Darwinism – Science or Secular Religion?

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22 Responses

  1. JewishAtheist says:

    With respect, you do not understand the theory of evolution.

    Supporters of Darwin often find it convenient to obfuscate the extent to which they view his theory of natural selection among random mutations as a full refutation of all religious belief.

    I personally am an atheist, but the majority of people who believe in evolution believe in God. Proof? Only about 10-15% of Americans are atheists, yet about 50% believe in evolution. Even 40% of professional biologists believe in theistic evolution, according to Gallup.

    Darwin himself stated “If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive mutations, my theory would absolutely break down.” But the fossil record fails to provide, according to paleontologist Stephen Stanley, a singe example of “major morphological transition.”

    Your “but” has nothing to do with the quote, even if Stanley were right. There is no “complex organ” which “could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive mutations.” We don’t need a single fossil to prove that. Three pages earlier in Origin of the Species, Darwin writes:

    “Reason tells me, that if numerous gradations from a simple and imperfect eye to one complex and perfect can be shown to exist, each grade being useful to its possessor, as is certain the case; if further, the eye ever varies and the variations be inherited, as is likewise certainly the case; and if such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life, then the difficulty of believing that a perfect and complex eye could be formed by natural selection, should not be considered as subversive of the theory.”

    Since his time we have indeed shown that (1) “the eye ever varies,” (2) “the variations be inherited,” and (3) “such variations should be useful to any animal under changing conditions of life.”

    If I could direct you to my post about the evolution of the eye, or just to this picture even, you will see an example of how a complex organ can evolve.

    (Short version, there are currently living animals with every intermediate stage from simple eye-spot (cells that can detect light) to a full eye: eye cups (from patella,) deeper eye cups (pleurotomaria,) pinhole cups (haliotis,) cups covered by a clear layer of cells (Turbo,) cups covered by a clear layer of cells bent into a lens (Murex,) complete lens eye (Nucella.)

    Similar intermediary forms can be found in currently living creatures for every complex organ we have.

  2. ori says:

    Cornell University’s William Provine plays the role of the prototypical scientist in Rabbi Dessler’s example, proclaiming, “a world strictly organized in accordance with mechanistic principles . . . . implies that there are no inherent moral or ethical laws. ”

    True. However, a world with a creator does not imply that there are inherent moral or ethical laws. When we recite the Shma we tie G-d the creator to G-d the law giver, but that is a tenet of faith precisely because it is not logically required is the way that 1+1=2 is logically required.

  3. Aaron says:

    I recall a recent NY Times article on the debate between Darwinism and ID, where they collected various possible solutions to the questions on Darwinism. To the question of how could the universe have formed given the astronomical odds that are beyond human comprehension, the answer was that maybe a bunch of universes tried to form and just ours was successful. In other words,they basically admitted the problem, and came up with a ‘solution’ that they have no way of proving.

  4. ori says:

    Bad logic on my part above. Our hypothetical scientist doesn’t want to prove that there don’t have to be inherent moral or ethical laws. S/he wants to prove that there can’t be inherent moral or ethical laws.

  5. Harry Maryles says:

    As an Orthodox Jew who believes in creatio ex nihilo, I never the less find myself in the uncomfortable position of defending a scientific approach which does not consider the concept of a supernatural Creator. Not because I adhere to science as more legitimate than Torah, God forbid, but because of an inherent objectivity that defines the discipline, if not the scientist who studies it.

    First let me say that for many of the reasons mentioned by Rav Rosenblum, I too believe that an unguided and random natural selection does not satisfactorily explain the origin of the species. As to whether there was an evolutionary process that determined speciation, that is an open question in my mind. But whether such a process was by the “Intelligent Design” of a Creator is beyond the scope of science.

