I suppose that, as a secular Jew (yes, Dave Silverman, they exist!), I am biased, but it really rankles me a lot when Jews come out against evolution. We’re supposed to be down with science, for crying out loud, and a Jew who opposes evolution seems like a lion who opposes carnivory.
But apparently the pages of The Jewish Press a major Jewish website, has been having a debate about whether “a frum [very pious] Jew can – or should – accept the theory of evolution considering that it doesn’t easily fit the text of Parshas Bereishis [Genesis, Chapter 1]”. That’s like debating whether a pious Jew can accept a spherical earth given that Scripture implies that the earth is flat.
I haven’t followed this debate, but the final contribution to the “discourse” is the piece below, written by Josh Greenberger, identified as “author of Fossil Discoveries Disprove Evolution Beyond A Doubt.” He also wrote a previous and similar creationist piece for this “newspaper,” “No, evolution is not a scientific fact,” which was handily taken apart by the Sensuous Curmudgeon.
Well, read the link below and weep, and weep harder if you’re a Jew, for one of your own has shown himself to be irredeemably stupid—or willfully ignorant in the service of G-d, which is suppose is the same thing.
A few quotes (indented) and my brief and my ascerbic responserew (flush left):sarrfrrr
Charles Darwin, the “father” of evolution, was neither a scientist nor an authority in any endeavor that might have made him an authority on biological life.
The profession of “scientist” wasn’t as established in the mid-19th century as it is today, but of course Darwin was a scientist, as he practiced what everyone would recognize as science. And as for his qualifications, he studied biology in school and throughout his entire life as an autodidact. Do note that Mendel, whom Greenberger much prefers to Darwin, wasn’t a scientist in that sense, either: he was a monk.
But let’s proceed:
Upon observing many life forms and some fossils, Darwin concluded that all species of organisms develop via small incremental changes and the natural selection of small, inherited variations that increase the organism’s ability to compete, survive, and reproduce. But Darwin never ran any experiments or discovered any empirical evidence to support his beliefs. Basically, his theory was based on pure imagination.
This is complete hogwash, or muttonwash if you need a kosher metaphor. Of course Darwin did experiments, and, more important, larded his books, including the seminal Origin of Species, with empirical information: information about embryology, morphology, biogeography, development, and artificial selection, all of this evidence so strong that within a decade virtually all rational people accepted the idea of evolution and common descent (acceptance of natural selection took longer).
Darwin himself remarked: “the number of intermediate and transitional links, between all living and extinct species, must have been inconceivably great.” The fossil record, though, shows life forms appearing fully formed – a “serious” difficulty in Darwin’s eyes.
The fossil record was indeed scanty in Darwin’s time, but now, as I show in Why Evolution is True, we have innumerable fossilized transitional forms between “kinds,” including between fish and amphibians, amphibians and reptiles, reptiles and mammals, reptiles and birds, and, of course, between our earlier ancestors and modern humans. Darwin’s difficult is no longer an issue.
Gregor Mendel, a contemporary of Darwin – and much more qualified to opine on biological life – challenged Darwin’s views. Darwin assumed there were no limits to biological variation and that, given enough time, a fish could eventually evolve into a human being. Mendel challenged this assumption, claiming evolution was restricted to within “kinds.” A drastic development, such as a fish evolving into a human being, could never happen no matter how much time was allowed, he said.
Mendel carefully designed and meticulously executed experiments involving nearly 30,000 pea plants followed over eight generations. However, the importance of his work only gained wide understanding in the 1890s, after his death, when other scientists working on similar problems rediscovered his research.
Mendel was wrong about evolution not occurring between “kinds”, no matter how you define them. As I said above, we have evidence from fossils, genes, and development for common ancestry of what are surely different “kinds”, like reptiles and birds. And Mendel didn’t ever study evolution: he studied genetics and never published a comprehensive theory of evolution.
Greenberger then recounts the experiments of Rich Lenski, wrongly characterizing them as showing that laboratory evolution aways produces the same result over and over again. But it didn’t!
More than a century later, experiments by evolutionary biologist Richard Lenski of Michigan State University, showed that Mendel was right and Darwin was wrong. In experiments that began in 1988 and continued for at least 20 years, Lenski demonstrated very clearly that speciation is the result of underlying genetic design, not chaos and randomness.
Lenski didn’t study speciation: he studied evolutionary change within a species: the bacterium E. coli. And he showed that different lines responded to selection in different ways: just what you’d expect if evolution depends on unpredictable (“random”) mutations that occur regardless of their adaptive value.
Lenski’s experiments demonstrated that Darwin’s notion that there were no limits to biological variation was false, and that beneficial biological changes are the result of a genetic predisposition that allows for very specific, predefined forms of life. A good analogy might be: If you hit balls on a pool table at random, they will fall into random pockets. But they can only fall into pockets prepared by the pool table manufacturer; the balls cannot drill new pockets on their own. In the same way, the evolution of life is only “random” in that it can choose, perhaps randomly, from a list of predefined organisms.
Lenski did no such thing—he showed that random mutation in some lines of the bacterium could enable them to adapt to a novel substrate, and different lines responded in different ways. That is evolution, and it’s evolution by natural selection. Those are two of the major points in Darwin’s “theory” of evolution. To buttress his Jewish faith, Greenberger is simply distorting what Lenski showed.
Finally, Greenberger has to deal with the question of why so many scientists accept evolution if there’s no evidence for it. His answer is the usual one, but again he’s wrong:
If there’s so much solid scientific evidence against Darwinian evolution, why do people embrace it? In my opinion, they do so because it allows them to believe in a universe without God. But for those to whom scientific truth and honesty mean something, there’s no getting around the fact that Mendel and Lenski demonstrated undeniable design in what appears to be genetic chaos and biological randomness. If that means there must be a God, so be it.
In fact, more than half of American scientists claim some kind of religious belief, so why would religious scientists like, say, Francis Collins and Ken Miller embrace evolution? Those two men are, respectively, an evangelical Christian and a Catholic. It’s risible, bogus, and reprehensible to say that scientists accept evolution because it buttresses their atheism. The fact that most scientists are not atheists is sufficient to refute this.
I have no words to describe how infuriating stuff like this is. Greenberger is obviously not insane, but he looks that way because he’s marinated in his faith. But, as I mention in Faith versus Fact, a 2006 poll of randomly-selected Americans showed that 64% of them would reject a scientific fact if it went against the tenets of their belief. Evolution is one of those facts, and Greenberger is one of the rejectors.
h/t: reader Mark