Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Ten Questions On Evolution And Judaism

(It's that time of year, so here's a re-post of an article that I originally published in The Jewish Press)

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.BiblicalNaturalHistory.org) for a very detailed discussion

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77 comments:

  1. To point 5 I would even add that the events are only modeled as random, they aren't actually random even scientifically.

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    1. Of course - otherwise complex life never could have resulted. Honest evolutionary biologists admit as much, but then need to thread the needle between finding the source of the underlying order while generally denying God . . .

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    2. Bzzzt. Go back to school. (Real school, get a real education.)

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    3. I think that G-d programed certain laws to ignite the the series of events, or what we call the process of evolution. This is not only rational, it is useful and explains away G-d's seemingly uninvolved or what others call "randomness." With my theory, nothing is random, it only appears that way.

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    4. I basically agree, but to me, the development of life doesn't appear random at all, nor do I think true randomness could have produced life on earth. Because of extremely slight natural genetic mutation that occurs in nature, evolutionary biologists latched onto "randomness" as a possible explanation for the variety of species that exist. They were working backwards, in essence.

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  2. Darwin was a copycat. The process of evolution is outlined in the first perek of Bereshit, six stages from nothing to a more and more complex world. I guess Charlie, as was common at that time, read "the Old Testament" as a child - probably the King James version. And he decided to take advantage of what he learned there to make himself a name. As noted above in Item 6 the human being is by far the most sophisticated element of creation. But, in spite of this, he is lumped into another category - the creation of mammals. Why wasn't he given his own stage? Charlie understood this hint and invented "evolution". For that we should give him credit.

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    1. Are you joking? People only understood Bereishis that way after "Charlie" came up with his theory. He also added a wealth of evidence and explanatory ideas.

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    2. CD was extremly reluctant to publish.ACJA

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    3. With logic like this, you wouldn't be able to track the orbit of the moon without a rabbinical calendar

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    4. 1) Evolution has nothing to do with more and more "complexity".
      2) The Bereshit story has nothing to do with the "process of evolution" as the sequence of animals' creation is completely at odds with their actual evolutionary development.

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    5. Although the Torah account of creation does not teach real science, it does promote the study of science.

      Maimonides said, “The only path to knowing G-d is through science—and for that reason the Bible opens with a description of the creation.”

      Thus, the Torah is not relating history but it is stressing the importance of doing science.

      Or, we might say that the Torah was teaching a little bit of history, in the sense that there was a BIG BANG.

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  3. I surmise that a post like this will help readers in "exploring the legacy of the rationalist Rishonim" more than any Charedi hit-peice ever will.

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  4. When you say "Classical Judaism", how do you define the concept at what is excluded?

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    1. As Inigo Montoya would say "you keep using the word 'classical judaism' but i do not think it means what you think it means"

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  5. A wealth of converging evidence along with testable predictions

    Folks, scientific evidence does not equal truth. There is scientific evidence that women are being systematically erased from chareidi society. The evidence for this is actually better than the evidence for evolution. There is scientific evidence that gender is fluid. There is DEFINITELY converging scientific evidence that the Exodus never happened (also much better than the evidence for evolution).

    Testable predictions are actually a very low standard. A testable prediction for Creationism: The Bible states that God created the fish in the sea. One can therefore predict that if this is true, fish could be found in the sea.

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    1. Upsetting your objection is the fact that erasure of women from the chareidi public is a fact.

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    2. Scientific evidence DOES equal truth. If there were no evidence for evolution, one might say "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

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    3. We do not know who you are, but you do not deserve a seat at the adult table with such a pristine lack of knowledge in either domain.

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    4. @happygolucky Are you drunk? Swallowed your Listerine this morning? "Testable predictions" are the gold standard in the scientific method.

