Sunday, 8 July 2007

Is Darwin Kosher?

Originally published 7/8/07, 10:45 PM, Eastern Daylight Time.
See this Wall Street Journal article for an interesting take on evolution and Modern Orthodox thought.

In a recent discussion with some of my chevra , we concluded that TRUE science and TRUE religion - since all of the above emanate from the same God - cannot be in any conflict.

However, in the human realm, we don't really understand the ultimate truths of science yet, as we probably only understand Torah or God superficially. One day, there will live a Rambam and an Einstein all wrapped up in the same person who will get to the bottom of both realms. He will discover that when you really comprehend both Torah and science, their only conflict is semantic.

I believe it was R. Sa'adya Gaon who first posited that we will grasp the rational meaning of more and more mitzvoth over time.

Here is an example: most meforshim interpret "Taninim Gedolim" as sea monsters or whales... This is loosely based on Hirsch on Parshat Vo'eira. He asserts, basing himself on the Haftorah, that we can interpret "Tanim" as crocodile and "Taninim g'dolim" as great lizards - dinosaurs. A little bit of archaeology,  some flexible etymology, and you can point to dinosaurs within the Torah.

What is definitively true of the Torah well before Darwin is that it describes a creation process progressing  from the simple to the complex. Thus, we see the confluence of Torah and Mada as an evolving process - pun most intended.



DrMike said...

Using a keen eye, the theory of relativity and the fossil record, along with recognizing the limits of certain scientific techniques, one can easily see that the Torah is simply giving a record of the creation of the world in a basic, understandable fasion.
It is recognized by all intelligent people who truly love Torah and want to understand it properly that there is no conflict between the concept of an evolving 6 billion year old universe and the Torah's description of creation.

That's why the chareidim have such a problem with it.

Garnel Ironheart said...

Rav Sliffkin's books should be mandatory on the curriculum at all non-chareidi yeshivhos. Not only will they strengthen the ability of the students to believe in the truth of Torah in the face of secular culture, but it will give them a "pischon peh" against chareidi antagonists who cleave to the impossible literal meanings of the text.

The only problems with Darwin are:
a) they are large holes in his theory that he himself admitted but said that he was confidence that in time they would be filled eg. missing link between ape and man still hasn't been found, nor an explanation how human levels of intelligence just appeared in homo sapiens
b) Darwin wanted his theory to prove that there is no God, r"l. It is important for the secular evolutionary to believe that we descend from apes so we can act more like them with impunity. Rav Hertz, in his classic Chumash commentary, notes that it is not man's descent from apes but rather his ascent that the Torah comes to tell us about.

Anonymous said...

Part of the problem here is that anti-evolutionists don't know what evolution is. They don't understand the process that Darwin proposed, "natural selection", or the other processes (like "crossover") that have been discovered later, which combine to create what we call 'evolution'. Nor are they aware of the evidence that these processes exist and can be seen and measured and recorded today.
With a microscope, a person can observe, in real time, the evolution of bacteria and other life forms that have a short generation span. That same person can see with his own eyes how generations of organisms gradually develop new traits that are increasingly adaptive to their environment when he imposes gradual changes to that environment. Like slowly increasing the concentration of a chemical, or changing the temperature, or adding a new predator. Honestly, where do people think drug-resistant bacteria came from? They arose from small populations having survived exposure to antibiotics. Organisms adapt to their environment in various ways, and one of those ways involves intergenerational processes.
Another example of selection at work, over a timespan that humans can measure easily, is in breeding animals. We have been breeding pets and farm animals using "artificial selection" for centuries, if not millennia. We choose animals with certain traits and breed them to amplify those traits, and over generations, the desired traits become increasingly defined. Thus, we create an environment that enables certain animals to multiply successfully, and impedes the multiplication of others. We've been doing this for ages with dogs and flowers and wheat and tomatoes and horses and cattle and chickens, long before the technology of genetic engineering. Why is "natural" selection so difficult for people to understand? It's no different from artificial selection, except that it's not "us" creating the environmental pressure.
Why is this even a faith issue? Anyone who wants to can see with his own eyes that organisms can evolve traits through selection.
Maybe it's time that certain people get out of the city and visit a farm.

Rabbi Richard Wolpoe said...

Given: Species do EVOLVE to improve their viability. Certainly, we can witness the rapid adaptation of bacteria [as above] and breeders have made millions of dollars using genetic engineering to produce improved horses, dogs, etc.

Question: is there a shred of evidence that species have crossed the specie lines and naturally evolved into another specie?

With apologies to Darwin:
Q: What is the common ancestor of the primates and of humans?
A: God!

Evolution from specie A to Specie B reminds me of the evolution of the automobile or the aeroplane. Certainly, we witness how more sophisticated these engineering feats have become over the last century. But no one would think that the Ford Model T literally fathered the Ford Taurus! - Although it might be said that this is true metaphorically speaking.

By analogy to engineers, God can be said to have simply designed more sophisticated species step by step....


Anonymous said...

DrMike said...

>Question: is there a shred of evidence that species have crossed the specie lines and naturally evolved into another specie?

Actually, there isn't. The fossil record doesn't have the missing links Darwin was so sure existed. The evolutionist say "Well, we just haven't found them yet but they're there. They have to be because Darwin was right!" Very reassuring.

A Ford Taurus, for all its external differences, is quite similar to a Model T. Internal combustion engine, runs on gas, has seats and a windshield. Indeed, the "evolution" of cars has been more about appearance than function. Saying that an airplane evolved from a car is like saying men evolved from apes. Both are methods of transportation but that's not enough to connect them.

Anonymous said...

I wish everyone take the time to bone up on the advancements in evolutionary biology since Darwin, before they open their mouths.
I'm tired of seeing the Scopes monkey trial issues re-hashed (sophomorically) over and over again.
Also, do some reading on what a species is. It's not some inviolable edifice.
Places to start:

Other bits:
1. Natural Selection is not a threat to faith.
2. Sure, the evidence isn't absolute, but it's pretty damn good. In fact, much better than much of what we take for granted as medical science. Current understanding of evolutionary processes have greater explanatory power and are supported by more evidence than any competing theories.
If anyone has a theory on how current life forms came to be, which has better empirical support, I'd sure like to hear it.