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There has been a lot of recent discussion in The Jewish Press about whether evolution and Torah are compatible. In my view they are not only compatible, they are intertwined. I believe in the evolutionary process. I also believe that God created the world just as it says in Parshas Bereishis. How is that possible? First, a little bit of my own personal history on the subject.
Back in the sixties, long before anyone thought about synthesis between Torah, evolution, and concepts like “Intelligent Design,” I was taught the theory of evolution by a completely Orthodox Jewish college professor at Roosevelt University in Chicago. He was quite an interesting fellow and had actually done work on discovering DNA. He told us that he firmly believed in the theory of evolution, including the randomness factor. Yet he was a shomer Torah u’mitzvos and definitely not a kofer (heretic). He was a respected member of academia and the Torah world.
Many of the frum students in our class were shocked that a frum Jew could believe in something like this, as we all had been indoctrinated into thinking that evolution was a completely false theory invented by atheists. But as the course progressed, this frum professor convinced us that Torah and evolutionary science are indeed compatible. This changed my entire perspective on science and Torah, which I realized are not only compatible but inseparable. The Torah was written for the real world – the world that science studies, the world that exists in metzius (reality). That, after all, is what science is: the study of metzius and nothing else.
The wonderful thing about science is that it has at its core no underlying belief system. Nothing is sacrosanct in science. A fact that seems to be proven today can be discarded tomorrow with the discovery of new facts. So, for a time in my life, I was a believer in the theory of evolution in all its radiant glory including the randomness factor, which I thought did not deny anything in the Torah. And the closer I looked at the Torah narrative the more I saw harmony between the sequence of the evolutionary process and the order of creation, thus indicating compatibility.
At about the time that I had developed my own synthesis of the Torah narrative of creation and evolution, I came across a book by Rabbi Avigdor Miller, Rejoice, O Youth, in which he attempted to refute the theory of evolution. I was very upset at what I felt were the poor arguments he made and feared his rejectionist attitude would turn off serious students of science who were also yereim u’shleimim - frum Jews who wanted nothing more than to serve God and His Torah but who also could not deny what science had taught them.
Although evolutionary theory is not proven in the absolute, the evidence for evolution is overwhelming and independently derived by many different disciplines, all of which seem to converge in the same way, reaching the same conclusions: That evolution indeed took place.
But does that mean it just “happened” – that it was random, with no guidance from Hashem?
After many years of searching for Emes, I have come to my own conclusion that while evolution may indeed be the process by which God created the species, the chances of random sudden mutation is a highly unlikely proposition. Not that it is impossible, just unlikely in the extreme.
What I believe in firmly now is the concept of Intelligent Design – that God for His own reasons created a universe that followed a natural evolutionary path, but one that was purposefully guided by Him. In this way one can deal with both scientific evidence and the rational deduction that something does not come from nothing, and that there must therefore be a Creator.
About the Author: Harry Maryles runs the blog "Emes Ve-Emunah" which focuses on current events and issues that effect the Jewish world in general and Orthodoxy in particular. It discuses Hashkafa and news events of the day - from a Centrist perspctive and a philosphy of Torah U'Mada. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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