Monday, June 2, 2014

Ten Questions on Evolution and Judaism

(Cross-posted at The Jewish Press)

"Heresy!" An uproar erupted from some people yesterday when the Education Ministry announced that evolution will be taught to seventh through ninth grade pupils across the state education system, including in national-religious schools. Evolution is feared by many as being heretical. But is this really the case? Here are ten questions about evolution and Judaism, along with brief answers. This does not substitute for the detailed discussion that this topic requires; it is merely intended as an introduction.

1) Evolution is alleged to have taken place over millions of years. But doesn't the Torah teach that the universe was created just a few thousand years ago?

There is a strong (albeit not universal) tradition in Judaism that "the account of creation is not all to be taken literally," to quote Maimonides. Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman (1843-1921), a member of Agudath Israel’s Council of Torah Sages, suggested that the Six Days of Creation were lengthy eras rather than 24-hour periods. Maimonides himself, as the commentaries on the Guide to the Perplexed reveal, was of the view that the Six Days represent a conceptual rather than historical account of creation.

2) Why should anyone accommodate evolution? Isn't evolution just a theory, not a fact?

"Evolution" is a confusing term, because it covers two very different concepts. One is common ancestry, the concept that all animal life arose from a common ancestor - simple organisms gave rise to fish, fish to amphibians, amphibians to reptiles, reptiles to birds and mammals (without getting into how that could have happened). This is supported by a wealth of converging evidence along with testable predictions. Common ancestry is considered by all scientists (except certain deeply religious ones) to be as well-established as many other historical facts, and is thus often referred to as "the fact of evolution." It is of immense benefit in understanding the natural world - for example, it tells us why whales and bats share anatomical similarities with mammals, despite their superficial resemblance to fish and birds.

The second and very different aspect of evolution is the mechanism via which one species changes into another. This is called the "theory" of evolution. It is, however, important to bear in mind that the word "theory" has a very different meaning in science than in everyday conversational English. It does not refer to wild speculation, but rather to an explanatory mechanism. Most, though not all, biologists believe that random mutations, coupled with natural selection, broadly suffice to explain this mechanism. The issue is, however, of zero religious significance, as we shall explain in the answer to the next question.

3) How can we accept scientific explanations for how animal life came about? It was God who made everything!

We have a science of meteorology, but that does not stop us from saying that God "makes the wind blow and the rain fall." We have a science of medicine, but this does not stop us from saying that God "heals the sick." We have documented history of the process involved in winning the '67 war, but this does not stop us from talking about God's miraculous hand. God can work through meteorology, through medicine, through history, and through developmental biology. This is why it makes no difference if the neo-Darwinian explanation of the mechanism for evolution is true or not.

4) Doesn't the Torah say that animals and man were created from the ground, not from earlier creatures?

Indeed it does. But what does that mean? The blessing recited over bread is “Blessed are You... Who brings bread out of the ground.” But what actually happens is that God created wheat, which man sows, nature grows, and man transforms into bread. Yet the blessing simplifies this in describing God as bringing bread out of the ground. By the same token, the description of God bringing animal life out of the ground can refer to His creating the raw material of nature and the natural processes that lead to the formation of animal life.

In any case, it is widely accepted today that we do not learn science from the literal meaning of Scripture - after all, Scripture describes the sky as a dome, the hare as bringing up its cud, and the kidneys and heart as housing one's mind. All these descriptions were interpreted literally by the Sages of old, and yet almost all recent Torah scholars interpret them non-literally.

5) Doesn't the notion of randomness in evolution contradict with the idea of a purposeful creation directed by God?

Judaism has always acknowledged that there are events which, in the physical world, appear to be random and happenstance. But it maintains that this does not rule out God's role behind the scenes. Indeed, this is the entire message of the Purim story! As it states in Scripture, "When the lot is cast in the lap, its entire verdict has been decided by God" (Proverbs 16:33).

6) Doesn't the Biblical concept of man being created in the image of God contradict the notion that man comes from animals?

Absolutely not! Classical Judaism has long maintained that man is not qualitatively different from animals in his physical aspects. Man's unique identity is in his spiritual soul, not in his physical body and most certainly not in his physical origins. The great medieval Torah scholars stated that man was created physically as an animal, but was given the spiritual potential to rise beyond that level. The Mishnah notes that on an individual level, we all come from a "putrid drop (of semen)," which is even less than an animal; yet we are defined not by what we come from, but rather by what we become.

7) Don't most rabbis state that evolution is heresy?

Very few leading rabbis have studied the science and have ever given the matter serious thought (and rabbis in the charedi world are not operating from the rationalist perspective that is the legacy of Maimonides and the great Torah scholars of Spain). The few rationalist-oriented rabbis who did study the topic, such as Rav Kook, Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, Rav Gedalyah Nadel (a leading disciple of Chazon Ish) and Rav Aryeh Carmell, concluded that evolution is compatible with Judaism. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch was personally skeptical of evolution but saw no theological problem with it: "...If this notion were ever to gain complete acceptance by the scientific world... Judaism in that case would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence than ever before to the one, sole God Who, in His boundless creative wisdom and eternal omnipotence, needed to bring into existence no more than one single, amorphous nucleus, and one single law of “adaptation and heredity” in order to bring forth, from what seemed chaos but was in fact a very definite order, the infinite variety of species we know today, each with its unique characteristics that sets it apart from all other creatures." ("The Educational Value of Judaism," in Collected Writings, vol. VII, p. 264)

8) Doesn't evolution go against tradition?

No more so than the notion of the earth orbiting the sun. That was also rejected by many leading rabbis from the era of Copernicus through today. Yet most religious Jews have managed to come to terms with it. The same is true of evolution, which has become widely accepted by religious Jews with a strong background in science and/or rationalist Jewish theology.

9) But aren't there many secular evolutionists who use evolution to try to attack religious principles?

Yes, unfortunately there are. But this is an abuse of science; it doesn't reflect on the science of evolution itself. This, however, is why it is important for anyone teaching evolution to understand it properly.

10) You didn't answer all my questions and objections!

Of course not. Evolution is an immensely complicated topic, to which it is impossible to do justice in a brief article. Please see my book The Challenge Of Creation (available in Jewish bookstores and at www.zootorah.com) for a very detailed discussion.

118 comments:

  1. I was kind of shocked to learn that it *wasn't* a required topic up until now, even in secular schools, and even under this new plan, they won't discuss human origins.

    My charedi-run elementary school in New York had no problem teaching us all about evolution; the principal came in before we started and said something entirely unobjectionable and brief about how science is science, but we should remember that God created everything, and then turned it over to our regular science teacher to teach the topic, which is entirely appropriate.

    Are even the Religious Zionists in Israel that obscurantist?

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    1. Religious-Zionists are very different from Modern Orthodox. Still, it seems that most of the opposition is from charedim such as Rabbi Zamir Cohen. Significant figures in the Religious Zionist world are okay with it - see http://www.nrg.co.il/online/11/ART2/582/534.html?hp=11&cat=1102&loc=1

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    2. How are religious Zionists different from Modern Orthodox?

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    3. I know they're different ("very" different, not always). But a few chardali parents and/or rabbis can swing a school away from what most parents would want- or care about, at least. That's why there are so many single-sex schools (or classes) where the general population is the sort of Religious Zionist who doesn't really care about separating the sexes and may even want them together.

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  2. This post should be translated and posted on pashkevilim throughout the country. Bravo!

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    1. Perhaps someone could volunteer to translate it and post it online, if not on pashkevilim...

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  3. Evolution should be studied even if it is heresy. Se RaSHI on Devarim 18:9.

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    1. But at what age?

