Re: Explaining evolution
April 20, 2016 11:41AM
I have discussed the subject of evolution and the Torah at some length in my two books on Torah and Science:
“In the Beginning” and “Modern Science and Ancient Faith”
A summary of the ideas are presented here.

We here deal with the formation of the animal kingdom, as described in the Torah on the Fifth and Sixth Days of Creation. The discussion is based on three principles:

1. The evolution of the animal kingdom is a scientifically established fact.

2. The fact that the animal kingdom was produced through an evolutionary process is completely consistent with the words of the Torah and the role of G-d in nature. This follows from a careful reading of the Torah words, combined with an understanding of the scientific findings.

3. Major Torah authorities have emphasized that there is no contradiction between the scientific principle of evolution and the Torah. Important authorities to be quoted here are Yehudah HaLevi, Malbim, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch, and Rav Kook.

With this introduction, we are ready to discuss evolution and the Torah. We begin by discussing of the words of the Torah and what leading Torah authorities wrote about the harmony between the science of evolution and Torah values.

1. Fifth and Sixth Days of Creation
The Fifth and Sixth Days of Creation deal with the formation of the animal kingdom and the formation of human beings. It is important to discuss these two subjects separately. We here discuss the formation of the animal kingdom, leaving the formation of human beings as the subject for a separate discussion.

An important principle must first be stated. The word yom (“day”) in “Six Days of Creation” is to be understood as a period or phase of undefined length, and not as a literal day of 24 hours. This approach follows the Rambam, who wrote that whenever the literal meaning of Torah words is inconsistent with well-established knowledge, one should set aside the literal meaning and understand the Torah words figuratively/metaphorically because “paths of figurative interpretation are not closed to us” (Guide for the Perplexed, Part II, Chapter 25).

2. Torah Approach to Evolution
We will see that the concept of the evolutionary development of the animal kingdom is completely consistent with the writings of major Torah authorities. In contrast to the widespread misconception, Torah authorities did not see any contradiction between the words of the Torah and the scientific principles of evolution.

3. Torah Words and Evolution
At first glance, there appears to be a contradiction between the words of the Torah and science regarding the formation of the animal kingdom. Doesn’t the Torah state that every creature was the result of a separate act of Divine creation, whereas science speaks of the evolution of the animal kingdom? We now explain this apparent contradiction.

Two different verbs appear in the Torah to describe the origin and formation of the animal kingdom. Regarding the primeval sea creatures, Bereshit 1:21 states that G-d “created” them (vayivra), whereas regarding the subsequently formed land creatures, Bereshit 1:25 states that God “made” them (vaya’as). The verbs “create” and “make” denote two quite different processes. “Creation” implies the formation of something fundamentally new, either physically (creation ex nihilo) or conceptually (a completely new type of entity, such as life). By contrast, the process of “making” implies the fashioning of something complex from something simple (making furniture from pieces of rough wood).

The foregoing discussion suggests the following interpretation of the Bereshit text. The first expression (G-d created) describing the initial sea creatures, refers to the creation of life itself, which first appeared as marine species. The second expression (G-d made) refers to the land animals, that is, to the later formation of the terrestrial species. This understanding of the Torah text is consistent with the scientific idea that present-day animals developed from earlier marine species.

4. Malbim and Evolution
The above view has been proposed by the Malbim, who writes the following:
“Here, [on the Sixth Day,] Bereshit does not say ‘G-d created,’ because the formation of living animals had already occurred on the Fifth Day. Rather,
[on the Sixth Day,] G-d ‘made’ the mammals, by infusing them [Fifth Day animals] with properties and capabilities that were not previously present.
This process cannot be called ‘creation ex nihilo’ but is only ‘making,’
by which is meant the completion of an object and its improvement.”

Note the consistency between Malbim’s comment on the Bereshit description of the formation of the animal kingdom and between the scientific concept of evolution.

5. Yehudah HaLevi and Evolution
Yehudah HaLevi wrote a very important book on Jewish thought: The Kuzari.
In his book, Yehudah HaLevi states that G-d formed the living creatures in a hierarchical manner. That is, the simplest creatures were formed first, followed by more advanced creatures, followed by still more advanced creatures, and so on. This description of the formation of the animal kingdom given by Yehudah HaLevi is completely consistent with the principles of evolution.

6. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch and Evolution
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch of Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany was known for his uncompromising opposition to any idea that deviated even slightly from Torah hashkafa.
Shortly after Darwin’s theory was published, Rav Hirsch wrote the following (Collected Writings, vol. 7, p. 264):
“If the notion of evolution were to be completely accepted by the scientific world, Judaism would call upon its adherents to give even greater reverence to G-d, Who in His boundless creative wisdom, needed to bring into existence only one amorphous nucleus and one law of ‘adaptation and heredity’ in order to bring forth the infinite variety of species that we know today.”

Particularly interesting is Hirsch’s statement that the evolution of the animal kingdom is even more impressive than producing every species by a separate act of divine creation. Although it is impressive to make many beautiful pairs of shoes, it is much more impressive to make a factory that automatically takes raw materials and from them produces “endless forms” of shoes “most beautiful and most wonderful.”

