The Orthodox Jew and evolution
Professor Hasofer is a leading member of the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists. This article has been printed with his kind permission and we trust will enable members of C.S.A. to gain a greater understanding of Jewish thought in the area of Genesis and creation-evolution.
The worn-out cliché that Genesis is disproved by evolution is, surprisingly enough, still current among many otherwise sophisticated Jewish students. One may disagree with the Rabbis, but one cannot accuse them of having ever been shallow thinkers. Their attitude to Genesis is aptly summed up by the Ramban (known in the West as Nachmanides, 1194-1270) in his commentary on Genesis 1:1 as follows: 'The origin of the universe (Maaseh B’reshith) is a deep mystery, which cannot be understood from the Scriptural account'. This position is further elucidated by the comments of the Rambam (known in the West as Maimonides, 1135-1204) on Aristotle’s theory of the Eternity on the Universe, a theory which at the time was used to disprove Judaism just as today evolution is:'We do not reject the Eternity of the Universe because certain passages in Scripture affirm Creation, for it is neither impossible nor difficult to find for them a suitable interpretation. But the Eternity of the Universe has not been proved; a mere argument in favor of a certain theory is not sufficient reason for rejecting the literal meaning of a Biblical text'. (Guide to the Perplexed 11,25).
Thus the Orthodox Jew is free to accept or reject evolution, according to whether he believes that it is a proven fact or not. Judaism is a most flexible faith in matters of metaphysics, and afortiori in matters of ascertainable fact. Its rigidity is confined to matters of Halacha, i.e. to matters relating to man’s behavior towards his fellow man and his Creator.
On the other hand, many of the most vociferous advocates of evolution are committed to a metaphysical system which has been given in recent years the name of "Scientism". According to this system the world either eternally existed or else was created in the remote past by an obliging demiurgos who undertook never to intervene again in its workings. Such a system stands or falls by the ability of its advocates to account for all events in recorded history by intrinsic means.
In particular, the appearance of new species in successive geological strata must be explained without reference to an external intervention, however fantastic the explanation may be.
Now all serious biologists know that there is not a parcel of direct evidence for the theory of evolution. The creation of new species by mutation and selection has never been actually observed, either in the field or in the laboratory, and all the evidence adduced so far has been circumstantial.
The acid test for a scientific theory is the quantitative agreement of its conclusions with observed fact. To my knowledge, the only quantitative test of the mutation-selection theory of evolution has been made by L.M. Spetner [ed. note: the author of Not By Chance decades later] and myself. (J. Theoret. Biol 7, p. 412, 1964 and ibid 11, p. 336, 1966). Using recent results on the molecular structure of DNA, we have been able to calculate rough estimates for the number of generations required to obtain a favorable mutation. The numbers are so fantastically large that to assume that evolution has occurred within geological times in accordance with the fossil record through random mutation and selection is to assume an event more miraculous than that of a monkey producing all the works of Shakespeare by typing at random on an electric typewriter. By all canons of rational statistical inference, such a hypothesis must be rejected. Since I have no vested interest in the truth of the theory of evolution, I am therefore free to reject it as inconsistent in its present form with the facts of geology. As T.H. Huxley put it, a true scientist must 'sit down before fact as a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads'.