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    2. In primary, secondary and post-secondary school in age-appropriate ways. Evolution is the unifying principle which makes sense of biology

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  4. This is a good article. However, you must keep in mind that quoting a few sources in classic Judaism is not going to change the minds of any traditionalists. Yes, some of the Torah is allegorical. But many would argue that you are going too far. For example, the raging battle against Open Orthodoxy today is much related to the idea that some of their students have explained away all or most of the Chumash.
    Where is the line drawn? RSRH believed that evolution was not heresy. But he said the evidence to redefine Beraishis wasn't strong enough, YET.
    Now people are willy nilly redefining everything. The Rishonim gave a very narrow license for that.

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  5. the hare as bringing up its cud

    Good job sidestepping the "Shafan", whatever that is :).

    I think that the fact that it was not a required topic is in the schools in interesting from another PoV. It is often argued in the US that by not teaching evolution, we would limiting our capacity to produce scientists in any field related to biology, since the evolution underlies all of biology. I have always felt this to be a weak argument. I wonder if Israel has ever felt the impact of such a policy. It doesn't seem so.

    Of course I think that it should be taught, but where it isn't taught because of a perceived conflict with religious principle, I doubt the long-run impact.

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    1. I'm no historian of science, but I believe that the USSR was ideologically opposed to Mendelian genetics and evolutionary theory and suffered immense scientific setbacks as a result, setbacks felt to this day. Certainly if you know anything about contemporary biological sciences and medicine, you know how reliant they are on evolutionary theory. If denial hasn't had an impact on Israel it is for peripheral reasons such as the small percentage of religious fundamentalists employed in such jobs or the incorporation of techniques based on evolutionary theory even by those who officially reject it (whether or not they are conscious of the contradiction).

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    2. It hasn't had an impact because all of the scientists DO know about evolution - it really doesn't matter if computer programmers and bus drivers know about evolution or not. In the USSR, on the other hand, even the biologists weren't allowed to hold of genetics.

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    3. It is not a weak argument by any means. Evolutionary theory is the basis for biology. You really can't do meaningful work in the field without it. You might as well try to train rabbis with no reference to any of the rabbinical tradition, no gemara, just bare mishnah and Leviticus.

      The USSR under Stalin rejected Mendelian genetics and Darwinian biology in favor of the pseudo-science of Lysenko. It took decades and thousands of lives to recover.

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    4. And what percentage of students go into biology? The fact is that evolutionary theory has been taught in Israeli high schools to those students who chose to learn an advanced biology track. The fact is that evolution, while important in biology, has about zero relevance to any other scientific field and Israeli's have managed just fine without it till now. The only real reason this is being pushed for the general student population as opposed to just those that choose to study biology is almost certainly ideological because it has virtually no practical relevance to non-biologists.

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  6. Clearly, the position on these topics has evolved itself, from one of literalism, to that of symbolism. Unfortunately, it is a difference without distinction. The argument that, well, the story isn't literal here, and He indirectly affects x, so that makes this passage work, but this, this part is real! It just doesn't cut it, and especially from a logical, rationalist perspective. For those who are uninterested in that way of thinking, the former works very well, and has for millennia. Lookup Kuzari for more on that.

    Evolution, in the only way we can measure, analyze, and test, proves itself time and time again. It's a fact. The only question is, by what other means are people using to gather their 'facts', and other than Science, what reliable measure of reality are people using to determine whether those 'facts' are indeed 'real'?

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    1. "For those who are uninterested in that way of thinking, the former works very well, and has for millennia"

      The former what?

      "well, the story isn't literal here, and He indirectly affects x, so that makes this passage work, but this, this part is real!"

      If chazal and/or rishonim gave indications that certain elements of the story are literal and certain parts aren't, why then must we adopt an all or nothing approach to the text?

      As to the Kuzari, I don't believe its author was aware of common ancestry.

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    2. The former, which is the misapprehension that if something doesn't work in the context of either science or is so obviously untrue, then it MUST be allegory. It's merely a way of slipping out of the need for a rational approach to an evolved, edited Torah, with elements and mythologies from many cultures.

      "If chazal and/or rishonim gave indications that certain elements of the story are literal and certain parts aren't, why then must we adopt an all or nothing approach to the text?"

      In research, you operate on a building blocks approach, looking at the elements from the beginning, moving forward. What is proposed is, throw out the logic, embrace the irrational, and when cornered call it allegorical, otherwise it is literal (and when in doubt, operate via the expertise of mesorah, even though that too is more problematic from a continuity of evidence approach). While I agree with you, chazal and/or rishonim had to deal with the implausibility, and/or obvious errors in the storyline, they continued forward by inventing the answers as to why, rather than simply acknowledge the error. Because if they do acknowledge it, that destroys the entire foundation of absolute truth and lineage to an infallible creator story. See monotheism/polytheism re-write for further evidence of that.

      As for Kuzari, my point was, and I am borrowing this, "Beliefs do not change facts. Facts, if one is rational, should change beliefs." Clearly, the object of the discussion, mainly the FACT of evolution, isn't what is debated. It is why a fact is willfully ignored if it is in direct contradiction of the belief, and this wishy washy allegorical designation is trotted out every time there is an error in mesorah. The desperation for 100% infallibility of either a text or tradition is palpable, and frankly quite sad, especially when you can observe something directly. Jumping through these hoops, while entertaining to watch, seems totally bizarre once you embrace rational logic and/or skepticism.

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  7. "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it"
    -Neil DeGrasse Tyson

    This quote sums up my fundamental issue with any תורה/חז"ל vs. science debate. Demanding a literalist reading of בראשית like evangelicals do is essentially the same as demanding we believe that the sky is green. No amount of מאמרי חז"ל or פסוקים can change natural reality. On a deeper level, though, this debate is based around how we view authority. In the world of religion the argument from authority still holds sway. So, if a gadol or rishon say something, then that statement has power because that gadol or rishon said it, regardless of whether it is sensible or ludicrous. In science, however, this does not exist. We don't say things like "Einstein is a great scientist and he says that the photoelectric effect is true". Rather, we accept the photoelectric effect to be true because Einstein provided sound experimental evidence for it. Most objections to evolution, heliocetricity, etc. seem to be operating fundamentally along these lines. Modifying theology to fit reality may be painful, but it is necessary, not only because we believe in a תורת אמת, but also because it is impossible to perpetuate a belief system that is based on verifiably false claims.

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    1. Although I agree in principle to the idea of authority, in science it exists as well. It took an Eddington and years to prove Einstein. Although in principle in science, who you are is not important, in effect when a Feynman, Hawking, or Bohr say something is quite different than someone of no authority.

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  8. i like to paraphrase Bill Bryson when it comes to jews and evolution:

    "The biggest problem that Ultra-Orthodox Jews have is NOT that they may have evolved by monkeys, but rather that they may be over-taken by them."

    I just can't believe that evolution isn't taught properly in science classes in israel today. Drives me nuts that the whole state has to kow-tow to make some ill-educated fundamentalists feel at home.

    Should we make everyone in the country go on Friday Night to Mike's Place to make the chilonim feel at home? Of course not. If you don't want science taught in your school, then set up your private school, fund it yourself and send your kids there. But for the love of Mike, please don't force other kids to dance to your tune...

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    1. Where's the Bill Bryson quote from?

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    2. I can't for the life of me understand the meaning of your quote by Bill Bryson. Can you please explain it? Why would people be overtaken by monkeys and why are charedim afraid of that?

