Jews for Darwin: Evolution, Intelligent Design, and Orthodox Judaism

By Aviezer, Nathan | Skeptic (Altadena, CA), Spring 2006 | Go to article overview

Jews for Darwin: Evolution, Intelligent Design, and Orthodox Judaism


Aviezer, Nathan, Skeptic (Altadena, CA)


I AM AN ORTHODOX JEW WHO believes that the Book of Genesis is the word of God. This article--a rebuttal of the article by Alexander Nussbaum in Skeptic (Vol. 12, No. 3) which argued that Orthodox Jews do not accept evolution and other areas of science--will deal with evolution and Intelligent Design. My thesis is that an Orthodox Jew should have no hesitation in accepting the scientific theory of evolution. However, there is every reason for an Orthodox Jew, or any person of faith for that matter, to reject Intelligent Design.

Evolution and Orthodox Judaism

According to Nussbaum: "By definition, Jews who accept evolution are not Orthodox." Nussbaum illustrates his point by presenting me (!) as a typical Orthodox Jewish scientist who denies evolution. He writes: "Professor Nathan Aviezer penned a book in 2001, entitled Fossils and Faith, in which he dismisses evolution and paleontology."

The facts are quite otherwise. In my book, I devote an entire chapter (entitled, "Evolution--Is There a Problem Here?") to demonstrating that there is no contradiction whatsoever between evolution and Orthodox Judaism. The last sentence of that chapter (p. 84) states: "It follows that the religious person has no cause to oppose the scientific findings about evolution." I could list one hundred quotes from my book that treat evolution as a fact.

My colleagues and friends include dozens of Orthodox Jews, both eminent scientists and non-scientists, who accept the theory of evolution as readily as they accept any other well-established scientific theory. They would be amused to learn that they have therefore been reclassified by Nussbaum "by definition" as not being Orthodox Jews.

Nussbaum begins his abstract with the following assertion: "Denial of evolution is a defining characteristic of education in Orthodox Judaism." One may assess the validity of this assertion by considering the two citadels of Orthodox Jewish university education: Bar-Ilan University in Israel and Yeshiva University in New York.

At Bar-Ilan University, a course is taught on "Torah and Science" (Torah means the first five books of the Bible), whose enrollment typically exceeds 500. This course emphasizes the complete compatibility between evolution and the Torah. At Yeshiva University, Carl Feit, an Orthodox Jew, is Professor of Biology and Health Sciences. His views regarding evolution can be seen from his scathing review of a book denying evolution, authored by a Jewish fundamentalist. Feit writes: "The premature demise of Darwinian thought has been proclaimed [by fundamentalists] for more than 100 years, bur the theory has proven to be a very robust paradigm, and remains the regnant theory of modern biology. It is not prudent to tie the validity of the Torah to the downfall of Darwin, especially since the two are compatible, as I have demonstrated" (emphasis added).

The Orthodox Union is the central organization of Orthodox rabbis in the United States. Nussbaum writes: "the Orthodox Union has branded evolution as not 'kosher' ... declaring evolution to be incompatible with Orthodoxy." That this statement is erroneous follows from the fact that the Orthodox Union's official journal (Jewish Action, Summer 1998, pp. 127-28) published Feit's book review that denounces the denial of evolution and emphatically asserts that evolution is compatible with Orthodox Judaism.

The book Challenge: Torah Views on Science is described by Nussbaum as "promoting creationism." In fact, the exact opposite is true! This book demonstrates that Orthodox Judaism rejects creationism by quoting prominent Orthodox rabbis who accept evolution. For example, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook writes (p. 136): "Thinking people have always seen gradual, evolutionary development in the spiritual essence ... the same principle applies in the physical development of the visible world." Rabbi Zvi Chajes writes (p. 135): "This lends strong support to the passage in the Talmud [that] they were formed by evolution, following the natural laws inscribed by God.

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