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    5. Scientific evidence does NOT equal truth! In fact, the vast majority of truths that people know are NOT from science at all. But there is "scientific evidence" for all sorts of nonsense, as I have shown. Included in that is the evidence for evolution, almost all of which is narrative building, no better than the Chareidi Erasure of Women Science. Testable predictions may be the gold standard of science, but the gold standard of science =/= truth. I know this is heresy, but it's ok, RNS is very tolerant of heresy in the comments (see all the comments from ACJA).

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    6. @happygolucky, Are you kidding? Scientific evidence DOES equal truth! We know evolution is a fact because it is "testable" and proven. I think that there is lots of truth in the theories of evolution. For instance, take the arguments for the eye. Its mechanism is a product of biological evolution. These cameras perceive information from the exterior lens of the eye, in an inverted image on the retina all the way to the optic nerve. The eye is so crucial that over two-thirds of the sensory cell is connected to the eye, which uses more oxygen per gram than the brain! Our eyes are even capable of using focal points. Thus, Charles Darwin argues that the complexity of the eye proves his evolutionary theory.
       
      Evolution deniers bear the heavy burden of disproving history, chemistry, molecular biology, anatomy, genetics, physiology, geology, and paleontology, to which the scientists only refer to. Not to mention that all this data reinforces their argument. It has to be a joke! But the opposition is not necessarily that evolution is wrong per se. It is not that you are ignoring the scientific literature out there. Rather, you're operating on a world-view which says that if the scientists are pushing it, we cannot. It is a social issue, not an "intellectually dishonest" one. I recommend you study and become more acquainted with the literature, as the sage Hillel said, "go and study.”

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    7. RNS is very tolerant of ACJA. But this is not necessary a bad thing. Guess why.

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    8. Rabbi Slifkin, you never had such harsh words for ACJA! Clearly you consider complete Torah denial to be clever and well-thought-out, whereas science denial is just stupidity. Where are your priorities? All science is gospel truth, but the Torah is doubtful?!

      The whole pattern is one of treating science as more truthful than the Torah. And then you wonder why chareidi leaders are so against your work!

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    9. We don't make most of our decisions based on empiricism because it's not a practical epistemological standard. When it is practical/necessary it is of the highest caliber. You are clinically retarded.

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    10. @Happygoluckypersonage - FYI I may have posted a few heretical comments (I can not recall), but most of my comments are by no stretch heresy and are much milder and restrained than many comments posted by the religious. BTW I sort of agree with your "Scientific evidence does NOT equal truth!" Science builds model to explain and make predictions. Those models are provisional until new data comes in that can not be explained by the model. So Science is not absolute truth. Rather it is a methodology that attempts to get closer to truth.

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    11. @happygolucky

      As some others have hinted at, perhaps a little aggressively, you clearly have a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes scientific evidence and how powerful a scientific theory is. I would be happy to provide you with some introductory sources if you wish.

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    12. For some reason Rabbi Slifkin does not answer how a rationalist Jew can believe in the Exodus if it’s against history, archaeology, science etc

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    13. ACJA is open about his (borderline?) apikorsus. He also (to my perception) seems more interested in making a little joke or wry comment and going his own way. It is recognized by everyone what he says and that it is not normative Judaism. Reciting antiscience statements while pretending that this IS normative Judaism, OTOH, IS something we need to protest about.

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    14. Anyway, if I can be so postmodern, what do you mean by "truth"? Or perhaps, which kind of truth? Scientific truth, truth about reality, truth about the physical world, yes indeed is the job and within the ability of science to clarify. Moral truth and everything beyond that, of course cannot be elucidated by science, as EVERYONE HERE WILL AGREE. If you, Mr. Happy, are threatened by "evolution" to fear that people will say "since everything is random, we have no moral responsibility," or something similar, and call that "science producing truth," then rest assured that nobody thinks that. Except perhaps you, and then you need to go relearn what both science and Torah are all about.

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    15. I will give an example relating to evolution. One of the best evidences for common ancestry is homogeneous features in different species. Simply put, the fact that different species share common features indicates that they share common ancestry. One can even go through different fossils and trace the path of evolution from species to species. One can even predict that newly discovered species will share common features with known species. Huzzah!