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  9. The problem with teaching these subjects isn't the subject, it's the teachers.
    In university I had a professor in my population biology course who was quite clearly anti-God and used every opportunity to point out that some fact in nature or another proved He didn't exist. Most of the time the proof was weak to non-existent but more importantly, it wasn't even relevant.
    So if a teacher gets up in front of the class, teaches evolution and ends with "And you see? God doesn't exist, this all happens naturally!" then the Chareidi concern winds up becoming quite justified.

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  10. Overall, a good Q and A. A couple small quibbles:

    It is by no means an abuse of evolutionary theory to use it in arguments against religion. In fact, you yourself use it to argue against some understandings of religion! What you probably mean is that you believe that evolutionary theory and religion are compatible. Well, good for you, but that doesn't make it an abuse of evolutionary theory to believe otherwise.

    Regarding the idea that the hare bringing up its cud is not "widely accepted," I think you are mistaken. You've enlightened a small portion of Orthodox Jews. My guess is the vast majority continue to believe in a cud-chewing hare despite your laudable efforts.

    I'm not what your definition of rationalism is if you can classify Rabbis Soloveitchik and Kook as rationalists. I do not have familiarity with the works of Rabbis Nadel of Carmell, but I suspect neither were. Of course, I suspect no Orthodox rabbi is, but least of all an existentialist and a mystic. Perhaps by "rationalist" you really mean, "Not entirely oblivious to contemporary knowledge?"

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    1. In case that last paragraph was unclear, it should read, "I'm not sure what your definition...." (and should read rabbis Nadel or Carmell.")

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    2. Agreed! Your final paragraph is especially spot-on. I'm glad I wasn't the only one thinking the same thing!

      David

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    3. Haven't you got it yet Chaim? A rationalist is anyone whose opinions R' NS likes, of course. Anyone he disapproves of is, perforce, a mystic/non-rationalist.

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    4. "... if you can classify Rabbis Soloveitchik and Kook as rationalists."

      I didn't. I specifically wrote that they were rationalistically-oriented, so as not to make too broad a claim. They were rationalistically-oriented in being happy with a naturalistic explanation of phenomena.

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  11. "Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch was personally skeptical of evolution".

    Rav Hirsch wrote that essay when the idea of evolution was relatively new and untested. If Rav Hirsch were here today, i suspect that he would be less personally skeptical.

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  12. Why couldn't G-D come up with a story that is not conceptually contradicting evolution
    and really impress us

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  13. Reb nosson I see you are still a charadie at heart one of the most off putting posts of charadism is the maddening way they parade around making as if they have an answer to all the questions it never occurs to them to admit they might not have all the answers and thus the possibility exists that the entire world view they preach may be wrong
    Your answer to question ten has that ring i have also noticed you having that prigish tendency in other posts
    Happy shavus

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  14. Slifkin has every right to advertise his book on his own website.

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  15. ChaimJune 2, 2014 at 6:42 PM
    I'm no historian of science, but I believe that the USSR was ideologically opposed to Mendelian genetics and evolutionary theory and suffered immense scientific setbacks as a result, setbacks felt to this day.


    I'm no historian either, but the USSR exercised thought control at many levels; certainly if you banned all discussion of evolution, then this would have an impact. That is not what I'm referring to here.

    More importantly, they also based their economic system on absurd and false theories, which lead their economy to stagnate. Also the embargoes on technology reaching the USSR meant that they were way behind on computer technology. The result, I believe, is that USSR scientists could hold their own at the highest levels in areas which were purely based on theoretical math, but that experimental science was severely depressed for lack of resources.

    Certainly if you know anything about contemporary biological sciences and medicine, you know how reliant they are on evolutionary theory. If denial hasn't had an impact on Israel it is for peripheral reasons such as the small percentage of religious fundamentalists employed in such jobs or the incorporation of techniques based on evolutionary theory even by those who officially reject it (whether or not they are conscious of the contradiction).

    Yes, I said that it underlies all of biology. My point is that, for whatever reason, not teaching it at the pre-college level seems not to have hurt them. This is an argument that comes up often in the US.

    We don't say things like "Einstein is a great scientist and he says that the photoelectric effect is true". Rather, we accept the photoelectric effect to be true because Einstein provided sound experimental evidence for it.

    This is correct, BUT, it is largely correct in theory. Most people don't personally validate more than a handful of experiments, if that many. You (and I) believe in modern science because you *believe" that they have conducted such experiments and that their conclusions are based on firm evidence, but that belief itself is based on bits of experience and our own judgement. See the bottom of page 86 of this article for a more eloquent exposition: http://www.yctorah.org/index.php?option=com_docman&task=doc_download&gid=994.

    So if a teacher gets up in front of the class, teaches evolution and ends with "And you see? God doesn't exist, this all happens naturally!" then the Chareidi concern winds up becoming quite justified.

    The solution here is to avoid making comments for or against religion in the public elementary or secondary education setting (which I think is the law in the US). Evolution adds very little to the mix. The teacher could just as easily say "slavery is universally recognized as an evil, unlike that which is written in the Bible".

    Regarding the idea that the hare bringing up its cud is not "widely accepted," I think you are mistaken.

    I think that he meant that it is not widely accepted by anyone how has looked into it :). "Most people" barely know what "cud" is and can't tell the difference between a hare and a rabbit.

    I just can't believe that evolution isn't taught properly in science classes in israel today. Drives me nuts that the whole state has to kow-tow to make some ill-educated fundamentalists feel at home.

    Here is another PoV from an evolution-supporter who suports the change to teach it now: perhaps it was not worth fighting a religious war over something that will be learned OK in college. As I mentioned above, I don't think that this has held back the biology based science in Israel. Not everything dumb is also a tragedy.

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  16. I'm no scientist, but I have some common sense, and I've seen enough in life to know never to accept anything on the basis of "science" says so. In some circles global warming (now they call it climate change) is also said to be a "fact", and I've seen the manipulation and intimidation tactics and politics in that arena. Likewise, I see some people say homosexuality is immutable, that it is 100% genetics and upbringing plays no part whatsoever. I don't buy it, and again, I am well aware of the political and lobbying pressure that has been underway since the mid 70s on this subject. I see the same forces at work with regard to evolution. Not everybody (of course) and I don't have enough knowledge to opine one way or the other. My point is, science is constantly evolving, so it is likely the science of evolution will itself eventually evolve into something else.

    So maybe evolution is not a threat anyway because we can reinterpret the Torah any way we want. And maybe its all true, or portions of it are true. All I know is, historians of science (not me) can point to a hundred different notions that were all accepted by scientists as gospel at one point or another, exposing dissenters to mockery or persecution. In fact, as you note in number 8, prior to Copernicus the science of the time believed in a helio centric universe. Everyone always thinks "this time its different", and it never is.

    Carl Bridenbaugh (Anonymous)

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    1. I'm with you 100%. That's why I don't use any modern medicine.

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    2. "and I don't have enough knowledge to opine one way or the other."

      Well, at least you're self-aware.

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    3. This somewhat beside the point, but I don't think any scientists that have studied the subject say that homosexuality is 100% genetic (I certainly haven't seen any). People say it is immutable but I don't think there is actually any serious science standing behind that certitude.

      Oliver Shalom,

      You should use modern medicine but with a skeptical eye. An astounding percentage of medical research turns out, decades later, to be overstated or outright wrong.

      The point is that Carl is right in that people should be far more skeptical of what is claimed as science, but Carl is wrong to imply that all science is equal. Examine each issue for yourself and be wary of drawing long-term firm conclusions.