7. Rav Kook and Evolution
Rosh Yeshiva Rav Giora Radler has summarized the teachings of Rav Kook on the subject of evolution (Evolution, the Laws of Development. p. 35):
“The claim that evolution contradicts Torah is not only a mistake, but it is a rejection of the Holy One, Blessed be He, in that it rejects G-d’s ability to work through nature…Moreover, it is entirely mistaken to claim that evolutionary theory disproves the existence of G-d or that evolutionary theory shows that the world has no architect or direction.”

8. Summary of Torah Authorities
Yehuda HaLevi, Rav Hirsch, and Rav Kook all viewed evolution as the mechanism used by G-d to produce the animal kingdom. Our Sages have always stressed that G-d works within the laws of nature (olam keminhago noheg). This important principle explains how G-d interacts with His world. It follows from this principle that no scientific discovery can cast doubt on the existence of G-d or on the divinity of the Torah.
We now describe the scientific principles of evolution and Darwin’s theory.

1. Darwin and Evolution: Fact and Theory
The most common mistake in the discussion of evolution is to confuse fact and theory.

What is the fact of evolution? The fact of evolution is that the animal kingdom has greatly changed in the course of time.

What is the theory of evolution? The theory of evolution is the explanation of Charles Darwin in 1859 regarding how these great changes in the animal kingdom came about.

2. Evolution – A Brief Survey
The following is a brief description of the basic facts relating to evolution.
At some time in the distant past, lifeless chemicals became transformed into living cells. The simplest single-celled creature is the bacterium, whose cell does not contain a nucleus. Later, some bacteria evolved into vastly more complicated and very much larger single-celled creatures, such as the amoeba, whose cell does contain a nucleus. Some of these more complex single-celled creatures evolved into multi-celled creatures, which eventually evolved into the vast panorama of animal life that we observe today.

In 1859, Charles Darwin proposed a theory to explain what caused the evolution of animals from simple creatures into more complicated creatures.

Darwin’s theory says nothing at all about the origin of life. In Darwin’s day, nothing was known about the origin of life. Even today, there is no accepted explanation for the origin of life. There are several proposals, but none has achieved scientific consensus.

3. Facts of Evolution – Dating of Fossils by Radioactive Dating
Radioactive dating works as follows. Fossils are usually found embedded in rocks and most rocks contain radioactive particles. The amount of the radioactive element in the particles is fixed when the rock is formed. From the time of the formation of the rock, the radioactive element decays at a steady rate. Therefore, by measuring how much of the radioactive element has decayed, one may determine when the rock was formed.
If a rock was formed X years ago, and the fossil of an animal is found embedded in this rock, one can reasonably assume that this ancient animal lived X years ago.

The most famous example of radioactive dating involves carbon, and is called “carbon dating.” The method of carbon dating was discovered by Willard Libby in the 1940s and he was awarded the Nobel Prize for this discovery. However, carbon dating is only reliable up to the recent past. For much earlier dates, one uses other radioactive elements.

4. Facts of Evolution – DNA Sequences
There are now two different methods for determining the evolutionary relationships between species. (i) The older method is to compare the physical features of the two species and their fossils. (ii) The more modern method is to compare DNA sequences of the two species. Studying DNA sequences has sometimes produced new understanding regarding the evolutionary history of certain species.

5. From One Species to Another
A “species” is a group of animals that have very similar physical characteristics. In addition, and very important, animals of the same species can mate with each other and produce fertile offspring. Animals that cannot mate with each other to produce fertile offspring belong to different species, regardless of how similar they may appear.

According to the theory of evolution, new species develop in the following way.
Each trait of a creature can have various forms. Examples of human traits are height (some people are short whereas others are tall) and hair color (some people have red hair whereas others have brown hair). If being tall would increase the chances for survival and thus for producing more offspring, then the average height of the population will gradually increase as tall people produce more offspring than short people. If having red hair would increase the chances for survival and thus for producing more offspring, then gradually there will be more redheads than brunettes in the population as redheads produce more offspring than brunettes. After a great many such changes in the population, the latest offspring will be very different from the original animals. If these differences are very pronounced, then the latest offspring corresponds to a new species.

6. A Theory to Explain the Facts
In 1859, Charles Darwin published his famous book, “On the Origin of Species.” Darwin’s book explains that evolution was caused by natural selection. Darwin used the term “selection” to mean the following. Farmers select animals for breeding that have desirable traits, such as cows that give plenty of rich milk or chickens whose bodies contain a lot of white meat. By “natural,” Darwin meant that the selection process is not done deliberately by a farmer, but occurs “naturally” in nature.

Darwin proposed that nature favors or “selects” those individuals having traits that produce many offspring. After many generations, the individual animals “selected” by nature will gradually form an increasingly larger part of the population. Finally, the animals having “favorable” traits will dominate the population. “Favorable” traits are those traits that enable the animal to produce more offspring.