      I don't find this evidence compelling at all. It's only compelling if one assumes that which needs to be proven, that evolution is plausible. If evolution is not a plausible prior, it isn't evidence for evolution at all. If for example, one thinks that Creation is a plausible prior, it's just evidence for a common Creator.

      Not all evidence is created equal. You can see the difference between this evidence and the evidence that the Pythagorean Theorem is true, which even one proof of it is much better than the accumulated weak evidence of the sort I mentioned. Similarly, I find the evidence for an old Earth much more compelling than the evidence for evolution.

      Besides, the elephant (or wooly mammoth) in the room- People who believe ALL science CANNOT believe the Torah, as the consensus of science is that the Exodus didn't happen! And there is plentiful scientific evidence for this!

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    16. TH, "Evolution deniers bear the heavy burden of disproving history, chemistry, molecular biology, anatomy, genetics, physiology, geology, and paleontology". Nope. It's only a heavy burden if science is an all-or-nothing proposition. One can happily study a field while denying certain elements it. I know many doctors who deny evolution, yet biology and chemistry are pre-requisites for medical school! You can use your judgement to pick and choose which parts of science you believe without resorting to such a dramatic false dilemma.

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    17. Yosef R, antiscience in general might not be normative Judaism, but in this case it surely is. Creation IS normative Judaism and evolution is most definitely NOT! Even RNS doesn't claim his interpretation of Bereishis is normative Judaism.

      Big mouth, you're wrong. An example: Matthew Desmond claims that landlords extract "excess" profits from poor tenants. He has scientific evidence and published this in a scientific journal. Whether true or not (personally I think he's incorrect), do you really trust his conclusion more than the countless facts in your life that you KNOW to be true without any scientific research?

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    18. @Hppygolucky says "you can... pick and choose which parts of science [you like]."

      That's cherry-picking! Also, I find the evidence for common ancestry very compelling. Secondly, if you accept old earth theory, why not accept evolution? 

      Lastly, you can accept ALL of the science and still be firmly adherent to the Torah. For example, Rabbi Wolpe said: “The truth is that virtually every modern archeologist who has investigated the story of the Exodus, with very few exceptions, agrees that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way it happened, if it happened at all.” Whether the Exodus occurred to Wolpe literally does not matter so long as he retains his faith in G-d.

      I do not agree with everything Wolpe said, but he makes many good points, in that the story can still be true in a sense. Or, you could always have "perfect faith." Faith means accepting something as true despite which science clearly says is false.

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    19. Amazing! An atheist, who is supposed to be fully rational, agrees with a non-rationalist, religious fundamentalist, that "Scientific evidence does NOT equal truth!"

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    20. TH, I don't necessarily accept old earth, I just find the evidence very compelling. But old earth is problematic, because it contradicts the normative interpretation of Genesis, and I don't find the reinterpretations of Genesis very plausible. So I prefer to leave it as a question, like I do with the rest of my Torah studies when I have an unanswered question.

      But there's nothing in old earth that's prima facie implausible, as opposed to evolution. There's simply no comparison. One is saying the earth is old (why not?) and the other is saying that one species can descend from a completely different species via mutations (on its face, completely ridiculous, like magic). Even if I never heard of Genesis, I would find evolution implausible, although I would pretend to accept it in polite company. But as a mainstream Torah Jew who ought to believe Genesis anyways, I feel no need to pretend.

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    21. It's not ridiculous. we see tadpoles turning into frogs and caterpillars into butterflies.

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    22. Ah, I knew somebody would try to prove from caterpillars to butterflies! You could just as well say we see seeds turning into trees. If we observe one physical transformation happening, all transformations are possible! Similarly, you would find nothing ridiculous about a wizard or alchemist transforming a person into a frog.