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    4. "Historians of science"
      Science as it is "practiced" today is relatively young. Empirical research used to formulate hypotheses and test them repeatedly via the scientific method isn't more than 300 years old. Once a certain hypothesis has reached a point where almost all research supports it, and where predictions are formed and proven true from assuming the actuality of the original idea, you have the beginning of a scientific theory.
      Any form of modern technology, medicine, engineering, or knowledge in astronomy is here because someone went through the of the scientific methods to formulate conclusions. The plane that stays in the air, a conclusion drawn from scientists employing the scientific method. Those results, you have no problem believing. Only when that same method produces a conclusion that doesn't sit so comfortable and challenges what kindergarden morahs taught you decide to throw it into question.

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    5. David Mandil - you've just tossed out the oldest cliched argument tossed out by evolution supporters. It's not true that all of engineering or astronomy is here because of modern scientific methods - in fact, the groundwork for much of it was laid thousands of years ago. (Obviously there has been a continuous improvement and refinement since.) As for medicine - just look at how the "medical community" has vacillated over the last 50 year on tonsils. Take them out? Leave them in? And that's just one example.

      You are correct that some products of science has proven to be correct, like the car or the plane. Yes, we accept that. But cars can be tested; much of evoluitionary theory cannot. It takes place, if it occurs at all, over too long a time period. And accepting some of scientific triumphs doesn't mean we have to accept everything contemporary scientists (and the money behind them) tells us to.

      Dont be condescending with the "kindergarten morah" crack; it makes you sound ignorant. (Do I accuse you of blindly following what your college morah tells you?) The point is, like Benugimena said above, to use your brains, and dont subcontract out your common sense to others.

      Cark Bridenbaugh (Anonymous)

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    6. "I'm no scientist, but I have some common sense"

      Clearly, by your blatant scientific errors on genetics and climatology, you aren't. Unfortunately, "common sense" is usually declared by people who lack it, and held up as an example of not needing to supply facts to support their position.

      Very sad.

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    7. Carl, your desire for something to not be true does not mean you are entitled to discard anything which makes you feel uncomfortable.

      Global warming is real. We have a huge amount of data from over a dozen different sorts of data from direct measurements to tree rings to ice cores to plant succession. Over the last forty years the world's entire community of climatologists, geophysicists, planetary scientists and so on has been convinced. The facts aren't in dispute. The theory is robust, predictive and explanatory. The only opposition comes, in the end, from people who are ideologically opposed to it, and when you dig just below the surface it is because they have either a vested economic interest in the status quo or a religious hostility to the implications. Their views are not based on the facts.

      The fact of evolution is about as well established as the fact of gravity. While there is a great deal of lively research and debate about aspects of the THEORY - that is to say the mechanisms which explain the fact - the broad outlines are not in any doubt. Again, the only people who deny it are those with an irrational, non-scientific, attachment to particular religious beliefs which demands that they ignore reality for emotional security and social acceptance. It really is that simple.

      When you say that you just don't want to listen to science because you "know better" what you are really saying is that you don't know anything about the subject. But the implications make you uncomfortable, so you reject it all out of hand.

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    8. This thread is the main reason I came back. Talk about prigish.
      Zev Mo Green and Dan Gambiera: You are both as fundamentalist as any religious follower (apparently). Are either of you aware that before there was 'global warming' there was 'global cooling'. Yes, the earth was headed to another Ice Age, but then we 'discovered' global warming and now the earth is headed to a catastrophe never before seen.

      Yes, there is evidence of global warming. No. There is no "proof".
      A friend of mine worked on creating computer models. For his PHD he created a computerized liquid model of one inch by one inch. He found he was only right to 80% accuracy, and your going to tell me that we can prove with our lousy computer models the direction the earth is headed?

      As Stephen Hawking writes (and I know it's not his line) there isn't any 'proven' theory. Merely theories that have not yet been disproven.

      Get your heads out of the sand

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    9. Respectfully, OJ, I suggest you actually read the science. Your talking points are ignorant of the facts, and wilfully inaccurate to boot.

      If you are indeed interested in the facts, visit http://mediamatters.org/blog/2014/04/02/video-the-junk-science-of-fox-news-favorite-glo/198719 and http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/2008BAMS2370.1

      Somehow, I don't think you interested in the facts, but are instead set on perpetuating your own mythology. Now, while I appreciate your certainty on the topic, I might suggest that it would be better served to model that certainty from the actual scientific data, rather than the propaganda of those whose interests are aligned with a flawed data model.

      Global climate change (warming) is real, and the rate at which it is occurring is absolutely attributable to human activity. At this point, with the research that has been done, and the enormous amount of peer-reviewed scientific studies done, there is pretty much no doubt about it (I would say it is as close to 100% accurate as anything could get). But, as Russell said, "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."

      The sad thing is, this irrational approach to facts is precisely the problem. I can give you a 97% probability, and you would focus 100% on the 3%. And I don't think you even understand what the concept of a "Theory" is. Unfortunately, using an anecdotal PhD candidate friend doesn't mean anything. Maybe he's an idiot. Maybe he's brilliant, but made a mathematical error. Maybe his thesis was incorrect. That is why there is a peer-review process, which thrives on finding others mistakes!

      But that isn't what your point is. You merely have the answer before even hearing the question. And while I understand your desire to feel like you have some secret knowledge that these crazy scientists haven't yet figured out (you're just that smart), it simply doesn't comport with the reality and FACTS.

      I'll repeat the Tyson quote spoken earlier: "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."

      Delete
    10. Zev: There is nothing else to say about it. Your faith in science is amazing, and underwhelming. I thank god that scientists don't all think like you or our state of development would be severely diminished.

      You obviously haven't read all the literature. If you had, you would know what you don't know--better yet, you would know that there are times to keep your mouth shut. Like about things you know nothing about.

      Oh. And the Tyson quote: wonderful, but so inaccurate. So much of science determined to be true was then remedied and modified when those assertions were found to be inaccurate. This happens today, daily.

      Facts in science are reproducible results. Nothing more, nothing less.

      Unfortunately the readership on this Rationalist Judaism Blog seem to have lost the intelligent ones who can add to discussion.

      Delete
    11. OJ, as Thomas "Darwin's Bulldog" Huxley famously said in his debate with Bishop "Soapy Sam" Wilberforce, "The Lord has delivered him unto my hand".

      I believe in evidence. I am willing to believe the most ridiculous things if you can give evidence that they are so. The more ridiculous they are, the better it has to be. You do not believe in evidence. You believe in what you have been told because you have been told it. If observations conflict with that belief they must be made to fit, avoided or lampshaded.

      As Tim Minchin so nicely puts it in his wonderful Beat poem "Storm":
      ---------------------------
      Storm to her credit despite my derision
      Keeps firing off clichés with startling precision
      Like a sniper using ******** for ammunition

      “You're so sure of your position
      But you're just closed-minded
      I think you'll find
      Your faith in Science and Tests
      Is just as blind
      As the faith of any fundamentalist”

      “Hm that's a good point, let me think for a bit
      Oh wait, my mistake, it's absolute ********.
      Science adjusts it's beliefs based on what's observed
      Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved.
      If you show me
      That, say, homeopathy works,
      Then I will change my mind
      I'll spin on a ******* dime
      I'll be embarrassed as hell,
      But I will run through the streets yelling
      It's a miracle! Take physics and bin it!
      Water has memory!
      And while it's memory of a long lost drop of onion juice is Infinite
      It somehow forgets all the poo it's had in it!
      ---------------------------

      In fact, if you have ten minutes to spare for a good cause expand your mind and watch the whole thing. He's profane, atheistic and has little patience with muddy thinking and willful blindness. He's also intelligent, humane, level-headed, entertaining and eloquent.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhGuXCuDb1U&feature=kp

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    12. OJ, let's establish a baseline of common language. Without looking them up, do you understand the difference between the following terms as scientists use them and why I put them in this particular order?
      1) Fact
      2) Hypothesis
      3) Law
      4) Model
      5) Theory

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    13. Dan I've had enough of this conversation. Yes, of course I understand the above: I was a biology major in college for a time (last minute switch changed my major before I graduated but I maintained a minor).

