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16 Tammuz 5766 - July 12, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Evolution: Do Not Overrate Its Significance

by R' Dovid Kornreich

Are the only two options for Evolution either to reject it out of hand because of the Torah's account of supernatural formation of life, or to reinterpret the verses of Bereishis to conform with the theory as much as possible?

Perhaps we can turn to a rov for guidance in whether or not to accept this theory of science. HaRav Shamshon Rafael Hirsch provides a third option that is quite apt for this particular area of science: "Indeed, it is necessary to acquire at least some familiarity with the natural sciences in order not to overrate their significance and impact. Only in the halls of academe does it become clear to us how many hypotheses of our era lack the support of reality, and how many of these hypotheses can be viewed only as possibilities or, at best, probabilities, even though everyone acts as if they had already been proven correct beyond a shadow of a doubt." [This and all subsequent quotes come from Collected Writings vol. 7, "The Educational Value of Judaism." This quote appears on page 262.)

This sentiment is echoed by Paul Davies, a modern professor of mathematics: "Many investigators feel uneasy about stating in public that the origin of life is a mystery, even though behind closed doors they freely admit that they are baffled."

Luckily, in this day and age anyone can gain access to the latest developments of advanced scientific research and strident academic debate without having to enter those "halls of academe" mentioned by HaRav Hirsch. Books on popular science written for the layman by leading researchers and instructors in the field can show us clearly just how precarious the theory of evolution really is. In other words, the kasheh of evolution doesn't really start.

Actually, Rav Hirsch in the article just quoted above briefly lays out a tentative Jewish framework for accepting key elements of the theory of "adaptation and heredity" that was current in his time in a total of nine sentences on page 264. This theory has long been outdated. Nonetheless, this attempt has suggested to some that according to HaRav Hirsch one may go along with the scientific tide and accept the doctrine of the scientific community that rates Darwinian evolution as a fact. The verses in the Torah may somehow be made to accommodate the current theory of evolution just as HaRav Hirsch was able to accommodate the one current in his time. But this would be a mistake.

Rav Hirsch made one huge qualification in his limited acceptance of evolution: He stipulated that the theory must, on the basis of facts, first gain complete acceptance by the scientific world. Let us see whether this condition of HaRav Hirsch for accepting evolution has been fulfilled up until today.

Then and now, the theory of evolution was never without serious detractors motivated by a purely scientific point of view. The field of taxonomy, for example, which involves constructing a meticulous (and taxing) catalogue of living creatures according to common features, has always pointed to the clear and distinct immutable quality of all animals that it finds. The species we see retain their distinct identity over time and do not evolve.

Almost completely absent from the catalogue of living creatures (and also from the fossil record, as Darwin himself pointed out) are creatures which evolutionary theory would expect to straddle the line between the various larger groups and thereby imply common descent. This empirical problem for evolution has always been pointed out by various schools of taxonomy, and especially by the recent school of cladistics. This clearly violates the condition Rav Hirsch laid down before he would accept evolution.

But aside from the conspicuously missing predicted evidence for the theory, the alleged facts that are claimed to support evolution by Darwinists simply don't exist, as we shall try to demonstrate.

First, a very brief overview of what the Anti-Darwinian scientists refute. The basic elements of Darwinian evolution are:

1) An extremely simple organism is capable of reproducing. How that first organism came into being and got itself to develop enough so that it can replicate, is still a complete mystery that Darwinists have not penetrated in the slightest. Some scientists have argued that, given enough time, even apparently miraculous events become possible, such as the spontaneous emergence of a single-cell organism from random soups of chemicals. Sir Fred Hoyle, the British astronomer, has said that such an occurrence is about as likely as the assemblage of a 747 by a tornado whirling through a junkyard. Most researchers agree with Hoyle on this point.

2) In the process of reproducing, over the years, very rare mistakes are made. Now, 100 years after Darwin, this is said to be due to purely random mutations inside the DNA and not from the environment.

3) Although the vast majority of those admittedly rare mistakes are destructive to the organism, one mistake is bound to be somewhat beneficial.

4) The organism with the slightly beneficial mutation can eventually, over the generations, come to dominate the population and push out the less fit organisms in competition for resources until the original type vanishes.

5) Cumulative repetition of steps 2, 3, and 4, over and over again for millions of years, will, according to the theory, reach the point where that first simple organism has become the ancient ancestor of the 10-13 million estimated living species today. This diversity is still low, since for each species that is alive today, it is estimated that a thousand others became extinct!


Interestingly enough, steps 1, 2, 3, and 4 are not controversial. For a long time, mankind has been breeding plants and animals to manipulate his surroundings for economic gain. (The term "GMO" on certain food labels stands for, "Genetically Modified Organism.") We know that certain strains of bacteria and insects have mutated in ways that make them resistant to toxins.

