I have often wondered why some Very Religious People are so hung up on evolution. After all, there are much bigger intellectual threats to traditional Judaism. And there certainly were great Torah authorities who saw no problem with evolution. Why, then, so people obsess over evolution so much?
There are doubtless several reasons for this, but one in particular emerges from another question to be asked on Rabbi Avi Shafran's recent very strange article criticizing the scientific community for failing to be self-critical, which I analyzed in the previous post. It includes a single sentence in which Rabbi Shafran acknowledges that "it may indeed turn out that... as Rav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch considers possible, that G-d created species through a process that began with a single cell."
Praise is due to Rabbi Shafran for acknowledging that evolution, at least in terms of common ancestry, is not to be ruled out on either scientific or theological grounds. (I wonder if this is due to the complimentary copy of The Challenge Of Creation that I sent to him?) But here's an interesting question: How is it that he felt comfortable saying such a thing, and he is not taking flak for it, in light of the Great Torah/ Science Controversy of 2004-2005?
The answer to all these questions is, I propose, that the kerfuffle over evolution has very little to do with its alleged theological difficulties (which are, after all, easily solved). Rather, it has to do with social identification.
Many scientists, and especially evolutionists, are associated with atheism and are therefore "bad guys" (and a strong perception has developed that it is not just evolutionists, but evolution itself which is inherently anti-religious). Correspondingly, trashing evolution has become associated with the religious camp and its duties. That's why there is so much more passion about fighting evolution rather than other, more serious, intellectual threats.
The important thing here, for people in the Very Religious Camp, is to show allegiance to the home team. And so endorsing the theological acceptability of evolution is fine if it's a throwaway sentence in a lengthy article trashing scientists. What matters is that the clear message is given: Scientists=bad, Us=good.