Recent Books on Jewish Eugenics: A Triple Review

By Glad, John | Mankind Quarterly, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

Recent Books on Jewish Eugenics: A Triple Review


Glad, John, Mankind Quarterly


Jewish Tradition and die Challenge of Darwinism Editors: Geoffrey Cantor and Marc Swetlitz Other contributors: Shai Cherry, Raphael Falk, Carl Feit, Ira Robinson, Rena Selya, Lawrence Troster, Richard Weikart University of Chicago Press, 2006, 260 pages ISBN: 978O-226-09276-8 (ISBN-10: 0-226-09276-3), cloth ISBN: 978-0-226^)9277-5 (ISBN-10: 0-226-09277-1), paper

A Life (Un)Worthy of Living: Reproductive Genetics in Israel and Germany Yael Hashiloni-Dolev Springer, 2007, 195 pages ISBN 978-1-420-5217-0 (hardback ISBN 978-1-420-5217-7 (e-book)

The Healthy Jew: The Symbiosis if Judaism and Modern Medicine Michael B. Hart Cambridge University Press, 2007, 200 pages ISBN 978-0-521-87718-3, hardback

Jewish Tradition and the Challenge of Darwinism, Cantor/Sweditz

This book documents a red-hot debate which previously took place behind closed doors but has now been "outed" by one of the world's most prestigious academic presses and is therefore already available in a large number of libraries.

The very title of the collection is ambiguous: what, after all, is "the Jewish tradition"? Jewish atheists and perhaps even most Jewish converts to other religions still consider themselves Jewish and are so viewed by other Jews. Thus, even though Judaism as a religion receives considerable treatment in this book, it is by no means its exclusive topic.

The relationship of Judaism to Darwinism has heretofore remained relatively unexplored, principal attention being devoted in the media to the clash of evolutionary theory and Christianity, but since the latter springs direcdy from the Judaic tradition, the two encounters have much in common, albeit with a very considerable shift in emphasis.

According to the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, less than a quarter of those identified as Jewish agreed that "the Torah is the actual word of God." Even Orthodox and progressive Jews are far more accepting of Darwinism than are Christians. And while the Catholic Church has called for a dialogue between religion and science, there is no Jewish analogue.

As for the debate over creationism, now rechristened "intelligent design," most Jews have opposed what they see as an intrusion of the state into religion, but there have been numerous Jewish attempts to argue the compatibility of Genesis and science (see below). Nevertheless, once all the debaters have had their say, the audience will have to recognize the difficulties inherent in any attempts to reconcile the two worldviews:

The Darwinian picture of the natural world denies traditional concepts of creation. Instead of being designed and created by God in its present form, the natural world, including all species, are products of a long process of natural selection. Darwinism not only provides a scientific explanation of the development of species; it also undermines the religious concept of divine providential guidance.

As Catholic theologian John F. Haught has observed, Darwinism creates several critical problems for religion. First, it shows that all living beings share a common ancestry and are historically and organically interconnected. Therefore, the ontological discontinuity between humanity and the rest of creation, which was a central feature of Jewish and Christian theology, no longer exists. In addition, Darwinism challenges the traditional religious picture of the universe as a hierarchy of distinct levels of being and meaning.... In addition, Haught argues that many recent interpreters of Darwinism also see no qualitative distinctions between life and nonlife. Life arises from dead matter as a result of the laws of physics and chemistry...

Finally, some theologians and scientists argue that the theory of natural selections asserts that the variety of life in the natural world is a product of completely random forces undirected by any intelligent agency or providential designer. The struggle for life and the survival of the fittest imply that we live in an impersonal universe. …

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