Pursuant to our most recent blog entry, Rabbi Slifkin took to the comment section to protest what he considers a mischaracterization of his position on our part. In fact, he feels that our description more aptly fits the parameters of this Blog’s own position! This blog entry is dedicated to responding to his claims while simultaneously clarifying both his position and our own.
Rabbi Slifkin maintains that there is sufficient evidence to assume that the world is very old and that life evolved over a period of billions of years. He admits that he is not sure precisely which mechanism could be responsible for such a feat but nonetheless he is convinced that it definitely did happen. Consequently, he is forced to reinterpret the verses in Genesis and reject our universal mesorah. This alone has been a cause of much concern amongst his critics but is not the topic of this blog entry and will thus be overlooked for the time being.
Our most recent accusation against Rabbi Slifkin’s view is that it compromises our ability to utilize a study of the beriah as a means of becoming aware of Hashem’s presence. In response to this accusation, Rabbi Slifkin makes a vigorous counter-argument that is designed not only to defend his position but to simultaneously condemn our position. His argument goes as follows. Since we would admit that one of the fundamental imperatives of Jewish theology is to see Hashem’s hand in the events of our lives and in the events of history, evolution is no different. If evolution did indeed occur, we would simply attribute it to Divine Providence working in the background in exactly the same way we would attribute the events of our lives to Divine Providence. Thus, claims Rabbi Slifkin, by maintaining that evolution compromises our ability to see Hashem, we are in effect countermanding the well-established Jewish principle of Hashgacha.
On the surface his argument might seem compelling but just a little contemplation reveals the fallacy of his position. As explained in the comment section of the aforementioned blog, Rabbi Slifkin is improperly conflating two separate concepts. A study of the beriah is conducted for the purpose of establishing the presence of the Creator whereas the concept of Hashgacha enjoins us to impute the already established reality of a Creator to the daily events of our lives or to historical events, something we would not necessarily have done had we not first established His existence (either from the beriah or from the Torah).
In response to this, Rabbi Slifkin claimed that he too uses the beriah as a means of establishing the presence of the Creator, just not through the phenomena of the universe. Rather, he sees God in the fortuitousness of the laws of nature (e.g. fine-tuning coincidences)
While acknowledging Rabbi Slifkin’s claim, we maintain that such a position is wholly untenable. The phenomena of the universe also require a healthy measure of "fortuitousness", especially life. What principled distinction can Rabbi Slifkin make between fine tuning coincidences (i.e. laws of nature) and random chance mutations of the gene (i.e. evolution)? None. Thus, his claim is self-contradictory and therefore incoherent.
While contemplating all this, I suddenly realized precisely what bothers people about our rejection of Rabbi Slifkin’s view, including perhaps, Rabbi Slifkin himself. Notwithstanding all of our argumentation above, the simple fact remains that there are two possible explanations for life: either it was specially created or it evolved via naturalistic causes. Even if the latter is statistically improbable, so what? Do we really need to make such a big deal of all this? After all, we can still see Hashem in the beriah via our own self-mandated theology (i.e. hashgacha). As such, evolution is consistent with our theology! Who says we have to see Him directly from a study of the beriah??
Personally, I believe our remarks about the importance of seeing Hashem directly from the beriah should convince people of the major theological shortcomings inherent in Rabbi Slifkin’s views but since there seems to be some resistance to this critique, I’d like to approach this from an entirely different angle. Rabbi Slifkin and his chasidim consider themselves "rationalists" and therefore the following argument appeals to the rational element in man.
Consider the following. You are sleeping in the top floor of your home when suddenly you are awakened by the sound of rumbling in the attic. You try and fall back asleep but the rumbling continues. Your wife is also awakened and both of you stare at each other quizzically. She speaks first.
"I think the beavers hanging out in our backyard finally figured out how to make a nest in our attic. There’s been a rash of beaver nests in this neighborhood. We need to call the ASPCA tomorrow. They’ll know how to get rid of them"
Satisfied with her explanation, your wife closes her eyes and tries to get back to sleep. Not to be outdone, you decide to advance a theory of your own.
"That’s not it", you tell your wife. "I think I know what’s going on. Recently, a family of three foot tall green goblins moved into our attic. Occasionally they get bored so they entertain themselves by bowling. The rumbling noises we are hearing tonight is the sound of three foot tall green goblins bowling".
Now, is your explanation illogical? Absolutely not. The noise that three foot tall green goblins would make bowling is logically consistent with the available empirical evidence i.e. the sounds you are hearing. But is it rational? Does it appeal to our native human intellect? I think that anyone reading this would most likely reply in the negative. (If you reply in the positive, this Blog has nothing significant to impart to you and you are wasting your time reading it).
The same applies to Rabbi Slifkin’s view. Yes, it is logically consistent with our theology of hashgacha. But is his view rational? Do we need hashgacha to see Hashem in the phenomena of life? Isn’t life so amazingly complex, so amazingly purposeful? Doesn’t it scream out the presence of a designer no less than the laws of nature Rabbi Slifkin is so fond of quoting? We have a choice. Either we can align the phenomena of life with the theology of hashgacha or we can align it with the theology of ma’aseh bereishis i.e. special creation. The rational choice is clear and thus Rabbi Slifkin’s choice is simply irrational. Since he considers himself a rationalist, it would behoove him to reconsider his views on ma’aseh bereishis.