7. The Struggle for Existence
A central feature of Darwin’s theory of natural selection is the “struggle for existence,” which means the following: (i) there is not enough food for all animals; (ii) there are predators that kill animals; (iii) there are diseases that kill animals. Therefore, an individual animal that has traits that enable it to obtain more food than other individuals (it may be stronger) will have a better chance of surviving. Similarly, an animal that has traits that enable it to overcome predator attacks more successfully than other individuals (it may be faster) will have a better chance of surviving. An animal that possesses greater immunity to disease than other individuals will have a better chance of surviving. Animals having these desirable traits are said to be better “adapted” and are therefore “selected” by “nature” to survive and produce offspring. In the course of time, those animals that are better adapted will form the majority of the population. After a many generations, the population changes so much that a new species has formed.

8. Heredity and Genes
Heredity is the process by which an animal passes its traits to its offspring.
Heredity works in the following way. The fertilized egg contains a combination of the genes of the father and the genes of the mother. Genes determine the physical traits of the animal. Since the genes of the offspring come from the genes of both parents, the physical traits of the offspring will be a combination of the physical traits of the parents.

The situation is actually more complicated than given above, for the following reason. Each gene is a section of a long thread-like molecule, called DNA, previously called chromosome. A complete chromosome, with all its genes, is transmitted to the offspring. Consider a particular chromosome, call it ChromA. Since chromosomes come in pairs, both the mother and the father have two versions of ChromA, call them ChromA1f and ChromA2f from the father and ChromA1m and ChromA2m from the mother. The offspring will randomly inherit from the father either ChromA1f or ChromA2f. There are many different genes on ChromA1f and also on ChromA2f. Therefore, if the offspring randomly inherits, say, ChromA2f from the father, he will also inherit all the genes that are on this chromosome, and none of the genes on ChromA1f.
In summary, it is not the genes but chromosomes that are inherited randomly.

9. From Darwinism to Neo-Darwinism
In the 1860s, Mendel developed his important theory of heredity based on genes. However, Mendel published his findings in a journal that almost no scientist read. Therefore, his theory remained unknown for several decades. In particular, Darwin did not know about genes when he published his famous book in 1859. The combination of Darwin’s theory of evolution plus Mendel’s theory of heredity based on genes is called Neo-Darwinism.

10. Mutations
Before mating, the chromosomes in the sex cells are duplicated and, upon mating, one copy of the duplicated chromosomes of each parent combines inside the fertilized cell. However, in the duplication process, a mistake occasionally occurs and the duplicated gene is “defective” in some way. When this happens, the fertilized cell will contain a defective gene. This is called a genetic mutation.

The cell has a mechanism for checking whether the duplication process was accurately carried out. If not, the defective chromosome is destroyed. Nevertheless, a duplication mistake occasionally occurs, resulting in a genetic mutation.

There is a very important connection between genetic mutations and evolution. The traits of each individual animal are determined by the genes that are possessed by the animal in question. Genetic mutations cause the genes, and therefore the traits of the individual animal to be different from other animals. Many such differences in the animals over many generations eventually lead to the evolution of a new species.

Most genetic mutations have little or no effect on the how the animal functions. Of those mutations that do affect the animal in a significant way, most are detrimental to the animal (“genetic defects”) and limit its chances to reproduce. If the individual cannot reproduce, then these mutations are removed from the gene pool of this species. However, by sheer chance, occasionally, a genetic mutation occurs that enhances the animal’s chances for survival. The mutation may make this individual stronger or faster than other individuals or may enable this individual to digest some food that other individuals cannot digest or may give this individual immunity from some disease. Therefore, this individual with the beneficial mutation has a better chance of surviving to the next generation and the mutated gene is thus incorporated into the gene pool of the species. This is how mutations cause the array of genes to change over time. When the gene pool has changed very significantly, one speaks of a new species having evolved.

Darwin knew nothing about genes and genetic mutations. He simply observed that different individuals of the same species have different traits, and he used this fact to construct his theory of natural selection. However, his theory of evolution posed many questions. Darwin had no answers to these questions and he simply ignored them. When Mendel’s theory of genes finally became known, all these questions were answered.

11. Punctuated Equilibrium
“Punctuated equilibrium” means the following. The fossil record shows that most species remained virtually unchanged for very many generations (in “equilibrium”). Then, this situation suddenly changes (“punctuated”) and the species undergoes a period of rapid evolutionary change. The terms “suddenly” and “rapid” refer to a geological time scale.

It is not understood to this day why evolution is “punctuated,” rather than being gradual, as Darwin predicted. Perhaps the periods of rapid evolutionary change are due to sudden changes in the environment or perhaps they are just the result of random genetic changes. No one knows for sure.

Punctuated equilibrium adds to our understanding of evolution by emphasizing the impossibility of predicting the rate at which species changes. Only after the fossil record is known can one suggest which environmental changes might have caused the observed changes in the species. However, for other species, the same environmental changes did not cause any changes in the species at all.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/20/2016 11:42AM by mlb.
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Explaining evolution

Anthony Knopf March 21, 2016 07:17PM

Re: Explaining evolution

Hillel Lichtman April 05, 2016 06:42AM

Re: Explaining evolution

Shalom Z. Berger April 05, 2016 06:43AM

Re: Explaining evolution

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Nathan Aviezer April 20, 2016 11:41AM

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