      I came to this thread because you and Zev decided to 'educate' Carl about Global warming etc. It isn't clear cut and anybody who knows any bit of the literature and the nature of science (I totally realize I'm rehashing my previous talking points) knows that Stephen Hawking's line about Theories not being proven just failing to be disproven is spot on. No ifs ands or buts about it. That is science.

      Delete
    14. OJ, other than insults, I haven't seen any EVIDENCE. You enjoy telling us how much you know, or have read, well, here's your opportunity to win a nobel prize and display your scientific acumen. I implore you, PLEASE prove us wrong.

      And, just as a helpful tip, to answer your "faith in science" accusation... I understand you are manipulating the faith definition to suit your agenda, but from a rationalist perspective, it means belief without evidence. As Twain put it, "Faith is believing what you know ain't so." That would seem quite at odds with Science, the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behavior of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.

      To broadly respond to your statement, I don't have faith. Faith is the excuse people give for believing something when they don't have evidence. Having reasonable expectations, based on evidence, is what makes sense. Your 'faith' in the dissenting 3%, vs the overwhelming peer reviewed 97%, is simply nonsense.

      "You obviously haven't read all the literature."
      That is a pretty broad claim, as if you have. If you would like to present validated, peer-reviewed evidence, please do. Otherwise, if you just want to make blind assertions, I suggest checking out some flat-earth google groups, and keep your comments there.

      If it sounds like I have very little respect, or patience, for climate-change deniers, it's true. I am sure you probably are a very nice person, otherwise. But on this topic, you are willfully ignorant. Not only do you seem to have a very troubling ideology on science, in general, but continuing to propagate misinformation is reprehensible.

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    15. OJ, as for the Tyson quote, "science" and "truth" or "facts" are not interchangeable. Science (as a method to determine truth) changes as we learn more. That, I assume, you would agree with. "Facts" or "truth" exist regardless of if they are discovered yet. We just don't know about them until we use the scientific method to determine, to the best of our abilities, that something is 'true' or likely to be 'true'.

      From what you seem to be asserting is, you already know the truth, and then you are waiting until science catches up to what you already know. And, if at odds, science is most assuredly incorrect.

      I'm just trying to understand by what means, other than science, are you using to determine something to be true or factual?

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    16. I also want to add the complete Hawking quote:
      "Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the results will not contradict the theory. On the other hand, you can disprove a theory by finding even a single observation that disagrees with the predictions of the theory. As philosopher of science Karl Popper has emphasized, a good theory is characterized by the fact that it makes a number of predictions that could in principle be disproved or falsified by observation. Each time new experiments are observed to agree with the predictions the theory survives, and our confidence in it is increased; but if ever a new observation is found to disagree, we have to abandon or modify the theory. At least that is what is supposed to happen, but you can always question the competence of the person who carried out the observation."

      Hawking, S. W. (1988). A Brief History of Time: From The Big Bang to Black Holes. Bantam: New York. p. 10.

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  17. 1. >Why couldn't G-D come up with a story that is not conceptually contradicting evolution
    and really impress us<

    Well, Torah has God commanding the earth/seas to produce animals/fish. God didn't just snap fingers.

    But chareidim would answer: "God didn't feel like it. He knows best."

    2. R. Slifkin's book--Challenge of Creation--is masterful. Best book on the subject for Orthodox Jews.

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  18. Common ancestry is considered by all scientists (except certain deeply religious ones) to be as well-established as many other historical facts

    It is of course only if we accept self-imposed scientific method as the absolute truth. Otherwise, similarity does not necessarily have to mean common ancestry- it can equally be an evidence of common source of creation.

    Most, though not all, biologists believe that random mutations, coupled with natural selection, broadly suffice to explain this mechanism.

    Suffice only to the liking of those who wants to believe in evolution. Otherwise they would be challenged by many things, such as:
    -- why the species exist primarily in certain discrete states (for example if eyed species evolved from non-eyed ones, why don't we see plenty "half-eye" species who should've have survival advantage over non-eyed ones);
    -- if it's only about random mutations and survival, how come the vast majority of eyed species independently developed 2 eyes-- one would think (say) more eyes on the back of head would give great survival advantage;
    -- how could digitally coded sequences [which don't have any inherent meaning unless there is a convention between the source and the recipient] arise naturally as the result of random events, etc.

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  19. >Of course not. Evolution is an immensely complicated topic, to which it is impossible to do justice in a brief article. Please see my book..

    The book is great, but it definitely needs to talk about the MOST pressing issue which is the Sabbath more thoroughly. The sabbath is presented as an END to creation that transpired in 6 days. Of course, there is no end to creation because the "mechanism" of evolution really never ceases. It is going on right now. The same forces that go on right now, were taking place millions of years ago. So how does one make the blessing on erev shabbat that God completed all his work?

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    1. I would be very interested, Rabbi Slifkin, to see your answer to this objection. I once spoke to Rabbi Shlomo Miller about belief in a 13+ billion year old universe and he said that he thinks it's fine to believe this *as long as* you make a clear distinction between the "6 days" of creation and current history, so as to have a meaningful explanation of what Shabbos represents.

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    2. "I would be very interested, Rabbi Slifkin, to see your answer to this objection. "

      Well then, I guess you'll be reading my book, because I answered the question there! (second edition and onwards)

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  20. According to the neo-darwinian theory of evolution, the engine of change is random mutations in DNA. For simplicity sake, think of DNA as the blueprint of a living organism along with the instructions for how to implement that blueprint (i.e, for how to actually create a living creature). Change the blueprint (and the implementation instructions) and you can change the animal (or, at least, so it seems – we don’t really know how a single, fertilized cell turns into a living, breathing three-dimensional animal).

    According to Neo-Darwinian Theory, the means of changing the code of life is via random copying mistakes that take place when copying DNA. Most mistakes are harmful, but occasionally there’s a beneficial one and those beneficial mistakes provide the novel structures which natural selection then locks in.

    What’s worth noting (from a theological point of view) is that the cell has various mechanisms to ensure that DNA is copied faithfully. Not only is its initial copying mechanism quite good, but it has proof-reading mechanisms to ensure that it got everything right and corrective mechanisms to fix any mistakes found.

    In short, the cell is built (programmed) to try & make as faithful a copy as possible of DNA. To state that those rare mistakes (like, 1 in a billion to one in ten billion rare) are what fuels the creation of wings, arms, hands, lungs, brains and more is to state that animal life is a bi-product of unwanted mistakes.

    Basically, what the Neo-Darwinian theory of evolution does is combine lady luck (random mutations) with blind fate (natural selection). It says that accidents are the engine of creativity and battles of survival the judge of which creative changes are kept. It has much more in common with ancient pagan stories of cosmic battles than with the Torah’s description of how G-d created life on earth.

    Of course, it is possible to say that G-d set it up that way, G-d knew there would be mistakes, G-d directed the mistakes, etc. But nothing in the theory or process indicates that (and quoting a pasuk in Mishlei that talks about G-d’s running of human affairs as opposed to relating to the basic, clear indication and meaning of the Creation as told in Bereishis shows how difficult it is to mesh neo-darwinian theory with the Torah).

    Furthermore, this approach isn’t very intellectually satisfying – I can apply it to basically any creation story, any pagan creation myth. All I have to say is that is how G-d decided to create man, life & the universe. Clearly the Torah isn’t open to be rectified with any and every theory or belief.

