You'll Never Guess
Oh, the irony! Today, I picked up a book of insights on the parashah, to see what it had to say about this week's parashah, Balak (my barmitzvah parashah). It turned out to discuss evolution, and to say almost exactly the same as what Rabbi Shafran said about it (in the article that I critiqued yesterday):
...The end of parashas Balak tells of the sin of the Bnei Yisrael in attaching themselves to the idol worship of Baal Pe’or. Unlike traditional, good-old-fashioned idol worship, which involved prostration, animal slaughter, and human sacrifice, Baal Pe’or was worshipped by relieving oneself in front of it...
The process of expelling waste products from the body is the lowest function of man. It is the one function in which man is indistinguishable from animals. This lowly, animalistic function was not merely the means of worshipping Baal Pe’or; rather, it signified the purpose of the worship itself. For if man is nothing more than a lowly animal, then he need not act any better than a lowly animal. The concept of man being no better than an animal is the license for immorality and self-indulgence that a would-be sinner will worship.
A recent parallel to Baal Pe’or was the fanatical blind allegiance with which much of the world attached itself to Darwinism. Darwin postulated a scientific theory which relegated man to being nothing more than an intelligent ape. And apes don’t need to live up to a moral standard. In referring to the physical rise of man from animal, evolutionists are licensing his spiritual descent back to animal.
But you'll never guess who wrote this.
Rabbi Avigdor Miller?
Scroll down for the answer....
It was written by me!
It's part of an essay that I published in my 1999 book, Second Focus. Elsewhere in the book, I criticize evolution on scientific grounds. (Needless to say, I was a very different person back then.)
There is some truth to what I wrote. Many people do indeed accept evolution without evaluating the evidence, and their motivation is that considering oneself to be no more than an animal can be seen as a justification for avoiding moral behavior.
But there are also those people who accept evolution simply because they think that the evidence supports it, not because of any atheist or immoral bias. Francis Collins comes to mind. So does Rav Gedalyah Nadel. And my own acceptance of evolution came during a spiritual "high" in yeshivah, after it finally dawned on me that there no theological problems with it, and that it represented an extremely elegant method for God to create the natural world.
And as for the notion that accepting evolution necessarily leads to immorality, an entirely different perspective can also be taken. As I explained in The Challenge Of Creation, there is considerable conceptual basis in classical Jewish thought for the idea of man emerging from the animal kingdom. Ramban and others state that man was made from a two-legged being that was qualitatively absolutely no different from an animal. The point is, as Abarbanel explains, that "man's perfection is not actually born with him. He has choice in his deeds; he can be drawn after his intellect, to be like the uppermost beings, or after his physicality, and be like the animals and beasts." Rabbi Joseph Hertz makes an allusion to Darwin’s book on human origins, The Descent of Man, and beautifully expresses the idea that man’s soul makes all the difference:
"…It is not so much the descent, but the ascent of man, which is decisive… it is not the resemblance, but the differences between man and ape, that are of infinite importance. It is the differences between them that constitute the humanity of man, the God-likeness of man. The qualities that distinguish the lowest man from the highest brute make the differences between them differences in kind rather than in degree; so much so that, whatever man might have inherited from his animal ancestors, his advent can truly be spoken of as a specific Divine act, whereby a new being had arisen with God-like possibilities within him, and conscious of these God-like possibilities within him." (Rabbi Joseph Hertz, The Pentateuch, Additional Notes to Genesis p. 194)
Rav Kook embraced evolution as expressing the idea that creation is always striving to reach new heights. It's not where you come from that matters - after all, we all come from a tipah seruchah - but rather, what matters is where you are going.
Shallow rebuttals of evolution are not the only flaws in my book Second Focus. It also includes essays extolling the virtues of black hats, the mystical approach, and the chareidi version of Daas Torah. I actually discovered a large stash of copies of the book, which are currently sitting in my storeroom. I don't want to sell them, because there's so much that I disagree with! But maybe one day I will produce a companion volume, critically re-appraising what I wrote in Second Focus, so that I can sell them together. I could call it Re-Focus.