It has been a while since I've posted to these pages. I can’t speak for my colleagues but I, for one, have been exceedingly busy. Readers have complained about the lack of posts and they are, of course, correct. In order to maintain an active blog, posts must appear on a regular basis and for this I am sorry. I hope to be able to devote more time to this venue in the future. For now, please accept the following insights.
In a recent post entitled ChassidicRebbe Discovers Evolution (Almost), Rabbi Slifkin relates an incident regarding an encounter he had with an unnamed Chassidic Rebbe. The Rebbe had read somewhere that a lion was captured in the
Desert and Rabbi Slifkin informed him
that all of the lions in this locality were killed out long ago and today exist only in small numbers in certain regions of Africa and . The
Rebbe was fascinated with this response. India
“Are lions not present all over the world” asked the Rebbe?
“No” responded Rabbi Slifkin, “species are generally restricted to specific localities”.
“But why would Hashem choose to limit lions to specific locations? Why not make them a global phenomenon?”
Rabbi Slifkin then changed the topic. A little further on Rabbi Slifkin informed the Rebbe that lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs, and cougars all fall under the category of “cats”. According to Rabbi Slifkin, this fascinated the Rebbe.
“What did it mean that the lion, tiger, leopard and jaguar were all in the cat family” asked the Rebbe? “Were they cats? Surely a lion would eat a cat!”
Rabbi Slifkin then explained to the Rebbe that they all have certain anatomical similarities which make them into one family. Amazingly enough, the Rebbe found Rabbi Slifkin’s explanation “intriguing”.
Frankly, I’m not sure what to make of this story. At first I assumed Rabbi Slifkin was merely trying to poke fun at Chassidic Rebbes but if so he picked the wrong Rebbe. This fellow, whoever he is, is not very knowledgeable, neither in science nor in Torah. Most high school boys with even a rudimentary exposure to animal biology understand that animals are grouped together according to their body structures.
As far as Torah, last week’s parsha discusses the creation of animals “according to their kinds”. This idea is repeated several times in the span of only a few pesukim and is used to describe the various kinds of birds, fish, large animals, and small creeping animals. It is clear from the Torah that animals are grouped into various “kinds”. Of course, the Torah does not describe its system of grouping in detail but anatomical similarity is clearly implicated. Furthermore, the Talmud is full of in-depth discussions in Zoology and it is clear that similarity is an important component in determining the connections between various animals. In fact, our very own lion is clearly connected to other large cats in the Talmud. Case in point: A tiger is referred to as the “lion” of bey ila’i (Chullin 59b).
Up until this point, our conversation has precious little to contribute to the understanding and resolution of the evolution-Torah loggerhead. But here’s where it gets serious. In contrast to the uninformed assumptions of the Chassidic Rebbe, Rabbi Slifkin does the favor of providing us with the “enlightened” scientific explanation as to why lions are limited to specific localities. He writes as follows:
Why are certain animals very similar to each other and very different from other animals? Why do lions and tigers and leopards and jaguars all resemble each other in various ways… Why do certain animals live in certain parts of the world?... The answers to all these questions emerges from a very simple insight: All animals descended from common ancestors. Lions and tigers and leopards and jaguars are all descended from an ancestral cat… And because animals emerged from common ancestors, they are often restricted to the locations of those ancestors.
Well, that’s very nice. Makes sense to someone with little to no knowledge of lions. But here’s the problem. Fossils of lions have been found all over the world! They cover the entire African continent, Asia, much of Europe and the
than human beings, lions are the most ubiquitous mammal (paleontologically
speaking) on the planet. They existed everywhere. Rabbi Slifkin would like us
to believe that his evolutionary explanation of the limited location of lions
is “rational” but unfortunately our Chassidic Rebbe’s query seems more
compelling. Why indeed did Hashem not create lions everywhere? The answer is,
he did! As to why they are so limited in number and location today, even
Zoologists don’t know the answer to that question. The current belief is that in-fighting
amongst the males and confrontation with humans are the two primary factors which
contribute to the lion’s rapid extinction. Evolution has nothing to do with it.
So, as far as lions are concerned, I think the score is: Ma’aseh Bereishis: 1 Evolution: 0. So much for lions. Here’s Rabbi Slifkin’s final comment.
I suspect that if common ancestry could be evaluated by itself, without any connection to the mechanisms of evolution, the evolution of man, and without any connection to godless atheists, a lot more people would be able to accept it. They would be receptive to Rav Hirsch's description of it being part of God's "creative wisdom."
I am a veteran of the evolution-Torah debate but I must confess that when I read this paragraph I was stunned into “silence”. I simply couldn't believe what I was reading. But on further reflection I gained new insight into Rabbi Slifkin’s point of view which I would like to share that with my dear readers. But first, a point by point response.
