In his most recent post, Rabbi Slifkin reminisces about the theological impasse that results from traditional Judaism’s confrontation with evolution. He writes:
One aspect of this that always puzzled me was, why did people care so much? Many of these people had no real interest in this topic, let alone expertise. It's not as though evolution poses any serious theological problems… Why do people care about evolution so much?
The answer is twofold.
1) Evolution does pose a serious theological problem. The most important message of the Torah – the fact of all facts – is that Hashem is the Creator. But the Torah doesn’t leave it at that. It delineates the specific details of Creation. The verses of the Torah make it clear that Hashem Created the world recently, rapidly, and supernaturally. In direct contrast, evolution maintains that the earth was initially formed billions of years ago, that it evolved over billions of years, and that the evolution of the earth was naturalistic. This poses a direct contradiction to virtually every detail of ma’aseh bereishis as depicted in the Torah and therefore undermines (chs’v), or at the very least throws suspicion (chs'v) on the Torah’s very claim of Creation by a Creator.
2) Evolutionary theory is actually an atheistic world view posing as science. Unfortunately, evolution is widespread in the popular media and is taught as scientific fact in all mainstream universities. Even governments have been influenced to act in promotion of its goals. Put simply; evolution is currently the most powerful tool in the furtherance of atheism and the philosophy of materialism (notwithstanding the misguided few that believe in the God of the Bible yet feel justified in adopting the evolutionary paradigm).
Eventually I realized that it has very little to do with either science or theology. Rather, it was about the social aspects. For various historical (but not theological) reasons, evolution has become the signature area of battle between religion and atheism. It's "us" versus "them." My own involvement led to even more emotional social struggle: Loyal Followers of The Gedolim, versus Jews who are Against The Gedolim. This battle wasn't about science or theology; it was about personal identity. No wonder emotions ran high.
Rabbi Slifkin is not entirely wrong. Evolution has indeed become one of the primary fields of battle between religion and atheism, it is often attended by high drama, and yes, it is “us” versus “them”. But to say that it has little to do with science or theology is naïve.
Eighteenth century European Enlightenment was a movement whose express goal was to counteract the abuses of the Church. And although it lost its momentum in the early 19th century, the need for reform persisted. When
Darwin came along in 1859 and provided the
world with a naturalistic explanation for the presence of complex and
purposeful biological phenomena, they jumped on it! This is exactly what they
were looking for; a way to counteract religious doctrine in order to undermine
the authority of the Church. Darwin’s
explanations provided the perfect tool. Once the presence of the world could be
explained without recourse to a Creator, God becomes unnecessary and the Church
The reality is, biological Evolution is specifically a non-theistic explanation for complex life and is actively used by the scientific community as a means of marginalizing the Bible’s teachings about God, Creation, Morality, Free Choice, the Divine element in man, and host of other religious principles. Evolution is an all-out assault on religion, nothing less. In this sense, the “battle” Rabbi Slifkin mentions above has everything to do with theology and science.