't know." And atheists don't reject a theory jjust because it doesn't make sense. The Big BAndmakes no sense. The Anthropocentric theorise make no sense. Evolution goes against common sense. Yet, any question is explain away with, "we don't know."

natschuster said...

Oh yes, one last point. We explect to have the answers when Moshiach arrives.

ksil said...

"when Moshiach arrives"

oh yea! and who told you that was going to happen?

natschuster said...


When will science finally have an answer to all the big questions.

ksil said...

i know! right?

its much easier to IGNORE all that scientific stuff and just believe in ancient man made fairy tales - as absurd as it seems

ignorance is bliss, i guess

in the meantime, keep thinking that some messiah will come and save you....I would bet you my life savings that not messiah ever comes

natschuster said...


I don't ignore the science. I address it. The stff you believe in makes my faith pale in comparison. You believe a universe can pop out of nowhere and nothing. You believe it can somehow arrange itself to accomodate life. You believe small molecule scan magically coallese and form a cell. You believe that worms can turn into whales. You believe that five pounds of protoplasm can be a human mind. The stuff I believe makes your fairy tales look tame. I wish I had your pure, blind, simple faith. But I'm too much of a realist and rationalist to be an atheist,

ksil said...

no! you are wrong! I dont believe in that stuff! science? bleh!

I believe a magic man in the sky created us with a "poof" and then gave me a book of ridiculous stories, rules and lists and lists of peoples names and also how to sacrafice animals to him.

to me, that makes MUCH MORE sense then following the scietific method

natschuster said...


You believe in magic. You believe in Universes poofing into existance, lnon-lifing poofing into life, worms turning into whales. That makes the miracles of the Torah easy.

ksil said...

nat, I DONT believe in that science nonsense with proof and the like!! (like a flat earth, etc)

I beleive a mgaic god poofed us into existence in a garden with a snake, and waved a magic wand and made grass and trees, and stars...

natschuster said...


The stuff you believe makes the Garden of Eden look tame. Taking snakes are nothing compared to a Universe that poofs into existence all by itself.