In any case, it is widely accepted today that we do not learn science from the literal meaning of Scripture – after all, Scripture describes the sky as a dome, the hare as bringing up its cud, and the kidneys and heart as housing one’s mind. All these descriptions were interpreted literally by the Sages of old, and yet almost all recent Torah scholars interpret them non-literally.
5) Doesn’t the notion of randomness in evolution contradict with the idea of a purposeful creation directed by God?
Judaism has always acknowledged that there are events which, in the physical world, appear to be random and happenstance. But it maintains that this does not rule out God’s role behind the scenes. Indeed, this is the entire message of the Purim story! As it states in Scripture, “When the lot is cast in the lap, its entire verdict has been decided by God” (Proverbs 16:33).
6) Doesn’t the Jewish concept of man being created in the image of God contradict the notion that man comes from animals?
Absolutely not! Classical Judaism has long maintained that man is not qualitatively different from animals in his physical aspects. Man’s unique identity is in his spiritual soul, not in his physical body and most certainly not in his physical origins. The great medieval Torah scholars stated that man was created physically as an animal, but was given the spiritual potential to rise beyond that level. The Mishnah notes that on an individual level, we all come from a “putrid drop (of semen),” which is even less than an animal; yet we are defined not by what we come from, but rather by what we become.
7) Don’t most rabbis state that evolution is heresy?
Very few leading rabbis have studied the science and have ever given the matter serious thought (and rabbis in the charedi world are generally not operating from the rationalist perspective that is the legacy of Maimonides and the great Torah scholars of Spain, which seeks to accommodate science with Torah). The few rationalistically-oriented rabbis who did study the topic, such as Rav Kook, Rav Yosef Ber Soloveitchik, Rav Gedalyah Nadel (a leading disciple of Chazon Ish) and Rav Aryeh Carmell, concluded that evolution is compatible with Judaism. Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch was personally skeptical of evolution but saw no theological problem with it: “…If this notion were ever to gain complete acceptance by the scientific world… Judaism in that case would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence than ever before to the one, sole God Who, in His boundless creative wisdom and eternal omnipotence, needed to bring into existence no more than one single, amorphous nucleus, and one single law of “adaptation and heredity” in order to bring forth, from what seemed chaos but was in fact a very definite order, the infinite variety of species we know today, each with its unique characteristics that sets it apart from all other creatures.” (“The Educational Value of Judaism,” in Collected Writings, vol. VII, p. 264).
8) Doesn’t evolution go against tradition?
No more so than the notion of the earth orbiting the sun. That was also rejected by many leading rabbis from the era of Copernicus through today. Yet most religious Jews have managed to come to terms with the heliocentric model of the universe. The same is true of evolution, which has become widely accepted by religious Jews with a strong background in science and/or rationalist Jewish theology.
9) But aren’t there many secular evolutionists who use evolution to try to attack religious principles?
Yes, unfortunately there are. But this is an abuse of science; it doesn’t reflect on the science of evolution itself. This, however, is why it is important for anyone teaching evolution to understand it properly.
10) You didn’t answer all my questions and objections!
Of course not. Evolution is an immensely complicated topic, to which it is impossible to do justice in a brief article. Please see my book The Challenge Of Creation (available in Jewish bookstores and at www.zootorah.com) for a very detailed discussion.