    I therefore cannot accept the idea that it is disingenuous to exclude all non-natural causes as a priori inadmissible as Rav Rosenblum seems to suggest. Science by definition is the study of the natural, not the supernatural. The implication of rejecting non-natural causes as a priori inadmissible is one is blinding oneself to a more reasonable explanation of existence. But that is not so. What scientists would maintain is that they are simply looking for physical data in a physical world. To look for spiritual data in the physical universe is impossibility. There are no instruments to measure spirituality. So they do not look for those kinds of solutions to problems as they have no way of testing such hypotheses. This of course does not mean that one cannot have the conviction that God created the universe. One can indeed have such convictions; believe them with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, as I do. But such a belief is not provable in a scientific context and hence is not a valid consideration of science.

  6. David Miller says:

    I am often a fan of Jonathan Rosenblum’s articles, so it was disappointing for me to see him step out of his field of expertise and challenge biology.

    His quotations from scientists are taken out of context or otherwise misinterpreted and seem to be taken from standard creationist literature rather than their original sources.

    See the following references for details on how each quotation is misinterpreted:

    Colin Patterson:

    Stephen Stanley:

    Niles Eldridge:
    see his book The Triumph of Evolution and the Failure of Creationism

    Stephen Jay Gould:
    almost everything he’s ever written. I wonder if Rabbi Rosenblum has ever actually read his books?

  7. Micha says:

    The origin of the universe isn’t part of Dawinism. A matter that must be dealt with is that numerous theories and experimental evidence all independently argue for an old universe.

    Rav Dessler himself writes of a period of creation in which time was simply immesurable. The concept of linear, flowing, time didn’t exist until the Eitz haDa’as. Therefore, scientists project the current notion of time onto the problem. But the Torah too, R’ Dessler writes, is projecting the 6 sefiros onto it. In other words, the concept of duration with respect to creation is so hazy that either 6 days, 6 millenia, or 13 or so billions years are all right — depending on how you look at it.

    See Michtav Mei’eliyahu vol II pp 150-154 (which I summarize on my blog and vol IV pg 113.

  8. Heshy Grossman says:

    Ori’s point about the Shema is simply not true. The Shema is not simply an article of faith, it is referred to as ‘Eidus-‘ – testimony. Our acknowledgment that G-d is One incorporates the principle that every aspect of life is part of one unified and harmonious existence, and the natural order of creation is perfectly parallel to the revealed order of the Torah. In other words: the laws and commandments of the Torah are physical expressions of G-dliness, and this Unity is expressed in varied dimensions, whether it be the observable phenomena in the created universe; the ongoing events in the developing history of the world, or the moral and spiritual obligations incumbent upon man, all are reflections of the same One Truth. For these reasons, Chazal point out that all of the 613 commandments are alluded to in the Krias Shema.

  9. Ori Pomerantz says:

    Heshy Grossman, I didn’t explain myself properly. I didn’t mean to slight the Shma. I just meant that it is not a tautology that has to be true, but something that is true and in theory could have been different. Therefore, a rational person lacking access to a revalation from G-d might not believe in it.

  10. Bob Miller says:

    Science in general is an “as-if”-based method. That is, it considers the phenomena it is capable of detecting as if no
    other kinds of phenomena could possibly exist. Its power is in telling us practical, exploitable things about the mechanics of regularly occurring physical phenomena. This has given it great credibility. Three penalties are paid for this power and credibility:

    1. We lose sight of the non-recurring or non-physical phenomena that science can’t address.
    2. We think that the regularity and laws we see have always existed in their present form, and try to extrapolate them back to earlier periods and fit all past events into their framework.
    3. We classify many things as science which are actually insufficiently worked out wishful thinking or guesswork

  11. evets says:

