In apparent response to criticism on this blog, Rabbi Slifkin replies with a passionate, vigorous, well-considered theological argument in favor of theistic evolution. And although I think he invokes the "k" word a bit too much for my tastes, his argument seems otherwise compelling, at least ostensibly. So I suppose the question is: What’s wrong with Rabbi Slifkin’s theology?
Rabbi Slifkin writes that he "cannot see any difference - any difference at all" between attributing the hidden Hand of God to "the [apparently] random, unplanned, circumstantial luck of history" and attributing it to "the neo-Darwinian evolutionary mechanism of random genetic mutation plus natural selection, which most scientists see as explaining how life evolved".
But the difference is obvious. It is glaring. And it is inescapable. Nowhere in the Torah are we enjoined to understand the natural phenomena of our universe in meta-natural terms. On the contrary, as Rabbi Slifkin so eloquently puts it, "The entire purpose of Purim is to teach us that even seemingly chance events are seen by their eventual results to have been part of a greater plan, and not as random as they superficially appeared" (Challenge pg. 292-3).
On the other hand, and in diametric opposition, the Biblical account of ma’aseh bereishis is described in purely meta-natural terms. Furthermore, every single pre-evolutionary massoretic source known to us describes it in precisely the same terms! The reason the Torah bothered to describe the particulars of ma’aseh bereishis (as opposed to just stating the fact of Divine Creation, as it does several times later on) is precisely this: to inform us that ma’aseh bereishis is impossible to describe via currently operating, seemingly random chance mechanisms. The story of ma’aseh beresihis is an open testimony to Hashem’s presence, not a hidden one.
Now, there are several possible responses Rabbi Slifkin can avail himself of but none of them are capable of defeating this argument. Let’s explore the possibilities.
1) There are some post-evolutionary Rabbinical sources which entertain the possibility of evolutionary theory as a model for the unfolding of Creation.
At the risk of invoking the wrath of my dear readers, I maintain that a tiny smattering of post-evolutionary sources do not possess the ability to unseat our long-standing mesorah. Especially when their statements can easily be attributed to pedagogy and especially when their real opinions are indeed aligned with the mesorah.
2) There is overwhelming physical evidence proving the evolutionary model of common descent ("my studies of zoology have led me to the conclusion that the evidence for common ancestry is overwhelming") thus justifying a rejection of our 3000 year uncontested mesorah and a reinterpretation of the verses in the Torah.
This is simply false. Rabbi Slifkin himself asserts that the primary lines of evidence for common descent are no stronger than those supporting the mechanisms. Here’s a quote from his book The Science of Torah page 144. (my emphases).
Scientists consider evidence for common ancestry to be very strong indeed. Futuyma even rates common ancestry as fact, relative to explanations of evolutionary mechanisms, which he terms theory. Actually, scientists are often being presumptuous when they give such a status to the evidence for common ancestry, as they generally are not giving serious consideration to explanations for it in light of other possibilities (such as Divine creation, panspermia, or some other unknowable process).
He also admits that primary lines of evidence for common ancestry are sometimes equally consistent with Special Creation and sometimes actually point to Special Creation! Here are the quotes. (my emphases)
A separate line of objection to the concept of homologous similarities being used as evidence for common ancestry is that it has to be considered in light of alternative possibilities, such as that each species was separately created by God. But with this scenario, homologous similarities also make sense. Since the pentadactyl limb (Rabbi Slifkin is referring to the limb possessing a five-fingered construction found in a variety of vertebrate creatures such as humans, bats, whales, dogs, etc.) is a good component for a bodyplan, why shouldn’t God use it for all sorts of different functions? Indeed, homologous similarities were understood well before Darwin, and were explained in precisely this way.
