The Wisdom of Rav Hirsch
In 1873, just fourteen years after the publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains how it does not conflict with Judaism. Especially significant is that Rav Hirsch did not even consider evolution to be true. He described it as “a vague hypothesis still unsupported by fact.” For anti-rationalists today, that's all that need be said. But Rav Hirsch declared that while certain stated implications of the theory were wrong (such as that there is nothing special about humans), the essence of evolution is by no means incompatible with Judaism:
Even if this notion were ever to gain complete acceptance by the scientific world, Jewish thought, unlike the reasoning of the high priest of that nation (probably a reference to Thomas Huxley, who advocated Darwinism with missionary fervor—N.S.), would nonetheless never summon us to revere a still extant representative of this primal form (an ape—N.S.) as the supposed ancestor of us all. Rather, 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,” Collected Writings, vol. VII, p. 264)
Rav Hirsch's criterion for reconciling a scientific theory with Judaism is not that he personally should consider it proven true. He provides the reconciliation even while he considers it “a vague hypothesis still unsupported by fact,” and even before it was accepted by the scientific community. He also states that the obligation for Jews to relate to God differently - as the ultimate engineer of an ingenious process, rather than the craftsman who made each species separately - will occur when evolution "gains complete acceptance by the scientific world." He did not say that this occurs when it is "scientifically proven," but rather when it gains complete acceptance by the scientific community.
There are two possible reasons for him to have said this. It may be that he considered this to be the best way of determining scientific fact. Alternately, it may be that he did not consider acceptance by the scientific community to mean that something should be considered true, but rather that it means that it is reasonable for other people to consider it true, and therefore something that Judaism should deal with. I don't know if he would deny individuals the right to personally dispute the scientific world. But when something has attained complete acceptance by the scientific world (and there is no issue of anti-religious bias involved, since many of these scientists are themselves religious), people are understandably going to accept it, in the same way as they rely on doctors and aeronautical engineers for medicine and aeronautical engineering. It is therefore the responsibility of the rabbinic establishment to reconcile it with Judaism (if this can be done).
This is an elaboration of one of the several reasons that I gave for not debating evolution with Isaac Betech. Even if he could out-argue me with regard to evolution, and even in the extraordinarily unlikely case that he could convince me that it is false - it is irrelevant. Evolution (at least in terms of common ancestry, and all the more so for the antiquity of the universe) has met Rav Hirsch's criterion of gaining complete acceptance by the scientific world. Software engineers, aeronautical engineers and pediatricians are not part of this scientific world.
One of the Gedolim who banned my books told a friend of mine that he couldn't understand why people should need the approach of Rav Hirsch, when there are "scientific experts" such as Dr. Betech who render it unnecessary. This is a tragic example of the disastrous effects of utter naivete. Rabbanim rely on the greatest experts in medicine and technology, even for paskening halachah such as breaking Shabbos - why would they be mystified when people do the same with geology, paleontology and biology? The scientific world has not been convinced by the objections of people such as Dr. Betech. People who are scientifically knowledgeable have not been convinced by Betech's objections. And even many people who are not scientifically knowledgeable are nevertheless, for entirely understandable reasons, going to trust the scientific world rather than some non-scientists with a clear religious agenda.
That is just one of the many reasons why I will not debate evolution with evolution-deniers. It doesn't make a difference if Natan Slifkin can prove or even believes in evolution. I don't care if evolution is a vague hypothesis still unsupported by fact. That's exactly what Rav Hirsch thought of it, and that's more or less what it was in his day. But he still realized that it was essential to point out that it does not conflict with Judaism. Over a century later, when evolution has gained complete acceptance by the scientific world, this is all the more essential.