Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Back to Darwin
by: Schvach Yid

It’s an argument that just won’t die – Darwin vs G-d. It really ain’t so, but theology types like to believe this is the case, and so they proceed.

A most recent attempt at this old physic has been offered by Rabbi Avi Shafran, in an article posted on the on-line version of Israel National News, Arutz 7. It can be accessed at http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/8633.

Old, dull, enough already.

I’m one of those freaks who has actually read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life) – twice, once in high school (but not for high school), and a second time just a few years ago.

Back in college I learned a valuable lesson from my college professors, a lesson that has been bolstered by graduate school and my experiences in working as a lab technician for university faculty members. It goes something like this: stick to your subject of expertise.

So, if you’re a rabbi, stick with rabbinics. No Ph.D. biologist or physician has ever strayed into the subject of theological evolution (not the evolution of theology) in my experience (except for one paper by the late and great evolutionary geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky), and so I suggest that rabbis stay clear of Biology.

The account of creation given in the Chumash is brief, to say the least; rabbinical speculation notwithstanding, torah is not about Biology, it’s all about HaShem, and aside from ascribing Biology to HaShem, nothing else about the subject is given.

Darwin, the naturalist, invokes G-d as ‘the Creator’, and ascribes all of life’s ‘wondrous productions’ to the Aybischter. Nowhere, in my non-theologically trained opinion, can one ascribe atheism to his writing. Darwin’s point is simple and straightforward: what we humans do in our gardens, and on our farms and ranches, HaShem does with all life on earth (Remember Jacob under the service of Laban, his mother’s cousin. Do you recall how Jacob manipulated the breeding of sheep?). This is the entire message of his first chapter. The remainder of On the Origin of Species serves as an abstract for an intended much lengthier work which he never produced, and which provides a brief introduction to his collection of data, intended to argue in favor of a theory first propounded by Alfred Russell Wallace, a Darwin contemporary and colleague.

Darwin terms this magnum opus of his ‘an abstract’, and as ‘one long argument’, and for good reason. There is no proof, nor does he claim any, throughout the entire length of the work. It’s an idea backed up by lots of field observation.

If you’re into the philosophy of ‘Darwinian evolution’, and I’m not, you can read Ernst Mayer’s One Long Argument. While you’re at it, one can access, on line, Theodosius Dobzhansky’s Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.
As for Rabbi Shafran’s various other assertions, such as Modern Physics’ displacement of classical Newtonian mechanics, just ponder the validity of that notion the next time you cross a bridge, sit in a chair, observe water fall, or observe a Katyusha rocket headed your way. Modern Physics has added to our understanding of the way the universe is put together – information that I have never found in Tanakh – rather than having negated classical mechanics.

Science and theology answer different questions. Science strives to tell us how, when, and where about the various natural events we observe and experience. It even provides a small modicum of an ability to predict, as a consequence of which we can design structures and machines that do the things they are intended to achieve (bridges, computers, jet fighters), not to mention chemistry and medicine. Theology answers the last great question – why. As an undergraduate and graduate school Biology major I was taught that science never even considers to answer the question of why, nor does it claim to. That simply is not science’s turf.

Chag Purim Sameach!

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