    The theory which Aaron mentions (that our life-sustaining universe comes into being through natural selection) highlights the current propensity to apply Darwinian thinking to every realm, in this case cosmology. It seems the Darwinian meme is proliferating; evolutionary theory proves eerily useful (sometimes legitimately) in providing answers for all sorts of difficult questions. As it makes inroads, however, into the study of culture, literature and human emotion it can seem grotesquely out of place, more crudely reductivist than the Freudianism of a few decades ago. That said, I agree with Harry Maryles that the proper religious response to creeping ‘scientism’ is not to call for the inclusion of the metaphysical in scientific theorizing, but rather to make clear the limits of that theorizing. Science must be relentlessly naturalist in all its assumptions, but these assumptions are strictly methodological. When the scientist conflates methodological with ideological materialism he/she is making a religious sort of leap, which is legitimate but outside the realm of science itself. The great majority of scientists are ideological materialists (as opposed to non-scientists who happen to accept Darwinian theory) and should take care to acknowledge the separation between methodology and ideology.

  12. Steve Brizel says:

    I side with Harry Maryles and merely wish to echo his post. One can easily distinguish between scienctific discoveries,
    scientific theories, the scientific method and “sciencism”, which seems to be the primary target of R Rosemblum’s article. I
    think that R t H Weinreb’s statement as to the difference between belief and science hit the nail on the head on this issue. I
    do not believe that “attacking the messenger” aids anyone with legitimate inquiries or questions on this issue. One wonders why
    we do not see and read more about other valid approaches within Chazal, Rishonim, Acharonim or Baalei Machshavah including R Dessler ZTL that would allow for both the role of HaMchadesh Btuvo Bchol Yom Yamid Maaseh Breishis and the role of science.

  13. Mendy says:

    “Rabbi Dessler emphasized how the slightest self-interest is sufficient to prejudice the outcome of any decision-making process, and that this applied no less to scientific judgments than any other.”

    Can we exect the next article to address the “any other”? How is it that news and mussar are used
    to address others and ourselves.

  14. Jonathan Rosenblum says:

    I’m fully aware of Harry Maryles’ point that it is no criticism of science to say that it limits its investigations to that which is empirically measureable. I do not expect or want scientists to start measuring, ala Yuri Gargarin, Hashem’s presence. And I’m sure that there can be no scientific theory that meets Popper’s criterion of non-falsiability that makes room for the Creator. Obviously any rules governing His intervention would be beyond our capacity to know or predict.

    My point was something entirely different. It is rhetoric, not science, to claim that Darwinian Theory is intact either because there is not at present any other naturalistic theory to explain the development of life or because failure to adopt Darwin’s theory would force us back to acknowledging considerably more ignorance than we currently wish to acknowledge and would allow Hashem back into the picture through the back door.

    David Miller’s questioning my competence to enter the lists in this debate strikes me as a much more telling point. Think how religious people feel when those without any familiarity with Talmud or other basic texts start pontificating about the essence of Judaism — something most of them would presumably not do with respect to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity if they had no science background. And I will further acknowledge that having done well in high school A.P. Biology (even if I could never figure out how to use a microscope) is hardly sufficient.

    What emboldened me in this case, as I’m sure most readers discerned, was Philip Johnson’s Darwin on Trial, as well as a series of four articles by David Berlinski in Commentary on Darwin. In the latter case, I was able to follow the major dustups between Berlinski (a mathematician) and his critics in the scientific community. And, in my opinion, Berlinski emerged largely unscathed. I have not read all the subsequent literature on Johnson’s book, other than his own accounts of his debates around the country. And, of course, I knew that figures like Gould and Eldridge, and perhaps even Colin Patterson, would place themselves in the Darwinian camp, whatever doubts they may have raised about the neo-Darwinian thesis. But I do know enough of the psychology of the kind of people who get to be Supreme Court clerks and professors at leading law schools that they do not as a rule set themselves up for debates and criticism in which they are sure to be portrayed as fools and charlatans unless they are pretty sure that they are on solid ground and able to hold their own of the facts(though Noam Chomsky provides one obvious counterexample.)

