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I try not to get upset about Charedi/ religious opposition to evolution. It's never been my mission to convince everyone that evolution is true. And I don't think that it's especially damaging for people not to accept it. On the contrary; I think that many of them are better off not being exposed to it. That's why I put a warning at the beginning of "The Challenge of Creation," stating that the book is not appropriate for those with little exposure to science and who are opposed to the Maimonidean approach. Besides, while recent special creation is not a core belief of Orthodox Judaism, there are other genuine core beliefs that really are challenged by modern science, so it's hardly appropriate for me to insist that people accept modern science!
If people say that they couldn't care less about what scientists say, and all that matters to them is faith, that's fine with me. Even if they've convinced themselves that the scientific evidence disproves evolution, I don't care. If that's what they think, then, gezunteheit, live and be well.
But when you have an articulate, worldly spokesperson for the charedi community like Rabbi Shafran, and he posts an article on the Internet entitled "Science, Blinded," claiming that those who subscribe to evolution do so out of religious faith, whereas tzaddikim reject it out of objectivity... well, that calls for a response. First of all, it's a public attack on those of us who do accept evolution. Second, it's a chillul Hashem for an article with such nonsense to appear in public, which can be partially rectified by a demonstration that not all Orthodox Jews agree. Third, when articles like this come out, I receive all kinds of emails from people screaming in anguish, and my response appears to be therapeutic for them.
I completely agree - as do scientists themselves - that scientists are subject to bias. And those who are uncomfortable with the idea of an omniscient God certainly have a bias towards accepting naturalistic explanations for the development of life. But Rabbi Shafran has nevertheless gravely distorts matters.
First of all, and most obviously, the idea that religious figures who oppose evolution "can truly perceive the world with clarity," as a result of having "overcome the preconceptions, desires and imperfections of character to which we all play host," is ludicrous. Overcoming imperfections of character is a fine thing, but it does not assist one in evaluating evolution. On the contrary; since those who oppose evolution inevitably subscribe to a religious worldview in which evolution is theologically problematic at best and usually entirely unacceptable, they are overwhelmingly, critically biased against any evidence supporting it.
That is why it is futile to get into an allegedly "scientific" argument with a religious opponent to evolution. I was once challenged by some such people to have a debate on the merits of evolution. I responded by asking what kind of evidence, hypothetically speaking, would make them accept it. They dodged and hedged and would not answer the question. This was because no evidence would make them accept it - for them, evolution is a religious issue.
In the same vein, it should be pointed out that amongst the ranks of those who do believe in evolution, you will find both atheists and devoutly religious people (who are presumably free of the atheist bias that Rabbi Shafran describes). But amongst those who declare evolution to be false, you will only find religious people. And it is hardly the case that they have done so after a careful consideration of the evidence!
And consider the matter of the antiquity of the universe. That is something which Rabbi Shafran's charedi community officially rejects. And yet those scientists who initially proposed it certainly did not have a bias towards it; they were all deeply religious Christians who reluctantly accepted it due to the overwhelming evidence. On the other hand, those charedim who reject it clearly do so out of loyalty to the plain meaning of Bereishis, not out of an impartial consideration of the evidence. So who is more biased, scientists or religious figures?
Thus, to write an article accusing evolutionists of bias, and claiming tzaddikim to be free from it, without acknowledging that religious creationists have biases that are just as powerful (if not more so), is unfair and dishonest in the extreme. It so utterly distorts the reality as to be plain ridiculous.
There are some other errors in his article that are also important to point out. First of all, Rabbi Shafran makes the common error of dismissing evolution as "just a theory." In so doing, he is oblivious to two points. First is that there is a world of difference between common ancestry, which is often referred to as the "fact of evolution," and the neo-Darwinian explanations for the mechanism that powers it - the "theory of evolution." Second, the word "theory" has a very different meaning in science than it does in colloquial English. In science, a "theory" refers to a hypothesis corroborated by observation of facts which makes testable predictions. Would Rabbi Shafran dismiss gravitational theory as "only a theory"?
Then there is Rabbi Shafran's sole "scientific" objection to evolution - that "the appearance of a new species from an existing one, or even of an entirely new limb or organ within a species... has never been witnessed or reproduced." First of all, that's not actually true. Second, evolution takes place over many millennia, so we would not expect to see such dramatic changes in the few years that we have been watching for such things.
Most ironic is Rabbi Shafran claiming that there is no observational evidence for "an organism emerging from inert matter," which he refers to as “spontaneous generation." (In fact, the origins of life don't really have anything to do with evolution, but let's ignore that for now.) But it is vastly, overwhelmingly more reasonable to accept that an extremely primitive life-form developed from primordial soup, than to accept that lice spontaneously generate from sweat, that mice spontaneously generate from dirt, that worms spontaneously generate from fruit and fish, and that salamanders spontaneously generate from fire. And yet the latter are all accepted as unquestionable fact by Rabbi Shafran's charedi religious authorities - along with numerous claims of nishtaneh hateva that are more extreme forms of evolution than anything ever proposed by scientists. Is this due to their evaluating the evidence objectively after having overcome their preconceptions, desires and imperfections of character? Or maybe it has more to do with their religious commitment to upholding the truth of all Chazal's words (despite the fact that scores of Rishonim and Acharonim saw no need to do so)?
Finally, we have Rabbi Shafran's description of evolutionists employing "militant insistence on its truth." Surely he can't be serious. "Militant insistence"? Like banning books by their opponents from being purchased, and using positions of authority to condemn their opponents, without even reading their material or allowing them any opportunity to defend their viewpoint?
"Science, Blinded"? Pot, meet kettle.
(See too my post "The Seven Principles of Bias.")