Evolution: A Theory that Failed to Evolve

  • by: Moses D. Tendler

Evolution: A Theory that Failed to Evolve

Update for Torah Schools 5748

By: Moses D. Tendler

This article originally appeared in Ten Da’at, vol. 2, 1, 1987, pp. 3-6. Appears here with permission.


I. In January 1982 (McLean vs. Arkansas Board of Education) the Arkansas Board of Education was enjoined from requiring all its schools to teach creation-science along with the theory of evolution. The main thrust of the legal decision was that “creation-science with its belief in creation ex nihilo based on the first eleven chapters of the book of Genesis is unquestionably a statement of religion…assuming for the purposes of argument, however, that evolution is a religion or religious tenet, the remedy is to stop the teaching of evolution, not establish another religion in opposition to it.

On March 4, 1987, the U.S. Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a Louisiana law requiring that creationism be taught along with evolution in the public schools.

II. Is the theory of evolution a “secular humanism” or is it the consequence of scientific methodology?

How should this theory, a source of ferment and controversy in educational and legal circles, be taught in our yeshivot and day schools whose students’ first exposure is to the creationism of sefer Beraishit?

I believe it to be a categorical imperative of Torah education that teach we must! We cannot ignore the ferment nor deny the massive influence of the theory on the thought processes of our society because:

a) “Razor-blade” textbook revisions will not cure the focal infection of doubt that the theory inoculated when presented as a religion of secular humanism. Removing the offending pages from the textbook, no matter how carefully it is done, denigrates the power of Torah truths to compete in the arena of ideas and ideals- an arena in which we have never lost a match despite an occasional loss of a round!

b) Evolutionary theory is all pervasive in our culture. Can we hide all the “restorations” of dinosaurs found in our museums and publications? Must we draw in yarmulkes and peyot on all artist renditions of prehistoric men? Even if our students are not yet questioning the “first eleven chapters” of sefer Beraishit, we have the obligations of at petach lo to initiate the questioning lest the questions burst forth when we, the teachers of Torah truths, will not be there to provide the answers to satisfy the mind and soul of the questioner.

c) We are obligated to teach the truths of Hashem’s interaction with the natural world.

שבת ע”ה.- אמר ר’ שמעון בן פזי א”ר יהושע בן לוי משום בר קפרא כל היודע לחשב בתקופות ומזלות ואינו חושב- עליו הכתוב אומר “ואת פעל ד’ לא יביטו ומעשה ידיו לא יראו” (ישע’ ה, י”ב)… א”ר יוחנן מנין שמצוה על האדם לחשב תקופות ומזלות שנאמר (דברים ד, ו) “ושמרתם ועשיתם כי היא חכמתכם ובינתכם לעיני העמים” איזו חכמה ובינה שהיא לעיני העמים? זה חישוב תקופות ומזלות.

…to refuse to master the science of astronomy is to refuse to see Hashem as He interacts with the natural world. Rav Yochanan added it is a mitzvah to do so because it fulfills the commandment of Hashem to study and apply Torah knowledge. This is the wisdom and the understanding that the other nations appreciate.

III. The Theory of Evolution: in search for scientific facts.

Much has happened to the theory since it was formulated by evolutionists in the late 1800’s. Darwinian evolution was quickly rejected when the science of genetics burst forth on the world of science. Darwin’s lack of knowledge of genetics allowed him to propose erroneous mechanisms of evolution such as: inheritance of acquired characteristics (Lamarkian Inheritance) and the blending of inherited characteristics rather than their discreet segregation and independent transmission to the new generation. His reliance on stress as the main evolutionary force and his preoccupation with the negative consequences of inbreeding were quickly rejected by the neo Darwinists. The Synthetic theory was substituted. This theory incorporated the new science of genetics and introduced the influence of chance mutations and the “DNA story” to bolster the faltering theory. The basic construct remained the same: “Life having appeared once upon the earth, the various species have arisen one from the other by a gradual process of modifications extended through untold generations.” The mechanisms of evolution continued to elude the scientific search. “Facts” were accumulated based on:

  • The fossil record;
  • The resemblance of organs between disparate species (homologous organs);
  • The purported presence of vestigial organs in “higher” species;
  • Evidence from comparative biochemistry, immunology, and embryology;
  • Evidence from artificial selection during animal husbandry and from the “green revolution.”

The latter, an application of genetic principles to plant crops, has given us an era of world wide food surpluses, and has defused, forever more, the demographic time bomb erroneously proposed by Malthus.

Thomas H. Huxley, the great publicist of Darwinian evolution, restated the basic construct as follows: “All species have been produced by the development of varieties from common stocks; by the conversion of these, first into permanent races, then into species by the process of natural selection essentially identical with the artificial selection by which man has originated the races of domestic animals.”