    In terms of man’s physical form – I think that man most definitely is qualitatively different from animals in his physical aspects. Man’s physical form enables him to actualize his intellectual potential. In order to write, make and use tools, work efficiently during the heat of day, etc., man needs a quite unique physical form.

    No other animal has a hand like man’s hand -- with his opposable thumb, strength and precision, fine sense of touch, etc.

    No other mammal habitually walks upright.

    Our hairless bodies allows us to run, walk and work during the heat of the day and not overheat.

    Our tongues and lips combined with our vocal chords and fine-tuned manipulation of our muscles around our mouth enable us to seamlessly speak and converse in complex language.

    The whites in our eyes enable us to visually communicate.

    The muscles in our face allow us to communicate with facial expression, etc.

    I believe this could be what Rashi has in mind when he explains that G-d created man in the mold specifically made for him (see Rashi on btzelmo).

    Finally, I do not think it is possible to make such a simple distinction between the mechanism of evolution and the evidence used to support common descent. How we understand the process of evolution influences how we interpret the observable facts of nature and whether or not those facts are construed as evidence – but I’ll have to develop this point another time.

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  21. > and through developmental biology. This is why it makes no difference if the neo-Darwinian explanation of the mechanism for evolution is true or not.

    The difference it makes is that it destroys the Watchmaker Argument, which is one of the popular and intuitive arguments for God.

    Saying that we can explain weather without it detracting from God’s hand in forming the weather misses the point. The problem isn’t that you can’t fit God into an evolutionary account of biology. The problem is that it makes Him unnecessary.

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    Replies
    1. In my book I show how the Watchmaker argument is not destroyed by evolution.

      Delete
    2. The Watchmaker Argument is bad for reasons that have nothing to do with evolution. And that someone like yourself, who is educated and interested in these kinds of things, can explain why you still find God necessary doesn't mean that the average person can. Especially because most people are not familiar with the philosophical version of the argument, but with the "How did the pretty trees get here?" version. To which the answer, at that level, is that they evolved that way.

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    3. >The problem is that it makes Him unnecessary.

      Was he "necessary" when we figured out how the tides work?

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    4. I must disagree, Rav Slifkin. The core of the Watchmaker argument is that an intelligent designer is required by any conveniently-chosen feature of arbitrary complexity. It is based on any number of fallacies starting with false analogy, false dichotomy, argument from incredulity and inevitably moving the goalposts the moment a good explanation is put forward.

      Evolution shows that a watchmaker is not REQUIRED. It may not disprove such a Being, but it certainly obviates it. Further, it provides a mechanism by which increasing complexity can be explained without the need to invoke an intelligent Creator.

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    5. You did not read his book or you missed his point.

      The mechanisms of evolution require a background of uniform natural order - from a-priory there's no reason a purposes universe should have any natural constants - this is one of many reasons put quoted in The Challenge of Creation.

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  22. http://lamrot-hakol.blogspot.com/2014/06/a-question-on-one-of-rabbi-natan.html

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  23. Has anyone read R. Slifkin's arguments, and said to him:

    . . . . . "You're right! I've changed my mind about evolution."

    Jesus has a parable about a man sowing seeds. Some fall on rock, others get eaten by birds, some rot. Only a few find fertile soil and sprout.

    I fear that the community that rejects evolution is very, very rocky ground.

    . Charles

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    Replies
    1. Well, not just his book, but over a dozen books after reading his I think that I'm changing my mind.

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    2. Wnderful!
      I'm not congratulating you for believing something I happen to. I am congratulating you for doing a thorough investigation of a topic and changing your mind based on the preponderance of evidence and the weight of argument. Very few people ever do this.

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  24. Just curious...was Adam and Eve an allegory or metaphor? Their children and the generations to Noah? What about Noah and all those animals in the ark? When in the torah does the geneaology get real and what is the reasoning for thinking so?

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    Replies
    1. I believe the Rambam quoted above (in answer to question #1) says that the first two parshiyot are allegorical (which isn't saying the stories aren't 'real' in some sense). The more literal stories don't begin until Avraham in Lech Lecha (after Noah and the Flood). I'm not sure the exact source, happy if someone can find it or correct me if I'm wrong.

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    2. I suggest people read what the Rambam wrote in the Moreh Book III chapter 50 to see which narratives in Genesis he believed are allegorical and if Adam was indeed the first human being.
      Here's a link:
      http://sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/gfp186.htm

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    3. Thanks for the source, but that doesn't explain specifically which sections are allegorical. In that chapter he is discussing the purpose of seemingly irrelevant verses.

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    4. I don't see any indication from that section of Moreh Nevuchim that the Rambam took all of mankind being descended from Adam as being allegorical and not literal--just that it's related in the Torah to teach us something of moral significance.

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    5. Sorry for being so vague. My comment was tongue-in-cheek.
      I think it is very clear from the Rambam that there is *no* narrative in the book of Genesis which is allegorical because each narrative--as fantastic as it may seem-- is providing a demonstration of God's real, *historical* interaction and intervention in human history.

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  25. Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
    Re: 'Darwinian Evolution' it appears to me that the whole problem is quite simple. The first language in the world (Rashi) was 'Loshon HaKodesh' which has four levels of meaning and is the deepest language in all the world. 'Loshon HaKodesh' is a 'Head First' language, contrary to English and Chinese (The most widely spoken languages) which mean it places the noun before the adjective, as does the Romance languages, Arabic, etc. (?) So, if language is a sign of development in an individual or group we are 'devolving' not 'evolving.' What do you think? (There are other virtues to 'Loshon HaKodesh' such as each letter retains its own sound (Greek as well), it's very brief compared to English (Chinese?). Also, I didn't understand your reponse to Question # 4. You said "...By the same token, the description of God bringing animal life out of the ground can refer to His creating the raw material of nature and the natural processes that lead to the formation of animal life." What does this mean? Are you describing 'yesh mi Ayin?' Todah raabah. Boruch N. Hoffinger

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  26. For those who didn't click on the link Lisa provided, here's the key paragraph:
    This troubles me. I'm aware that there are similarities between species, and that it can be useful to draw conclusions from those similarities. But I don't understand how it is a "fact" that bats and whales and chimpanzees have a common ancestor. I understand how that has explanatory power, but not how it is necessary. In other words, it's similar to the difference between correlation and causation. The idea of common ancestry correlates with what we see, but it isn't the only possible idea that correlates with it. (http://lamrot-hakol.blogspot.com/2014/06/a-question-on-one-of-rabbi-natan.html)

    I think this is a very good point.

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    Replies
    1. How about reading some basic books on evolution? Or mine? It seems that Lisa has not done that, since she appears to be unaware of the evidence for common ancestry beyond "anatomical similarities." And no, this is not the place to get into an extended discussion. People should do basic research before voicing their objections.

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    2. Unless there has been a world of scientific discovery that I missed, evolution remains a theory because genetic similarities don't actually prove something we cannot actually observe with our own eyes. I highly doubt anybody will properly explain cooperation between cells as arising from random evolution.
      Anyway, this whole hullabaloo is crazy. Evolutionary theory is not all that when it comes down to it. Discoveries in science do not depend upon it. It is and will always remain ONLY a theory (until such a time they can make it into a law) and will never CAUSE discovery--although, of course, people will think of experiments based upon it.

      And to all those about to jump on me--look at the men who created the MRI. One of them was real creationist

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    3. So everything that you cannot see with your own eyes is just a theory? That would make every historical fact into a theory.

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    4. History isn't science. And yes, most archeology is steeped in theory.