  15. David Miller says:

    I don’t understand. You indicate (correctly, IMHO) that people who are not well versed in Talmud have no right to pontificate about the essence of Judaism. So you admit that, by the same token, you are completely unqualified to challenge evolution? Yet you were “emboldened” by the fact that other similarly unqualified people did the same, and, in *your* opinion, came out well?!

    They entered these debates because, with something as complex and far-reaching as evolution, it is easy to point out minor difficulties which sound fatal to the untrained observer.

    (Also, many of these ID people are NOT disputing “descent with modification,” only the Neo-Darwinian mechanism for these modifications. They would agree that the evidence shows that creatures HAVE evolved, the only question is regarding HOW this happened. Why not put that in HaModia, rather than give the impression that they are against evolution in its entirety?)

    By your reasoning, does somebody who knows nothing about Talmud but concludes that (reform) Rabbi Ammiel Hirsh came off well in his debate with (orthodox) Rabbi Yosef Reinman have a basis for using second-hand quotes from rabbis, taken out of context, to prove that Orthodox Judaism is false?

  16. Bob Miller says:

    What is the method by which an objective observer would become convinced that an evident change in the animal or plant kingdom did not result from the shared built-in adaptability of the animals or plants now confronted with new stimuli, but instead resulted from a process that depended on mutation on some scale?

  17. Seth Gordon says:

    It is rhetoric, not science, to claim that Darwinian Theory is intact either because there is not at present any other naturalistic theory to explain the development of life…

    There have been other naturalistic theories to explain the development of life. Lamarck believed that characteristics that an organism acquired during its lifetime could be passed on to its children, so that a short-necked animal reaching for higher leaves could give birth to a slightly-longer-necked animal; repeat over enough generations, and you get a giraffe.

    There was also a theory–I don’t know who propounded it, but Gould said it was popular in the Victorian era–that “races”, like individual human beings, had a life cycle of birth, growth, senescence, and death. They could illustrate this theory with the fossil record of dinosaurs, in which dinosaurs from early strata were small beasts, T. rex and other giants came much later, and then the entire superorder died out.

    Biologists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries had several naturalistic theories to weigh against Darwinian evolution. They eventually decided that Darwin’s theory fit the evidence before them better than any alternative, including the alternatives involving special creation.

    …or because failure to adopt Darwin’s theory would force us back to acknowledging considerably more ignorance than we currently wish to acknowledge…

    Every working scientist will always admit to ignorance of something that he or she is researching. That’s what motivates the research!

    …and would allow Hashem back into the picture through the back door.

    A scientist who is an atheist will not see Hashem anywhere, even in places where science gives no clear answers. One can always say “well, I don’t understand why that’s happening, but I’m sure there’s some naturalistic explanation. If I see a magician performing a trick and I can’t tell how it’s being done, I don’t have to believe that real magic is being performed. Same here.” And, as mentioned above, there will always be places where science gives no clear answers.

    A scientist who believes in Hashem will see Him everywhere, including the places where science has exhaustively explained what is going on. When Kepler discovered the laws of planetary motion and Newton unified them with his laws of gravity, did this diminish Hashem’s role as “the King of the world, by Whose word the heavens were created, and all its legions by the breath of His mouth”? Was Hashem somehow less divine during the story of Esther than during the giving of the Torah?

  18. evets says:

    Jonathan Rosenblum –

    I’ve read the pieces by Berlinski and Johnson (as well as the ID guys like Behe and Demsbki). What Berlinksi does is fully in accord with Harry Maryles’ strictures. Berlinksi is questioning the validity of scientific theories on their own terms, without trying to advance a theistic argument or to squeeze God into the gaps in current scientific knowledge. I’m not qualified to say whether Berlinski’s arguments really hold water, but they do play by the rules of the game.