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    23. Oh, by the way TH, this quotation from Rabbi Wolpe does NOT help your case!

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    24. @happygolucky, Rabbi Kook, a mainstream Orthodox Jew, said that "The theory of evolution is increasingly conquering the world at this time, and, more so than all other philosophical theories, conforms to the kabbalistic secrets of the world."

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    25. happygolucky- you said here and elsewhere that if you have a question about the written accounts, you can have emuna and let the question abide. This strategy can work for the science as well. Sure, we don't have a smoking gun for speciation, but we have a very graduated fossil record. Maybe someone will prove it, maybe not, but "evolution" for now fits very well.

      Anyway, while I completely agree with you that caterpillars and tadpoles are not at all what you are talking about, we absolutely DO see gradual changes - there are many version of early horses, early humans, and early microscopic life. Even the plethora of cat species supports this. Evolution does not claim, as you imply, that one species POOF becomes another. But a proto-cat can have some descendants that develop stripes in the jungle and others that develop a sandy coat in the plains; some that hunt together and others that need to be solitary but fierce.

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    26. Yosef, let me clarify. My main point wasn't really about about evolution per se, it was more about the attitude that scientific evidence = truth. I just felt evolution was a good example where I know there is "massive" evidence and yet upon investigation, the evidence only exists with certain assumptions, which one may or may not accept. You yourself allude to this- '..."evolution" for now fits very well.' Yes, it fits, but "fitting" is only good evidence if one considers the theory under discussion to be the most plausible alternative. Which I don't.

      Now if you find it the most plausible, great, as you mention I don't think that evolution in particular is so threatening to the Torah, not even as much as old earth. But what I do feel is threatening is the attitude that EVERYTHING science claims as evidence must be true. Because there is scientific evidence and scientific consensus against the Exodus, which is INTEGRAL to the Torah; without the Exodus there is no Torah as we know it (and so too with the evidence against the Exodus, I investigated, and remain totally unconvinced.)

      Now, if you want to get into more nitty-gritty discussions about the prior plausibility of evolution, you are saying we see gradual changes, I assume you mean nowadays in real time, such as (some of) these examples. So, about that: Somebody said "there's no difference between microevolution and macroevolution". But I think the statement itself needs evidence. It's possible that if I did years of research in biology, I would agree with it, and I would find "macroevolution" very plausible, based on the "microevolution" that we observe in real time. But now I would just have to take it on faith.

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    27. OK then. I still have issues with your use of the word truth. I'm not happy about that, but there it is. In a religious context, I understand Truth as referring to God being behind everything and life having a purpose. In a scientific context, truth means do we understand the natural phenomenon correctly?

      So therefore, when we say scientific evidence is not truth, it confuses me because that is the very point of scientific evidence. Of course, some evidence and newer theories will need some time to be accepted and to have further support, so not all scientific evidence is created equal.

      Now, maybe you are saying that scientific evidence is not conclusive, and what we know today might be overturned tomorrow etc. That is an acceptable POV, but it gets less and less acceptable the more we actually know. It is unlikely that in old fields of science there will be a New Understanding that will revamp everything. Rather, we will learn something new and tweak the current theory.

      But the meat of the issue: finding things plausible and having things fit! I can have Emuna that Hashem created the world and that He dictated the account of it in a way that we can relate to. I can also have Emuna that we don't actually know physically how it happened, but that we are getting closer to it every day.

      But OK - one person's "plausible" is another's "ridiculous." Truth, in this case, is in the eye of the beholder. (As Guinan says: "Truth, Beauty... it works for a lot of things!")

      Anyway, on the evolutionary details:
      -I was not referring to seeing microevolution, I was referring to our knowledge of the fossil record
      -I actually am not sure what to do about macroevolution vs microevolution; to my knowledge (not being an evolutionary biologist, I might be uninformed) we have never seen one species split off from another and become unable to interbreed with the original anymore.