Is there any evidence that such has occurred in nature without the intervention of man? Until a mechanism can be proposed that will enable us to produce such “races” under scientifically controlled conditions, the evolutionary theory remains but a theory, and one under severe attack from its former proponents.

Gradualism, as proposed by Darwin, failed to explain species development. No organism becomes more fit for survival with one miraculous modification called a mutation. The light sensitive eye is advantageous to the organism, but not the colored spot on the arm of a starfish from which it is supposed to have evolved. Why would a starfish with a small red birthmark be selected for survival?… Why were these “sports” or misfits saved for survival? Or by whom? Such concerns are summed up in a poem printed in many biology texts entitles “Ode to a Starfish” with a refrain of “Some call it evolution and others call it G-d!” The so-called “proofs” of evolution are mere records of biological phenomena or areas yet uncharted by scientific methodology.

Our sages, who were “observant” Jews par excellence, were fully aware of homologous organs and even relied on this knowledge to set halakhic directives.

שן”ע או”ח תקע”ה, ג
אם היה דבר בחזירים מתענין מפני שמעיהם דומים לשל בני אדם.

“An epidemic of intestinal disease amongst pigs requires a declaration of a day of fasting because their intestinal tract resembles that of humans.”

“Vestigial organs” most often reflect our ignorance rather than our investigative skills. The Thymus gland, now known to be a major component of our immune system, was listed as a vestigial organ. The appendix, the classic vestigial organ is now suspected of playing a role in immune mechanisms as well.

IV. The theory collapses

The forty year dominance of the modern synthesis ended in Chicago in 1980 at the conference simply entitled “Macroevolution.” Gradualism, the basic tenet of evolutionary theory was rejected on the basis of its former greatest proof- the fossil record. The summation of participants, all leading evolutionists, reads like an epitaph on the tombstone of the modern synthesis nee Darwinism. Evolution, according to a near unanimous reanalysis of all available data, does not move at a stately pace with small changes accumulating over periods of many millions of years. The principle feature of individual species within the fossil record is stasis, not change. The record, read without bias, reveals that species remained unchanged and then suddenly disappeared to be replaced by substantially different but related species. There are no transitional forms! All have been postulated to complete the record but they do not exist except in the imagination of the evolutionists. New terms have been coined to define the fossil record as it is, not as evolutionists wish it would be! Punctuated equilibrium, episodic evolution is now the master. “The Omnipotent position of adaptationism embodied in the Modern Synthesis is overturned.” [1]

The concurrence of three leading evolutionists in a review of the Evolutionary Synthesis: Perspectives on the Unification of Biology, edited by Ernest Mays and William B. Provine, is the summation of the theory that was. [2] Niles Eldridge, the reviewer, states: “I think that the idiosyncrasies of these major individuals are underplayed. A case can be made that individuals, rather than disciplines, were responsible for the emergence of the Synthesis and its particular character…Why…did so many biologists accept the synthesis though it remained unproven? I suggest that this is all the explanation we need: the persuasiveness of a few highly talented biologists, promulgating a single simple and rationally very appealing set of ideas.”

There is no theory of evolution to attack or defend in 1987. There are stirrings of a new modification of the theory that must now begin to search for new “proofs”. The theory is too appealing to let die. Like the Bohr atom, it may not be true but it helps the human mind grapple with the massed data from the biotic world. It allows for some order in the chaotic profusion of genera and species.

Indeed we owe Darwin, despite the erroneous views he held and the short lived theory he proposed, a great debt of gratitude. The idea of studying animal disease models to find cures for human ills would be an irrational pursuit, were it not for the educative impact of evolutionary doctrines. Metabolic pathways elucidated in bacteria are assumed to be imitative of human metabolism, thanks to Darwin and Huxley.

V. What are the religious/ halakhic problems posed by the theory? There are but two. One is inherent in the theory- the age of the universe measured in billions of years, not 5748 as recorded on our calendars. The other is randomness or undirected evolution that denies existence of a creator. This is not a component of the theory but an atheistic stance of some evolutionists. The belief of many evolutionists is that there are constraints on evolutionary expression that do not permit random evolution. How far is the concept of restraint from that of Adon Olam? If it is professed that the hand of G-d guided the evolutionary process, we can affirm Darwin’s statement in a letter to the author John Fordyce who wrote Aspects of Skepticism. “It seems absurd,” he wrote on May 7, 1879, “to doubt that man may be an ardent theist and an evolutionist.”

What about the age of the earth and the claims of man’s descent from other species and other variants of humanity?

