In our original post, we drew a clear distinction between belief in the doctrine of theistic evolution and the message of Purim which teaches that God is behind the affairs of our universe albeit in a hidden fashion. We demonstrated how the former doctrine is openly opposed by the verses of the Torah and the clear consensus of our ba'alei mesorah, whereas the latter is firmly grounded in normative Jewish theology. The current post aims to clarify some issues which came up subsequently in the comment section of the aforementioned post.
An interlocutor stated as follows:
His question can be broken down into the following four components.
Rabbi Coffer - do you only see the Hand of Hashem in the creation of nature? You don't see it in our lives today - in historical events, in how nature operates, in your personal life? Surely you must be aware that science explains all these things without recourse to a Creator; just in terms of random, blind processes. And I'm sure that you don't deny these scientific explanations. So if you believe that such scientific explanations deny seeing the hand of Hashem, aren't you ruling God out of the picture?
1) Surely we see the hand of Hashem in all of the affairs of our universe, not just its Creation.
He is, of course, correct
2) Surely we recognize that just as evolutionary theory appeals exclusively to random blind processes, so too do all forms of scientific endeavor appeal solely to unguided processes.
Although superficially this might seem to be true, it is in fact false and highly misleading as will be demonstrated shortly.
3) For the most part, we accept scientific explanations which explain the current events of our lives.
True, although as in the previous assertion, highly misleading. Our interlocutor then goes on to make the following leap of reasoning.
4) Since we’ve eliminated evolution due to the fact that it appeals exclusively to unguided forces, what gives us the right to accept other forms of scientific endeavor (I believe meteorology was one of the examples given)? By accepting some forms of scientific explanation, are we not tacitly admitting that God is not behind these explanations? And if we respond that we accept the science but reject the idea that God is not behind it, then why can we not adopt the same approach to evolution?
The truth of the matter is, this is little more than a paraphrase of Rabbi Slifkin’s argument and was directly addressed in the last post. As we mentioned there, evolution – inasmuch as it addresses the scientific view of the origins of multi-cellular life – is entirely incompatible with the Torah which clearly states that multi-cellular life originated via direct meta-natural fiat. He commanded the vegetation to begin sprouting on Day Three before the process of photo-synthesis was enacted on Day Four. He commanded the waters to generate fish on Day Five and the earth to generate animals on Day Six. In short, God wasn’t hiding behind the laws of nature. He was creating them!
On the other hand, at the completion of ma’aseh bereishis, Hashem did establish the laws of nature and then receded behind them. From that point on, the laws of Nature remain immutable. They remain consistent. And they remain predictable. Only at this point can science begin playing a role.
In order to grasp this idea fully, a few things must be explained up front. There are two distinct branches of science.
1) Operational / Technological
2) Historical / Origin based
The former category is primarily concerned with defining the physical properties of a given entity and defining the laws of nature which govern it. The reason we accept the conclusions of scientists in these fields is because they are nothing more than technical descriptions of physical reality. They have no bearing at all on theology. Their conclusions are all empirically observable and verifiable in the laboratory, and the byproducts of their research are productive and useful in promoting the welfare of mankind and the general human condition.
When it comes to these types of fields, theism is not a contradiction. Some of the greatest scientists in these fields were theists, such as Newton and Einstein. They didn’t feel that their religious beliefs in any way contradicted their work in science. But obviously they never appealed to "God" when attempting to formulate their theories. Just as a plumber doesn’t open up a chumash when he is learning how to thread a pipe, so too an engineer doesn’t look for assistance in thermodynamic theory by opening a mishna berura.
On the other hand, the conclusions of scientists in the Historical/Origin based sciences are an entirely different story. First of all, by their very nature their conclusions are not empirically observable. They theorize about what happened in the past by making backward extrapolations, sometimes vast extrapolations, which are based on the unfounded premise that the current laws of nature were exactly the same all along. This alone should give any intelligent individual pause; how can I possibly justify the unmitigated acceptance of scientific conclusions in these fields without even questioning them? Especially since their conclusions change as often as a baby’s diapers.
Second of all, their field of enterprise has everything to do with theology. For instance, let’s take evolution. Evolution is concerned with attempting to describe precisely how we can account for the incredible variety of endlessly complex life forms present on earth. Evolutionary theory is one theory but Intelligent Design is at least an equally valid theory. Yet the majority of scientists insist that Intelligent Design not be granted any credence at all. Any objective individual would have to ask himself "why not"? But the answer is obvious and is echoed by practically every philosopher of science. Here’s what famous evolutionist Richard Lewontin of Harvard University has to say.
There's the problem! Intelligent design sounds too much like God. After all, God would be a perfect candidate. And therefore, under no circumstances can we allow a Divine Foot in the door. It’s not that Intelligent Design is inherently flawed in any way. It’s that it countermands their philosophy of materialism. So why shouldn’t we reject their scientific conclusions in these fields? Especially when the Torah openly implies that the evolutionary model is entirely false!
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism. It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door. The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that miracles may happen. (Richard C. Lewontin, The New York Review of Books, Billions and Billions of Demons, January 9, 1997)
Once we’ve gotten to this point, theistic evolution becomes irrelevant for two reasons. First of all, it is entirely unnecessary and second of all it openly contradicts the Torah’s description of recent, rapid Creation via meta-natural fiat.
This concludes our treatment of the Blind Watchmaker Thesis and why it is not compatible with the Torah. In our next post, we will deal with what I personally feel is most objectionable about Rabbi Slifkin’s theology.