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    28. Yosef, I agree the point of scientific evidence is to arrive at the truth. As I stated before, I just don't think that all evidence is created equal. I used the ubiquitous proof for common ancestry as an example that is presented as an open and shut case, yet to me is only somewhat suggestive, and only if one makes certain assumptions. The other evidence for evolution, at least as far as I can tell, is similar.

      What is truth? Marc Shapiro says in one of the email chains that RNS posted, that the existence of George Washington is less certain than the existence of Old Earth, due to the plethora of scientific evidence for the latter. Presumably he would say the same of evolution. I disagree. To me, things that require inference and "evidence" are less certain than things that are directly observed. And I say this as one who IS convinced that there is strong evidence for Old Earth. Kal v'chomer evolution and Chareidi Erasure of Women Science, where I feel the evidence is weak.

      But how could evidence not equal truth? I feel that sometimes the idea of evidence in science is closer to our conception of evidence in the legal system. Jim is convicted for the murder of John. The evidence? He was the only other person seen in the building at the time. Furthermore, he was John's main business competitor. Furthermore, a video camera records a grainy picture of somebody with roughly the same height as Jim making his way to John's room. Furthermore, we can predict that we would find reports of Jim complaining about John, which is found to be the case. This is called evidence in court. But somebody who knew Jim, what a gentle soul he was who would never hurt a fly, would still have reason to doubt or deny completely.

      I disagree that there will never be a new understanding to revamp everything. I'm sure philosophers in the time of Aristotle said the same thing. You may say, "oh, you can't compare, nowadays we have empiricism and the scientific method and mountains of evidence, so all of our conclusions will never be overturned". I'm skeptical. Philosophers no doubt also claimed their methods were superior to their predecessors, and also felt they had mountains of evidence. Obviously, depending on the field, overturning may be harder or easier. The Pythagorean Theorem has held up very well!

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  6. Reads like a faq on a flatearther website.

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  7. Agreed with what you write, but evolution is kind of like railing against television - yesterday's battles.

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    1. which is why it's so frustrating...

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    2. Its frustrating, but it must be admitted that proponents like RNS bring it upon themselves. For instance, why, in proposition #2, would RNS approvingly say common ancestry is called by some "the fact of evolution" - by definition, the theory cannot possibly be a fact. And why would he carve out "deeply religious" scientists, as though their opinions were somehow suspect, without recognizing that many scientists are equally if not more invested in their own secular dogmas than religious scientists are in theirs?

      I agree with the overall point that the T of E is not incompatible with the Torah, but some of these comparatively minor points dont help people get to common ground.

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    3. Why on earth can it not be a fact? It's a historical assertion, like the existence of Napoleon.

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    4. Elmer - something that allegedly happened tens of millions of years ago cannot, under any definition, be a fact.

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    5. Sure it can.
      Like, for example, that Earth came into existence, and didn't always exist.

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  8. Since this is the season of re-posts, here is a re-posting of an short essay I wrote way back when.

    Who was the first man? According to the Bible and its account in Genesis, Adam was the first Homo sapien because he was the first person to possess a soul, the neshama. See Genesis 1:27. Nahmanides (kabbalistic commentator) explains that G-d gave Adam a soul and infused this in the first man and Adam became “another kind of man.” Thus, as Kabbalist, Rabbi Michael Laitman said, "Adam had a father and a mother like you and me."What is the meaning of Genesis 2:7?

    Verses 1:26 states, “Let us make man in our demut. Verse 1:27 relates that “G-d made man in His tzelem, in the tzelem of G-d, He made him.” The word demut means “likeness.” G-d created man in His “likeness.” But G-d does not have a body, so man cannot have G-d’s “likeness.” The meaning of tzelem is “shape” or “form.” A divine “shape?” 12th-century sage, Moses Maimonides felt that the two denotes the essence of two things. What is the essence of man? His intelligence.