The Torah view of motar haadam min habehaimah ayin, “there is little difference between man and animal,” is a goad to man to rise from animal to human life by dint of our exercise of Free Will to accept Torah instructions in developing our life style. The church, in deifying a man, opposed the notion that man was but another animal in G-d’s biblical zoo. The gedolei hador at the time of Darwin found little to criticize in the theory or its scientific findings. The Tifereth Yisroel, whose masterful commentary on the mishnayot is the “standard in the field,” published his Drush Ohr HaChayim in 1842. This was, coincidentally, the year the Piltdown man (later found to be a hoax) was discovered. The Drush is found (regrettably few find it!) in the back of the first part of seder nezikin of the “big” mishnayot, Yakhin Boaz. In this treatise, he related to the Darwinian evolutionary theory of his time as follows:

“ועתה אהי ידידי ראו…כי הסוד הזה שנמסר לאבותינו ורבותינו והם גלוהו לנו זה כמה מאות שנים מצאנוהו שוב בהטבע ברורה לעינינו בזמנים המאוחרים כבזמנינו הבהירה ביותר”

He related to the fossil find in the Carpathiens, Himolayans and in the “Mountains of Cardillan in America” and describes the fossil remains in each stratum. He refers to the Mastadon found in Siberia, and to flesh eating “inguanadons” and herbivorous “megalasourus.”

מכל האמור נראה ברור שכל מה שמסרו לנו המקובלים זה כמה מאות שנים שכבר היה עולם פעם אחת ושוב נחרב וחזר ונתקיים זה ארבע פעמים…הכל התברר עכשיו בזמנינו באמת וצדק…ולפענ”ד שאותן בני אדם שהיו בעולם שנקראין פראאדעמיטען ר”ל הבני אדם שהיו בעולם קודם בריאת אדם הראשון העכשווי, הן הן 974 דורות שנזכרו בשבת דף פ”ח וחגיגה דף י”ד שהיו נבראים קודם בריאת העולם העתיי.

Neither the age of the earth, the fossil finds of strange creatures nor the evolution of man, posed any “threat” to Torah truth as understood by the Tifereth Yisroel. Indeed, data from carbon dating lead/uranium, and other radioactive time clocks affirm the great age of the earth. It is difficult to accept the explanation of some “literalists” amongst our rabbinic leaders whose see the irrefuted facts of science as a test of man’s faith. The Creator purposely places dinosaur bones, and other fossil remains where we would find them to test our faith in the teaching of our Sages. As we see, one of our great Sages taught us otherwise. The concept of a “testing” G-d with a flair for the dramatics, is also foreign to Torah theology (except in the “testing” of Abraham).

Did Hashem make this last world in six days and rested on the seventh, or was it six millennia? Either assumption can be correct. What is not an assumption but an axiom of our faith in Hashem, is that the Creator of the world revealed Himself to Adam and Eve and taught them the truths of the man G-d relationship. Theses truths were transmitted to Noah and then to Shem who, as King of Jerusalem, Malki Tzedek, met with Abraham and refined the truths that Abraham evolved from his own study of the G-d nature relationship. Shem’s daughter Tamar married Judah, the son of Yaacov, and gave rise to the Kingship of David and Moshiach.

The evolution of man is what is relevant to our lives in the service of Hashem. The Torah is not a biology text nor even a book of history. It is an instructional book of morals and ethics for Jew and non-Jew. All other lessons learned therefrom may or may not to be the true intent of our G-d who ordered every word of our Torah to be inscribed by Moshe the great grand nephew of Judah.

VI. To sum up: In 1987 there is not one piece of scientific evidence for macroevolution or the development of one species from another. All our work in genetics, molecular biology, recombinant DNA explains variations within the species but does not offer any mechanism for the development of new species. Yet the notion of a common thread that interconnects the biotic world is both utilitarian and elegant. It does not violate any Torah beliefs. The Talmudic literature refers to prior worlds and earlier men before the present world that is dated 5748 years from the birth of Adam and his wife Eve. Some of our great Torah sages accept this literally and see in it a concurrence with the scientific claim for a very ancient world. No one dare label such a belief heretical, even if personal family tradition is to accept that the world was created ex nihilo 5748 years ago.

The key to presenting the above discussion to students is to do so without apologetica. If our Torah traditions were in full opposition to scientific claims, we would not hesitate to reject the relative truths of science in favor of the absolute truths of our Torah. But if it is possible, through intensive study of both Torah and scientific texts, to avoid such confrontations, it is our duty to do so. There can not be real conflict between Torah and Science, only apparent disagreement.

The Elokim who created the world in accord with His laws of nature came down on Mt. Sinai to give us the Torah, and announced to all creations, “Anokhie Hashem Elokekha” I am the Hashem, the personal G-d who designed a Torah for you and I am also Elokekha, your G-d who put into effect all the laws of nature.

[1] Science v.210,21 November 1980, p. 866-883.

[2] The Science, April 1981.

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