I suspect that if common ancestry could be evaluated by itself, without any connection to the mechanisms of evolution…
The problem is, it can’t. For the sake of argument, let’s refer to the two available options as 1) Evolutionary Common Ancestry (ECA) and 2) Intelligent Design (ID). ECA asserts that entirely unrelated species evolved from each other via natural processes. For instance, ECA claims that avian creatures (birds) evolved naturally from terrestrial animals (dinosaurs) and aquatic creatures (whales) evolved naturally from the land-based ancestor of the hippopotamus. The very first thing such a fantastic claim demands from the rational mind is the provision of a plausible mechanism which can reasonably account for such natural transformations. Absent such a mechanism, the entire evolutionary construct collapses and the only rational alternative which remains is ID.
knew this and therefore devoted his entire academic career to the development
of an evolutionary mechanism for ECA. Darwin
I suspect that if common ancestry could be evaluated by itself, without any connection to… the evolution of man,
The problem is, it can’t. ECA asserts that contemporary man evolved from a chimp-like ancestor 7 million years go. Now, chimps have a similar body structure (gross anatomy) to man. They are not as homologically dissimilar as, say, hipos and whales. So perhaps such a claim could temporarily be accepted in conjunction with the contemporary neo-Darwinian mechanism (Natural Selection acting upon Random Mutation), at least to those uninitiated in the science of genetics. But it would surely demand some kind of paleontological evidence linking the chimp to humans. After all, 7 million years is a long time. Unfortunately, the only missing links have turned out to be hoaxes (Java Man, Peking Man, Piltdown Man etc.). So not only does the lack of evidence implicate ID, it actually disproves ECA.
I suspect that if common ancestry could be evaluated by itself… without any connection to godless atheists…
The problem is, it can’t. Or at least, it shouldn't. If evolution is evaluated purely as a science like, say, Newtonian physics, this would lead to serious errors of conflation in science itself. But if one understands that the theory of evolution is really an attempt to provide a materialistic explanation for the existence of phenomena that actually look like they've been purposefully and intelligently designed, when one understands that the atheistic elite of the scientific establishment promote this theory at any cost, despite its illogical constructs and despite its lack of evidence, only then can one begin to see that evolution is not really a science but rather a worldview. In order to gain credibility, Evolution uses certain elements of science along with fancy scientific jargon in order to piggyback on the incredible advances of operational science but in reality it is nothing more than a strident and sustained attack by the Satan against the open testimony of a Creator which surrounds us on all sides.
Once one understands all this, it becomes a lot easier to resolve, scientifically, the contemporary “Torah-Science” conflict. One begins to understand that in reality there is no conflict between Science and Torah per se. The conflict is between scientists and Torah, not Science and Torah. The conflict is between materialism and Torah, between atheism and Torah, not Science and Torah.
I have been debating with Rabbi Slifkin for eight years now. I have attempted to maintain equanimity and fairness in our dialogues and have tried to judge him favorably whenever possible. I have chosen to assume that he is capable of weighing the two sides of the Evolution/Torah conflict objectively and is simply erring in his assessment of the available data. But I now realize that it is impossible for me to assume such a thing.
The reality is, Rabbi Slifkin is entirely taken by the evolutionist paradigm (ECA) and is therefore incapable, in my opinion, of an objective assessment of the scientific data. Of course, Rabbi Slifkin would say the same about me. He would say that I am entirely taken by the massoretic view of ma’aseh bereishis and am incapable of assessing the data objectively. But here’s the difference. In a million years you would never catch me trying to convince anyone of my scientific view by asking them to ignore the relevant scientific information.
Rabbi Slifkin wants to make it easier for us to accept the scientific establishment’s paradigm of ECA so he declares that if we could just put aside the mechanism issue, the evidence issue, and the philosophy of science issue, it would be so much easier to accept evolution. As I mentioned before, I was thunderstruck by his statement. How could a purported expert on Torah and Science ask his audience to accept his resolutions by ignoring the relevant scientific material? But the answer is simple. Rabbi Slifkin is utterly convinced of the physical truth of ECA. He is incapable of entertaining the alternative. Accordingly, he is capable of saying anything, even irrational things, in order to help his audience to understand the “truth”.
Normally I do not comment on Rabbi Slifkin’s motives but the above is extremely important. There are many individuals who are taken by the apologetic arguments of Rabbi Slifkin and others. Unfortunately, instead of resolving anything, his approaches lead to further conflict, which in turn generates further resolutions, and which ultimately result in a wide scale rejection of our mesora. There are many people sitting on the fence. Some fall off to the left, some to the right. For those still remaining on the fence, my message is this. It is crucial that you weigh all the facts. Never ignore science. Embrace it and see where it leads you. If after an exhaustive and detailed assessment of the available data you choose the left, so be it. But don’t short-change yourself by ignoring the scientific facts. You’re not doing yourself any favors.