    Genesis 2:7 reads: “The L-rd G-d formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a nefesh chayah.” Onkelos does not render this simply as “a living being,” but characterizes this as man's ruach m’mal’la, “one with the power of speech,” a phrase denoting a certain level of intelligence. The targumic interpretation and Egyptian Jewish philosopher Philo understood this intellect to be “the breath of life” in his Specialibus Legibus 4:123.

    Were there other Adams?

    Yes, in his Guide (part 1, chapter 7), Maimonides describes animals who was similar to Adam in intelligence and looks. In his book, the Science of G-d, Gerald Schroeder described these Homo sapiens (pre-Adam hominids who lacked a neshama) to be “human-looking creatures,” “animals with human shapes but lacking the neshama.” (See The science of G-d, at 123.) Thus, these animals co-existed with Adam but were not human. When the Mishna mentions the “masters of the field” it is denoting to the pre-Adams animals (who had the intelligence to perform the skills of farming (agriculture), burial, artistic enough to draw pictures, make pottery and weave baskets, 2000 before Adam). Thus, when we refer to cavemen, we are talking about these animals before Adam. The error, however, in the word "men" when we say, "cavemen." This accounts for Genesis 1:26, when G-d says “Let us make Adam (man(s) in Hebrew).”

    The British Museum of Natural History in London devotes a whole section to early humans. It states that at first, they were only small villages, no cites. But around the time of the Bible, or about 6,000-5,000 years ago, man began to develop cities, and a society was formed with agricultural farming, and most of all, civilization, and that this occurred around this time, the creation of Adam. Schroeder attributes the invention of writing and large cities to the neshama. (The Science of G-d, at 149-50.) 

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    1. @Turk Hill You gotta chill with your megillah responses

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    2. @TH - "Were there other Adams?' Have you has a chance to read my discussion of Schroeder ? If so, do you still think Schroeder is an accurate representation of Rambam etc: ? AFAIK and I could be wrong - RNS does not share Schroeder's apologetics for Genesis or “masters of the field” as early hominads. ACJA

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    3. @ACJA, Yes, I read your review about Schroeder and agree with it. I only re-posted this comment because its the season of repeats. Thank you for your comment.

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    4. @TH I am impressed by your intellectual honesty, not because you agree with me on Schroeder, but because you revised your beliefs. May I suggest putting caveats when posting stuff you no longer abide to.ACJA

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  9. Summary

    The phrase tzelem Elohim, “the image of G-d,” Elohim means “awesome.” G-d created people with the awesome power of intelligence. Thus, G-d states in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. Maimonides felt that this denotes intelligence. That a person should develop his or her ability to think because that is like G-d. This occurred about 5,000 years ago when Adam was born with a large amount of intelligence.

    Indeed, Rabbi Kook was correct when he said:
    "The theory of evolution (hitpattehut) is increasingly conquering the world at this time, and, more so than all other philosophical theories, conforms to the kabbalistic secrets of the world. Evolution, which proceeds on a path of ascendancy, provides an optimistic foundation for the world. How is it possible to despair at a time when we see that everything evolves and ascends? When we penetrate the inner meaning of ascending evolution, we find in it the divine element shining with absolute brilliance. It is precisely the Ein Sof in actu which manages to bring to realization that which is Ein Sof in potentia." (Kook, Orot Hakodesh II:537).

    Thus, Maimonides said, “The only path to knowing G-d is through science—and for that reason the Bible opens with a description of the creation.” (See The Science of G-d, at vi, 17.)

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  10. I confess I've never read "a faq on a flatearther website", but this reads like a succinct introduction to a complex and much-misunderstood topic for intellectually honest Jews earnestly striving to reconcile their deeply-held religious beliefs with the facts of science. As R' Slifkin eloquently explains, there need be no conflict.

    If R' Slifkin were the "flatearther" in your analogy, wouldn't he be... denying the science?

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  11. God of the Gaps. Kudos, Mr. Slifkin.

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    1. @Leonard McCoy Please explain...