The entire controversial thrust of evolution is in step five.

And here is the second failure of HaRav Hirsch's criteria: All hard laboratory evidence for evolution has only been able to confirm steps 1-4 above. There is not a single test proving that such small changes within a species can accumulate to produce a completely different type of animal.

Less than 150 years ago, Rav Hirsch described evolution in the following terms: "This [our ability to choose to obey G- d's laws of our own free will] will never change, not even if the latest scientific notion that the genesis of all the multitude of organic forms on earth can be traced back to one single most primitive, primeval form of life should ever appear to be anything more than what it is today, a vague hypothesis still unsupported by fact." (page 263)

Now I quote molecular biologist Michael Denton on page 77 in his classic, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis (1985): "The fact is that the evidence [for Darwinian ideas] was so patchy one hundred years ago that even Darwin himself had increasing doubts as to the validity of his views, and the only aspect of his theory which has received any support over the past century is where it applies to microevolutionary phenomena. His general theory, that all of life on earth had originated and evolved by gradual successive accumulation of fortuitous mutations, is still, as it was in Darwin's time, a highly speculative hypothesis entirely without direct factual support and very far from that self-evident axiom some of its more aggressive advocates would have us believe."

The similarities are striking. And don't think Denton took it from Rav Hirsch! The seventh volume of Collected Writing which contains this essay was only printed in English in 1992, long after Denton's book published in 1985.

Thus to invoke Rav Hirsch as the "rav hamachshir" for consuming the theory of evolution at this juncture of scientific progress is a distortion. It seems analogous to a rabbi who announces unreservedly to his unlearned congregation that Judaism can accommodate the need to eat on Yom Kippur. If asked for his sources, the rabbi simply points to the Shulchan Oruch, which allows dispensation for minors and people whose life would be endangered by fasting. This is an utterly irresponsible approach.

A Secular Religion of Evolution

But if they have no facts and no evidence, what then is the scientific justification that evolutionists have to back their claim?

The answer is alluded to by Rav Hirsch's reference to Darwin as "the high priest of that notion." (Page 264) The Darwinian hypothesis of descent with modification is a statement of belief for most honest scientists who are aware of the truth. Darwin is the high priest of this 19th century faith. What's interesting is, that for every quote by a leading scientist against evolution one could bring several quotes by the same scientist in favor.

Typical is Francis Crick (awarded the Nobel Prize for the discovery of DNA): "An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have to have been satisfied to get it going." Yet Crick still adheres firmly to the theory of evolution.

Or consider Dr. Harold C. Urey (Nobel Prize winning Chemist): "All of us who study the origins of life find that the more we look into it, the more we feel that it is too complex to have evolved anywhere. But we believe as an article of faith that life evolved from dead matter on this planet. It is just that its complexity is so great, it is hard for us to imagine that it did."

S. Gould has written that the synthetic theory "as a general proposition, is effectively dead, despite its persistence as text book orthodoxy." But he has also stated that "Darwinian selection . . . will remain a central focus of more inclusive evolutionary theories."

Why the seemingly desperate need to cling to evolution in the face of all its fatal flaws? The reason was succinctly put in Harper's magazine, February 1985, by Tom Bethel:

"I traveled to Boston to meet with Richard C. Lewontin a geneticist, a one-time president of the Society for the Study of Evolution, a well known writer on science . . . I had seen a quote from Lewontin used as a chapter head in a book titled Science on Trial by Douglas Futuyama. The quote, as edited, read: Evolution is fact, not theory . . . Birds evolve from non-birds, humans evolve from non-humans.

"`The cladists disapprove,' I said.

"He paused for a split second and said: `Those are very weak statements, I agree.'

"Then he made one of the clearest statements about evolution I have heard. He said: `Those statements flow simply from the assertion that all organisms have parents. It is an empirical claim, I think, that all living organisms have living organisms as parents. The second empirical claim is that there was a time on earth when there were no mammals.'

" `Now, if you allow me those two claims as empirical, then the statement that mammals rose from non-mammals is simply a conclusion. It's the deduction from two empirical claims. But that's all I want to claim for it. You can't make the direct empirical statement that mammals arose from non- mammals.'

"Lewontin had made what seemed to me to be a deduction — a materialist's deduction. `The only problem is that it appears to be based on evidence derived from fossils,' I said. `But the cladists say they don't really have that kind of information.'

"`Of course they don't,' Lewontin said. `If the birds couldn't have arisen from muck by any natural processes, then they had to arise from non-birds. The only alternative is to say that they did arise from muck because G-d's finger went out and touched that muck. That is to say there was a non- natural process. And that's really where the action is. Either you think that complex organisms arose by non-natural phenomena, or you think they arose by natural phenomena. If they arose by natural phenomena, they had to evolve.

"And that's all there is to it."

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