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    5. like the theory of torah misiani?

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    6. Well every historical fact was seen by somebody. I think what oj meant is that anything outside the realm of all human observation is "just a theory". Which I think, is a pretty accurate statement.

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    7. OJ, it is painfully obvious that you do not know what a theory is.

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    8. I wasn't very clear about my opinion on evolution. Clarification:

      Evolution is useful as a theory in understanding creation and the animal world around us. But it isn't a necessity.
      If tomorrow a better theory that had nothing to do with evolution were to surface, would science change drastically? No. We would still be examining animals, breaking them down to understand how they function. Science would continue in the same path.

      And pro oj was spot on.
      Although I differentiated between the scientific theory and theory as put forth in the dictionary through nuance, it wasn't channelled through.

      Historical fact as we have it is a narrative given over by records of the time.
      Archeology is steeped in theory because, although we don't actually know why we found a certain piece of pottery here, often a narrative is attached to it that may or may not be correct.
      Scientific theory, being a mechanism to explain evidenced observation cannot be compared to History because the methods are drastically different. Science is the study of observing nature and writing down our observations. The theory is then (a narrative that is) attached but can naturally be disproven assuming facts yet uncovered, surface.

      Evolution is that narrative we find most appealing today. That anybody can tell me that it disproves the necessity of God is astounding to me, just based on our knowledge. (Yeah Dan, why don't you explain to me how cells, machines dedicated to survival and killing each other, decided to cooperate with one another). It isn't heresy and it isn't proven-- likely won't ever truly be proven-- but it is science and worthy of being taught; even if it isn't truly "necessary"

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  27. "Very few leading rabbis have studied the science and have ever given the matter serious thought." Sadly true, very true, pathetically so. Neither have 99.9+ percent of Orthodox (or Conservative or Reform) lay people, of whatever flavor. Passively relying on authority, guided by considerations of personal prestige or group identity rather than investigating and thinking for oneself about an ultimate question, is the heart of the problem here.

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  28. "(Theory) does not refer to wild speculation, but rather to an explanatory mechanism."
    It is important to explain when the theory indeed provides an explanatory mechanism, and when it provides an "explain away" mechanism. Since you mention bats and whales, what explanation is there to account for their echolocation abilities? Since one is not a descendant from the other, and the common ancestor is not believed to possess this faculty, the answer is "convergent evolution". Now, does this theory of convergent evolution truly *explain* this common ability, or does it merely *explain it away*?

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  29. "By the same token, the description of God bringing animal life out of the ground can refer to His creating the raw material of nature and the natural processes that lead to the formation of animal life."

    Once we are taking the details of creation story as non-factual, then why do we need to stretch any process that "God did" to fit with modern science

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    1. I'm not clear on what your question is, but like every other question/objection posted here, I'm pretty sure that it would be redundant if you would read my book! I was actually being serious when I wrote that "Evolution is an immensely complicated topic, to which it is impossible to do justice in a brief article. Please see my book The Challenge Of Creation (available in Jewish bookstores and at www.zootorah.com) for a very detailed discussion. "

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    2. That assumes I haven't already read your book. Twice.

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  30. Using the watchmaker argument by saying we cant explain the mechanism for evolution, whilst accepting the big bang and the fact of evolution is effectively a 'God of the gaps' argument. In other words, given that God in general has set up the universe that it can produce planets, stars, galaxies etc. on its own, why is he not able to do the same for life? So the fact that we currently don't have an explanation of the mechanism for evolution provides no evidence either way for (or even arguably provides evidence against!) the existence of the God I believe in.
    Ps: By the way there are big holes in our current understanding of an evolutionary mechanism, but using them in the watchmaker argument is not very intelligent. I imagine the answer lies in having a much broader, mathematical definition of evolution, showing how mathematically almost anything will evolve following some sort of function/relationship. E.g the universe, life, cultures, economy etc. Pure speculation on my part though, and probably best to completely ignore it.

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  31. Charles CohenJune 3, 2014 at 1:59 AM
    Has anyone read R. Slifkin's arguments, and said to him:

    . . . . . "You're right! I've changed my mind about evolution."


    I believe that the main purpose of this post is not to convert people to a belief in evolution. It is to

    1) Enable people who believe in evolution to also feel that their Orthodox Jewish religious beliefs are not incompatible with their scientific beliefs.

    2) Encourage other Orthodox Jews to be more tolerant of people who believe in evolution.

    For example, see here:

    [Y]our books have helped me tremendously! By bringing together sources from across the Talmud, Midrashim, and quotes from leading rabbinic authorities from throughout the ages, you make an excellent case. It certainly provides an honest alternative to the standard approach, which could only leave an inquisitive mind in confusion.

    And here:

    The nature of this email is somewhat ironic. You see, I'm a baal teshuva with a somewhat complicated past. For me, I couldn't begin to approach yiddishkeit unless I thought it could be validated under several inspective lenses, among them science. So, even after returning to judaism I've always retained a strong interest in explaining Judaism under these different lenses.
    [...] As I searched online (this was several months ago) I found that you had a book which discussed it, The Science Of Torah. I could barely put it down. The book was great! It discussed so many issues which were bothering me. The presentation of jewish sources in a coherant manner was so helpful. I'm sure I must have let out a great sigh of relief and a big smile: "Toras Hashem Temimah!"

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  32. Hanan's question gets to the crux of the problem. It is not just a matter of evolution theory, but the substantial lines of evidence that the earth is far, far older than the 6 millienia expected from a simple reading of the torah and nevi'im. In other words, the creation 'days' are really eras of great and variable lengths. If creation did not occur in 6 literal days, then what does Shabbat commemorate? Clearly, the torah was written in such a way that Jews would accept the concept of divine creation in a week. That belief reinforced the idea and importance of the Shabbat day of cessation. However, a deeper reading of the torah points to another important lesson. The torah states, "...GOD completed His intended work on the 7th day, and ceased from all His intended work on the 7th day..." Note, that the completion and cessation occurred on the 7th day - not the 6th. While one can reinterpret the words to mean "by the 7th day", that's not the simple meaning. What, then, is meant? I believe that it alludes to GOD's completion of His direct, overt involvement in human affairs in the current, 7th era (at the end of the biblical period) - the era of man. Now it is left for us to complete the mission of organizing and inspiring the peoples of the world to create a suitable place for the divine presence. This, too, is alluded to the conclusion to the above verse, "that GOD created to do.", i.e., for man to do (such an interpolation is justified by the awkward and repetitive sentence structure which stands in contrast to the poetic style of the Creation section). In other words, even with a modern understanding of the works of creation, it is still vital for us to cease our workday activities, reflect, and commemorate our mission of creating a far better world - each and every 7th day.
    Have a happy and meaningful Shavuot.

    Y. Aharon

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  33. Evolution is a crazy theory about common decent. Which if it would be untrue it should easily be dis proven . Yet every scientific discovery supports it . look up human chromosome number 2 .Sure not everything is understood but the hard science only makes the case of evolution stronger.

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    1. Unless they don't require faith at all. Then Religion and Science are very simple to understand.

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    2. all the chromosome 2 shows is that humans and chimps have similar chromosomes. so what? they are obviously anatomically similar.

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  34. Very good article.

    Folks (Jewish or not) who claim that religion & science don't jibe don't understand either one properly. Their faith is as flawed as their science.

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  35. The problem isn't whether evolutionary theory is true, or even if it's compatible with traditional Judaism. The problem is that it will almost certainly be taught ( at least in the secular schools ) as "proof" of the fallacy of religion. And even in the state religious schools are they really capable of teaching it in a way that doesn't undermine children's faith? Is evolution such a fundamentally important core idea that it absolutely must be presented at the high school level were it can cause so many problems? It seems the only reason it's being pushed is ideological, not for it's educational value.