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    2. @Leonard, what on earth are you talking about!?

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    3. Eh, Bones, I see your point, but I have to disagree. Clearly, you are a doctor and not a theologian. Saying that God does the last tiny step is a GOTG concept. Saying that God set up the whole shebang to work in a certain way is God, the Supreme Mover. Look at Purim. Do we say that Hashem's only influence was having Achashverosh not sleep one night and his chronicle book falling open to the assassination plot? No! Perhaps that is the most blatant interference - hence the minhag of saying "HaMelech" in Rosh Hashanah nusach at that spot - but we believe that the whole thing, from Vashti's refusal, to Memuchan's suggestion, to the "beauty pageant," to Haman's timing in asking for favors, to Charvonah's presence were all arranged by Above. Similarly, the changes of the ape body to deal with coming out of the trees, the development of greater brain capacity to deal with different threats, and of course the uncountable changes for all other life forms, were all goal directed by Hashem. Remember RNS's passuk about rocks and the shafan and mountain goat - how one was created for the other. Hashem called in environmental changes to be evolutionary pressures to act on genetics that He Himself wrote and programmed with the ability to respond to such pressures. If that's a gap then I would like to introduce you to the Grand Canyon.

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    4. @Leonard No "gaps" (biological or conceptual), no God needed, my good man.

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  12. The Torah doesn’t actually teach the world is 5781 years old. It is deduced (more or less) from differ t accounts and earlier seforim. The Rambam does not count it as one of his pronciples of faith and therefore will not be a heretic anyway

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    1. I agree. In addition, Rambam says that the creation account is a parable.

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  13. This ad has been brought to you by Rabbi Natan Slifkin ;)

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  14. Rav Kook might have valued science but he was not a rationalist at all. Don’t just quote his Zionism. Learn his seforim

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    1. I disagree. Rav Kook was a mystic rationalist.

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    2. Also, Rav Kook said "The theory of evolution is increasingly conquering the world at this time, and, more so than all other philosophical theories, conforms to the kabbalistic secrets of the world."

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    3. What on earth is a mystic rationalist?

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    4. It's like a Chassidishe yekke. It's someone who comes late all the time, but EXACTLY FIVE MINUTES LATE EACH TIME!

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  15. Everyone seems to talk about "truth" here however science evolves
    so what is believed to be true now may not be that way in a few years.Science tries to get to truth as much as possible but it is not absolute. Darwin believed in spontaneous generations and it is possible (although not certain) that the "warm little pond" theory was based on that.Louis Pasteur proved that spontaneous generation is false and he refuted the Origin of life theory of Darwin .According to Rambam the absolute Truth is Hashem

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  16. Pasteur never refuted the "pond of life" theory. He refuted a theory that live creatures emerge spontaneously within hours or days.

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    1. @Avraham,
      1)I only said it is possible that the pond of life theory was based on the Spontaneous Generation theory. Darwin himself was skeptical of the pond of life theory and it is possible that he would not of mentioned it after the proof of Pasteur.
      2)You are technically correct that Pasteur only tested his tubes for days and not years however it is still illogical that life emerges by itself.A atheist might bend backwards and accept that due to lack of alternative reasoning but if we believe in Hashem there is no reason for it.
      3) According to your reasoning we can accept Chazal at face value that a salamander grows out of fire after 7 years. Pasteur did not refute spontaneous generation after a few years.

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  17. Maimonides would accept evolution were he alive today and here is the proof. Maimonides explains: “You know that whoever is not endowed with this form [of the intellect].. . is not a man, but an animal having the shape and configuration of man.” (Guide I: 7, 32–3). He continues to say that such beings “do not have the rank of men, but have among the beings a rank lower than the rank of man but higher than the rank of apes.” (Guide, III: 51, 618). In the Guide (part 1 chapter 7) Maimonides described animals that co-existing with Adam. These animals were equivalent in shape and intellect but lacked the neshama.

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