    The same can’t quite be said about Behe and Dembski. Behe’s contention that the human eye and immune system couldn’t have evolved in a Darwinian fashion may be sound scientifically (again I’m unqualified to tell) but he’s avowedly trying to introduce theistic beliefs into scientific discourse, to create a ‘God of the gaps’. He does this as a religious Christian; Dembski concurs with this approach, also as a religious Christian . As a religious Jew I appreciate their qualms about scientific reductionsim but I’m uneasy with the blurring of the boundaries between science and religion. This blurring can cut both ways.

    Philip Johnson, is also uneasy with a ‘God of the gaps’, but in his case the uneasiness comes from his creationist beliefs. He’s a compelling polemical writer and has made himself knowledgable about evolutionary biology, but his creationist aganda makes him an unreliable source for evaluating the soundness of Darwinian theory.

    Thanks for doing the piece. These science vs. religion matters are usually discussed in back and white fashion, each side setting up straw men to knock down — it’s good to seem some nuance.

  19. Ruth Goldberg says:

    The strongest scientific argument against evolution, I think, is in Michael Denton’s book, Evolution a Theory in Crisis. He brings up some points that I have not seen answered. Specifically, one of the problems he addresses is that the same organ, in creatures that supposedly evolved, develop from different parts of the embryo and different genes. Another problem is the apparent circular method of dating fossils. Often, the strata in which fossils appeared are dated based not on some neutral method but based on the fossils that appear in them. He brings up many different problems with evolution. Denton is a scientist and agnostic.

    In his later book, Nature’s Destiny, Denton appears to embrace the idea of directed evolution, seeing a designer in the perfect balance of our world. His arguments for design are very logical and based on detailed evidence. Personally, I wondered whether he was under pressure as a scientist to accept evolution and allowing for direction was his compromise, because he doesn’t answer many of the problems he had raised in the first book.

  20. yvonne pennink says:

    Is it the case that what is spoken of is matter? Darwinism is a theory. Theories change over time, and this one is not that old.

    Creation is not matter. It is rather a certain ordering of matter. A piano has a limited number of notes, matter, with an unlimited range of creation, of music, not matter, beyond the sound.

    Scientists have observed that they can influence the outcome of experiments. That is not done, most of the time, consciously, or deliberately. The influence comes from mind, but not conscious mind. Not from will, but from “belief” in an outcome.

    So, science has unravelled the components. It has not unravelled, yet, where life comes from, that I know of. Artificial intelligence exists, but robots are not alive, and they must be programmed.

    It is amazing what people can do, what the mind can accomplish. But creation is often not a conscious process, but rather appears to come from outside of us, and we are just conduits.

    If there is a mind behind all of this, it is probably not an individual mind, but an universal one, of which we are all part. R. David Aaron says something strikingly similar to what Jesus supposedly has said, namely, I am G-d, we are all G-d. We are part of an Universal Mind. R. Ginsburgh is very close to saying something similar.

    What Darwinian theory is about, I think, is matter. Beyond matter is Mind, Spirit and Life. It is within us and beyond us. It is Immanent and Transcendent. We call this G-d. Nature has a certain programming behind it, a script. Torah is a Script (Guide) for living for human beings. Moses physically wrote the script (?). But it was given to him.

  21. Chaim Cohen says:

    “Rabbi Dessler emphasized how the slightest self-interest is sufficient to prejudice the outcome of any decision-making process, and that this applied no less to scientific judgments than any other.”

    So a propagator of the self-serving notions of Rabbinical Judaism comment on self-interest.

    There is no inherent conflict between Darwinism and Orthodox Judaism’s creation tradition. What we have here is nothing less than ignorance coupled with fear. Fear of being forced to do exactly what the sages of yore did with their lives; namely the debate and examination of new ideas and realities followed by the reconciliation of these with the sacred traditions and laws of our forefathers. However, this requires a familiarity with the subject matter. Shame on these latter day critics for their lazy and cynical attitude towards the glory and science of G-d’s universe.

  22. Charles B. Hall says:

    This essay appeared on the aish.com web site; I contributed comment #16:


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