Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Curious Evolution

This is not a "science and Torah" blog, and I'm really not interested in a larger discussion about what is true and what isn't, etc. I noticed this post at BeyondBT, and it made me curious as to what the average Orthodox Jew thinks about the subject. Here was the post:

I have a work associate who seems interested in Torah, but he likes to challenge me about contradictions between Torah and science and other things. He recently asked me about the Torahs views on Evolution.

On the one hand, I could say that that I don’t believe in evolution and there are many holes in evolution theory and that scientists are biased against a belief in G-d. On the other hand, many secular Jews accept the scientific consensus that evolution did take place, and I could make the case that a G-d directed evolution would not necessarily contradict the Torah.

My Rav holds that you don’t have to take a 6,000 year creation literally.

What approach makes more sense when dealing with non observant Jews?

- Jack

My response in the comments, after the more esteemed comments from scientists such as Charlie Hall and Zach Kessin, was
From a simpleton’s POV… if your Rav has said that you need not hold to a literalistic interpretation, what positive would be gleaned by choosing against evolution? I would think that the only reason a person would say evolution does not happen is because they feel it is against the Torah; with that not an issue, there seems to be no reason to do so.
I then wondered what most people in the frum world think. Do most people not care? Do they not care, but if asked, they'd say evolution did not happen and/or does not exist? Would they not care but say it did and/or does? Would they care?

A few personal experiences have led me to believe that most people don't care... but if it comes up, they're harshly against evolution simply because they've been brought up with an extremely literalistic interpretation of things. The more they care about the subject, the more they seem to believe that things aren't quite that simple. There are exceptions - some people care deeply and still are strongly against the idea; others care almost not at all but take it as a given that evolution does and did happen. I'm just curious what y'all think.


  1. My experience in the frum community is that most people are so conditioned to view scientific thought with skepticism that evolution never becomes a serious challenge to their faith.

  2. In recent years, I have learned that it isn't as simple as our teachers in Bais Yaakov made it seem. So, because I am not a scientist and because there are learned, Torah Jews who feel that evolution and Torah do not necessarily have to contradict each other, I choose to reserve judgment on this. If I was confronted with a colleague who wanted to know the Torah view, I would say that evolution and Orthodox Judaism can live together harmoniously, but I don't know or understand the details.

  3. My take on it is that there are wiser and more learned minds than mine who believe both in the Torah and in evolution. If Torah seems to contradict science, then I either misunderstand the science or I misunderstand what the Torah says. Both came from Hashem, after all.

  4. This may or may not be my own viewpoint, but I will pose this argument from what I believe is the standard orthodox perspective. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

    Even orthodox Jews will not be so brazen as to refute the clearly observable. No one is arguing with the scientists that the world SEEMS to be 15 billion years old. Rather, just as Adam was created as a fully formed adult and the trees were created as full-grown (and not as saplings), so too the universe was created some 5700 years ago in an "advanced" state.

    Now if one were to accept this as the answer to the god/science contradiction, it seems logical to take things a step further and assume that things were not created with arbitrary ages, but rather the age of everything, at the time of its creation, fits within the framework of what it SHOULD be within the scientific perspective. This makes sense, as the world was only _created_ via miracle, but is not sustained that way on a day-to-day basis. In other words, the ex nihilo creation of the world was specifically made to seem as if it was an old world. Otherwise there would be no need to make things seem older than they really are.

    If we accept all that, then there is no reason to think that evolution is diametrical to religious belief. The creation of all living things was arranged so that they would fall in line with their evolved precursors.

    If you can say that a dog, at creation, was already 3 years into its 15 year lifespan, then why cant you say that that same dog was hundreds of thousands of years into its evolutionary process?

  5. JD - Agreed; I was curious what the readers here thought.

    Anon Mom - That's an approach I've found to be more common lately, thank you.

    Ahuva - That is another one - thanks as well.

    Xvi - I'm wondering how many people believe in that; I've found that to be more rare. Usually that's a backup answer for those who are more literalist:

    "It's 5,700+ years, of course!"

    "So why do we have things that appear to be older?"

    "Hashem must have done it to fool scientists." "Hashem made the world in a mature state." Etc.

    (Could be this is what you mean.)

    Another interesting approach, certainly.

    It's interesting that nobody so far has said that evolution is flawed.

  6. "Hashem made the world in a mature state."

    Yeah. Thats what Im referring to... Im just saying that maybe thais coherent mature state theory is not an arbitrary age for each object, but a coherent framework for all things created.

    Also, none of this is discussing the pros and/or cons of the theory of e****tion. I was just expounding on why evolution and creationism are not necessarily diametrical.

    You yourself said:

    This is not a "science and Torah" blog, and I'm really not interested in a larger discussion about what is true and what isn't, etc

    I didnt think that that was what was being discussed.

  7. Got it, and fair enough. Thanks.

  8. I care, and try to read up on it when I come across it, but have not had the time yet to really sit down and learn about it in depth.

    It is a topic that interests me greatly and I'm sure there is a lot to learn about it.

  9. I recommend to read:

    It´s really a good perspective...

  10. i guess i will be the first one ere to say that yes, evolution is flawed. if anyone is interested, there is a fascinating book called "Darwin's Black Box", written by a biochemist, which deals with this issue.

    on a religious level, i have always been taught that we have no problem with microevolution (eg where 2 different types of finches descend from the same species), but not macroevolution (eg. dinosaurs into birds).

  11. Hello,

    I think the problem might be that Darwinist theory is incomplete, it does not have a moral positive direction, and that is what many people will (and should) resist. The superficial Darwinist take on evolution is survival of the most ruthless animals, which is true for animals, but not for *technical* animals such as humans - see link below for scientific explanation. That Darwinism has inspired racism and embracing a kind of "war of all against all" mentality. The real truty about evolution yields just the opposite ! But with that knowledge lacking, the struggle for
    a moral society and "evolution theory" seem to contradict, putting people into a difficult position.

    Darwinism: a little knowledge, that can do a lot of damage. By the way: I don't see why evolution theory and Torah should contradict. But evolution theory is very well proven, there is no denying it, and when understood completely has a very strong moral direction. What's the Torah: moral ! Also: no creation, no evolution. To build a world in which the creatures adapt to their environment seems to be a wise decision / design.

    best regards, jos