David Raup of the University of Chicago, one of the world’s most respected paleontologists, wrote as follows in a letter to Science magazine: A large number of well-trained scientists outside of evolutionary biology and paleontology have unfortunately gotten the idea that the fossil record is far more Darwinian than it is. This probably comes from the oversimplification inevitable in secondary sources: low level textbooks, semi popular articles, and so on. Also there is probably some wishful thinking involved. In the years after Darwin, his advocates hoped to find predictable progressions… In general these have not been found – yet the optimism dies hard, and some pure fantasy has crept into textbooks… One of the ironies of the evolutioncreation debate is that the creationists have accepted the mistaken notion that the fossil record shows a detailed and orderly progression and they have gone to great lengths to accommodate this "fact" in the Flood geology (Science, vol. 213 p. 289).
On page 150, he writes. (my emphases)
In fact, it was largely the paucity of the fossil record that led to Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge’s theory of Punctuated Equilibrium. As Gould writes, the fossil record does not show the predicted gradual sequence of transitions:
The history of most fossil species includes two features particularly inconsistent with gradualism:
1. Stasis. Most species exhibit no directional change during their tenure on earth. They appear in the fossil record looking much the same as when they disappear; morphological change is usually limited and directionless.
2. Sudden appearance. In any local area, a species does not arise gradually by the steady transformation of its ancestors; it appears all at once and "fully formed." The Episodic Nature of Evolutionary Change, in The Panda’s Thumb. p. 180
Gould and Eldredge therefore theorized that evolution occurs too fast to leave a trace in the fossil record. (It should be noted that "fast" in their terms does not mean over a few years; it means over a few thousand years rather than over a few million years.)
… Futuyma states that because we know evolution progresses rapidly, it is to be expected that the fossil record will show few transitional forms! Whereas the truth is the reverse: Because there are so few transitional forms, it is therefore theorized that evolution progresses rapidly. Punctuated Equilibrium is an apologetic for the fossil record, not a prediction of it.
Incredible! Rabbi Slifkin openly admits that Punctuated Equilibrium is merely a desperate attempt by evolutionists to avoid the glaring contradiction to evolutionary theory from the rocks.
3) The global community of scientists asserts that common descent is a fact.
This final response is frequently invoked by Rabbi Slifkin and is easily the most maddening response to those with even a modicum of exposure to the Philosophy of Science.
Let’s analyze this claim for a moment.
a) Rabbi Slifkin seems to be aware of the materialistic philosophy which attends the mainstream scientific enterprise and is thus willing to go on record and battle their assertion that science proves evolutionary processes are entirely blind (Blind Watchmaker Thesis). Instead, he asserts that God is somehow behind the whole thing (theistic evolution).
b) He is also willing to question the validity of the scientific mechanisms proposed by evolutionists to accomplish the prodigious feat of speciation although absent the mechanisms the theory is actually incoherent (as any evolutionist will admit to you).
c) Yet, when it comes to questioning their assertions re common ancestry, his brain suddenly turns to mush! What happened? Did the clock suddenly strike twelve?
What principled distinction can Rabbi Slifkin possibly possess which would account for his animated rejection of a) i.e. the scientific assertion that evolution is, per-force, entirely G-dless, and b) i.e. that evolution has valid mechanisms accounting for macro-evolutionary prossesses, while simultaneously accepting c) i.e. common ancestry is unquestionable? Don’t forget, #3 merely states that "the global community of scientists says so", nothing more. There is no attempt to investigate the evidence, no attempt to question the science. Just a blanket acceptance of scientific dogma. Why Rabbi Slifkin, why?
In light of the latter objection, YSO's criticism on this blog is especially poignant: "The blind watchmaker thesis is supposed to account for eyes, wings, the mammalian brain and everything else. What utter nonsense! There is not a single shred of evidence in support of it." Now YSO might be right and he might be wrong. But one thing is for sure; he never gets intimidated enough to turn off his brain. For the life of me, I can’t figure out what "mechanism" was responsible for Rabbi Slifkin’s unilateral submission.
I have much more to say on this topic but we will have to save it for another time.