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  36. Dynamic Weight Loss: Yes we should indeed look up "Human Chromosome #2." And look up the critique, as well: http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/07/what_the_litera_1062521.html

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    1. ok look up endogenous retrovirus

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    2. Will do. Of course, I'll peek at the critiques, too, such as http://www.evolutionnews.org/2011/05/do_shared_ervs_support_common_046751.html

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  37. Robert, any attempt by a teacher to use evolution theory to discredit religious belief leaves him open to the charge of introducing religion into a science classroom. It is no more acceptable to push atheism than to push religion in a science setting. A complaint by the parents to the principal and/or education ministry may chasten the miscreant. In any case, it is difficult to avoid situations where a teacher gives his own ideological spin to the subject matter, whether it be biology or history. Besides, contrary to your assertion, evolution theory is a key organizing principle in biology, and no high-school student should be ignorant of its general features. A biology teacher in a religious school has available information that addresses the question of how divine intervention in the world and evolutionary concepts may be compatible - in case the question arises in class. Ignorance is not an excuse for not teaching an important subject. Whatever conflict with religious beliefs may occur, it is largely confined to Hareidi schools, and they - with few exceptions, have not biology or other secular subjects.

    Y. Aharon

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  38. I just followed up one of the links and saw they are also using the strategy of "This ideology enabled the Nazi's".

    מחקרים הוכיחו שהנאציזם התפתח בעקבות תורת האבולוציה. היטלר האמין באבולוציה, על פיה, בטבע רק החזק שורד, ועל פי זה הוא בנה את התורה שלו שלא רק יהודים צריכים להיכחד אלא גם מפגרים ובעלי מומים ולכן צריך למחוק אותם, כלומר האבולוציה מחקה את המצפון והרגש האנושי. האבולוציה הפכה את העולם לג'ונגל ושם מי שמסוגל לטרוף את השני יכול לעשות זאת בלי בעיות.

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  39. Mantuka,,You missed the point, here was a great chance to disprove evolution. We humans have 23 Chromosomes pairs, apes and chimps have 24 pairs. So obviously we did not descend from chimps. Comes Chromosome # 2 and so on…. Why would GD make Chromosome # 2 look like it was a fusion between the two other primates Chromosome that we were missing. Why make our DNA almost identical to chimps, especially when only 2 percent of our DNA codes for proteins. And large portion of our genes that are now useless are also identical to the chimps genes

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    1. "And large portion of our genes that are now useless" -- And you know they're useless because....? That's a science-stopper sort of statement.

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  40. Usually I love to read your posts and then follow in the comments the discussion that follows. This post was fun to read but of course nothing new--and I thought I would see what goes on below.
    Unfortunately the 'greater than thou' element on this thread is stifling. I'm sorely disappointed. Where have all the good readers gone? (Minus that one really good comment below)

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  41. When I was first taught about common descent, and evolution by a non Jewish/religious science teacher, my only response was, 'wow, so cool how Gd created everything using the same basic lego set'. When I later learned that some people think evolution is anti religion, my only thought was 'how cam people believe the proof of Gd creating life is anti religion.' I have since learned its all about how you spin things and politics of control.

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    1. This is very unusual. It's like someone learning about reproduction and saying 'Oh wow! So cool!'. How old were you? And what did you think about מעשה בראשית at that time?

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  42. Y. Aharon - Evolutionary theory is already taught in Israeli high schools to any student who chooses to take the matriculation exam in biology. The Education ministry wants to make it part of the core curriculum for all students, even those not studying biology. There is no practical benefit to this, at least no one has presented one in any of the discussions I've had with people. The best argument I've heard is an amorphous, "well, kids should get a well rounded education" type of argument. I would much rather see subjects like logic and formal Euclidean geometry re-introduced into the core curriculum. They were standard in most Western schools fifty years ago. Training our children how to reason would be a much better use of resources.

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  43. This article brought back memories of my days in yeshiva high school, where the staff tore out all the pages about evolution, but most of the boys were able to get the right answers on the Bioligy Regents anyway by studying old exams and parroting back the answers :). I got most of my evolutionary information through PBS shows and articles, so I can't say I've studied the subject, but I'm certainly familiar with the basic ideas. I personally don't feel threatened religiously at all by Evolution, partially because it doesn't at all deal with or explain the basic origins of life, and secondly because I don't really buy into the idea that pure natural selection (once regenerating cells somehow came into being) could be responsible for fashioning new and complex organisms. I heartily recommend the book "Not by Chance" by Dr. Lee Spetner, which combines statistical methods with cellular biology to (I felt) conclusively prove that random gene mutations statistically could not produce the required changes in the genetic code that would be necessary to produce complex organisms. Or, as he says, the "deck most be stacked!" How G-d decided to stack the deck is not my business.

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  44. Robert, my focus on high school student material was made in response to your original reference. Now that it appears that the ministry directive was towards middle school (7-9th year) curriculum - as per R' Natan's post, the need for introducing evolution is more a cultural matter than professional preparation. Even so, it remains an important topic in a General Science curriculum since it gives the preteen/early teenagers a conceptual framework that accounts for much of the biological data that they learn and observe. Such organizing principles are far superior to the usual rote memorization factoids that have bored school kids over the generations. I agree with you about including formal Euclidean geometry - at least in a 9th grade curriculum since it fosters logical thinking. If potential conflicts with traditional teachings is an overriding consideration for omission, then one should not be able to teach another fundamental biological principle - that life comes from pre-existing life, i.e., there is no such thing as spontaneous generation (except for the original life form). In doing so one reduces the teaching of biological reality to the seemingly trivial memorization of parts of organisms. As it is, it seems that what often passes for education is the memorization of factoids, whether religious or secular, whereas it should involve training and encouragement in the ability to think.

    Y. Aharon

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  45. I don't understand. Why should we believe that a Creator would make the world look like it came about through "random mutations, coupled with natural selection, broadly suffice to explain this mechanism." ?

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    1. does anyone have an answer to this?

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  46. reb moshe banned the study http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_views_on_evolution#Moshe_Feinstein how do you answer that?

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  47. You write that Rambam and some other rabbis had views similar to yours. It would be nice if you give an exact quote and book/page/chapter where they wrote it.

    Thanks.

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    1. This is a concise summary. All sources are discussed in my book.

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  48. Raymond, Harav Moshe Feinstein was properly recognized as the leading posek in the US in the last generation. That doesn't mean that all his pronouncements were accepted by observant Jews, particularly if they weren't supported by halachic analysis. Take, for example, his "chalav hacompanies", i.e., commercial milk not supervised by Jews. The Hareidi world largely doesn't accept his thesis that governmental regulation and laws are equivalent to Jewish supervision. Here, too, MO Jews need not accept his pronouncement against the acceptance and teaching of evolution. The only problematic point would be the generalization that man is simply the product of random evolution, as opposed to the religious and torah idea of Adam and Eve having been a special creation. As long as the latter idea is not disparaged by a biological text, I fail to see the inherent conflict with religious belief. Nor should the acceptance of evolution be labeled as 'apikorsus'.

    Y. Aharon

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  49. great article on evolution
    you might want to add this link on rav kook where he reconciles evolution to torah
    http://ravkooktorah.org/NOAH60.htm

    btw, do you know of any way to refute the infamous chromosome 2 fusion which seems to clearly show that humans and apes had a common ancestor

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  50. Yosef, I don't know the article refutes it, but the article posted by Mantuka above might offer leads.

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