Is Evolution a Problem for Jews?
David Klinghoffer, writing in The Jerusalem Post, says that it is. Of course, he comes to ths conclusion only by completely distorting what evolution is all about:
Maimonides was saying that though parts of the Bible's text may indeed be interpreted in other than a literal fashion, there are philosophical reasons that make an eternal universe incompatible with the God of the Torah. Simply put, Aristotle makes God's role in the world, as a creator and guide, superfluous and impossible.
AND DARWINISM does the very same thing, ascribing all creation to blind material processes, as Darwin himself wrote: “I would give absolutely nothing for the theory of natural selection if it requires miraculous additions at any one stage of descent.”
All creation? Please. Darwin is explicit in The Origin of Species that he is not even interested in the origin of life, much less all creation. And the Darwin quote Klinghoffer provides is perfectly explicit that the issue is miraculous interventions in the course of descent. In other words, natural selection would not be a plausible mechanism of evolution if it required divine intervention to explain specific trajectories through the tree of life. It says nothing about divine intervention in other aspects of natural history (like, say, how the universe got itself created in the first place).
Later Klinghoffer writes:
In practice, however, there is simply no way to reconcile an idea with its precise negation. The premise of Judaism is that God commands us on the basis of his having created us. The question before us, therefore, is not a simple-minded one of whether the universe was made in six calendar days, but rather of whether the universe has a need for a God, period.
In the philosophical system elaborated by Darwin and his disciples, there is no room for a creator in any sense. To explain the existence of life without reference to a deity was Darwin's entire purpose.
Since Klinghoffer has chosen to repeat himself, we conclude that his sole argument for the irreconcilability of Judaism with evolution is the latter's completely eliminaion of any reasonable possibility of God's existence. That point is ridiculous, as I have already shown. But we shouldn't let slide the casual reference to the “philosophical system elaborated by Darwin and his disciples.”
There was no philosophical system elaborated by Darwin in his scientific work. There is only a large collection of biological facts coupled with a theory for explaining them. That theory has passed countless furhter experimental tests undreamed of by Darwin, so that today it is accepted by all reasonable people. And Darwin does not have “disciples.” There are only scientists who find his ideas useful in their professional work.
Klinghoffer includes some of the usual blather about cellular complexity and the Discovery Institute's list, but rather than addressing those cliches let me close with a brief consideration of whether evolution and Judaism are compatible.
I see three potential points of conflict between the two:
- Evolution deals a severe, perhaps fatal, blow to the argument from design.
- Evolution contradicts the creation story in Genesis.
- The idea that God's chosen mechanism of creation is the violent, bloody, wasteful process of natural selection runs counter to our intuitions about how an all-loving, all-powerful God would behave.
If your faith in God is not based on natural theology, and if you do not believe that every word of the Bible should be taken literally, then I don't see why the first two items should trouble you. Both of these viewpoints (rejecting natural theology and biblical literalism) certainly have a long history in Jewish thought. Item three is just a variant on the problem of evil. If you had previously managed to resolve that problem to your satisfaction, then it should pose no difficulty either.
Therefore, I do not see how evolution poses any particular challenge to Judaism (or Christianity for that matter).
Klinghoffer can only defend his views by baldly distorting what evolution actually is. For some reason, evolution deniers find it almost impossible to be truthful about scientific issues.