Rabbi Mordechai Halperin M.D.
Director, the Dr. Falk Schlesinger Institute for Medical-Halachic Research Director, Jerusalem Medical Center for Impotence and Fertility

From: ASSIA, February 2001

The word "evolution" arouses strong and conflicting feelings among different groups of people. Religious people are reminded by this term of the endless struggles that the nineteenth-century scientists conducted against the Catholic Church. Scientists who had at that time been freed from the oppression of the Church fought bitterly against any religious faith, as a reaction against the restrictions that the Church had imposed on scientific thought for many centuries. The burning of Giordano Bruno at the stake in 1600 and the bringing of Galileo Galilei before the Inquisition in the sixteen-thirties together with his quiet muttering "but it will nonetheless move", became essential parts of the anti-religious creed of the nineteenth-century scientists. Darwin's theory of the origin of species', making use of the laws of evolution, became a prominent component of the banner of Liberation from the Yoke of the Church, and to many it represented the antithesis of religious belief.

To secularists the word evolution brings to mind similar associations from the other side. To many, "evolution" was understood to be a scientific alternative to belief in the Creator. Many people, especially those not closely familiar with scientific research and its principles, see in the Theory of Evolution a scientific proof of the absence of divine creation and of the natural development of man from monkey (or more strictly both from a common ancestor), which developed from lower creatures which in turn developed from a primordial biological cell that came into being by accident as a result of physical and chemical occurrences at some very early time.

Unfortunately, many people fail to appreciate and understand scientific methods. Confusion of terms is common. So too is an inability to distinguish between a theory or assumption and conclusions drawn from controlled experiments. It is no wonder that at times one listens to a "dialogue among the deaf" on evolution, a dialogue based on lack of information and of scientific understanding on both sides. It is now time to clarify the scientific terms, and to differentiate between laws of nature that can be scientifically proved and extrapolative theories which serve as a pivot of faith to sworn atheists although they lack a scientific proof.

The Emotional Problem
Man is an emotional, observant and thinking creature. Observation of his surroundings arouses questions already in childhood. Every child who sees an impressive building asks his parents "Who built this building?" Likewise, everyone passes through a stage in his life when he asks "Who created this world?" This latter question has no immediate implication, as opposed to questions concerning the characteristics of our world. Information on the characteristics of the world and the laws under which it operates enable us to develop technology and make use of the results as we wish. By contrast, an answer to the question "Who created this world" will make no direct difference to our conditions of life. There is simply a deep emotional need to know the answer, a need that already exists in childhood. Its practical effect focuses only on the personal conclusions regarding the place of a person in his world and on his personal attitude to religious faith.

In the distant past two conflicting answers were already given to the question "Who created this world?" Aristotle, who in this instance represents the Greek philosophers, believed in the (past) eternity of the world. In his opinion the world has existed with its laws of nature since all eternity. In simple terms, the world has always existed. This theory is based on the assumption of or belief in the absence of a creator, and conversely the absence of a creator demands as a corollary the eternity of the world.

Against the Aristotelian theory, the religious answer to the fundamental question "`Who created this world?" is based on the opposite belief - that there is a creator. The world is comparatively young; it underwent a creation process by the Creator.

Each theory contains an element that is beyond human conception. The Aristotelian, that the world goes back to all eternity, incorporates the concept of infinity which is far from ordinary human conception, even though it can be defined in mathematical philosophy. The religious approach on the other hand contains the faith in a Creator, whose very nature is beyond human conception. In the words of Maimonides (Laws of Repentance, end of Chapter 5): "Man has not the power to discover the true nature of the Creator, as it is written For no man will see me and live (Ex. 33:20)."

The Second Law of Thermodynamics
The nineteenth-century secular scientists, who on being freed from oppression by the Church rejected any connection with the Church or with any religion, had an interesting attitude. They rejected out of hand any scientific explanation that might affect their faith in the eternity of the world. In his fascinating book Between Science and Religion (in Hebrew,: publ.: Joshua Chechik, Tel Aviv, 1965), Professor Chernievsky describes two fundamental scientific principles that are today accepted without dispute, but which were rejected for many years by the nineteenth-century scientific community because of the "danger" that accepting them might cast doubts on the holy principle of the eternity of the world and the absence of a creator. These two principles were the Principle of Least Action and the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics was born in the mind of a French engineer named Sadi Carnot (1796-1832) at the end of the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The principle, as translated by Ludwig Boltzmann into popular language, determines that in natural processes the amount of disorder in a closed system increases all the time. The physicist Rudolf Clausius (1822-1888) gave the law a clear and precise mathematical expression when he introduced a new quantitative term into science which he called "entropy." This quantity has a special peculiarity: in all natural processes in a closed system its numerical value can only increase, or more precisely, it never decreases. In other words, in nature there is asymmetry with respect to time, events are uni-directional. The world develops in such a way that its entropy is always increasing.

Asimov describes this graphically1:

Another way of expressing the Second Law of Thermodynamics is that the Universe is progressing all the time towards chaos. In this way we can see the realisation of the Second Law wherever we turn. We have to invest a lot of hard work in tidying the house. Leave the room alone and see how quickly neglect increases. Even if no living creature enters it, a layer of dust and filth accumulates. Consider how much work is needed in maintaining the house, and in maintaining machinery, how much treatment we have to apply to our bodies that we should remain clean. In fact everything deteriorates and wears away if we do not apply proper treatment and care.
Two conclusions follow from this Law. First, that an imaginary journey backwards in time will eventually bring us to a time when entropy was a minimum. Before this time no processes were possible, a strong blow against those who believed in the eternity of the world. Second, that the world as a closed system is progressing towards a state of maximum entropy, with complete chaos, a state that could be described as "the death of the world." This implication of the entropy principle led many in the nineteenth century to reject it on metaphysical grounds. In the twentieth century, after Western science had freed itself from the struggle against the Church, the Second Law of Thermodynamics became one of the corner-stones of exact science.

The Big Bang
The theory of the eternity of the world Theory received many blows in the last century. A vast amount of scientific evidence indicates the rapid recession of the galaxies and the physical spreading of all material in the universe outwards from its center. All this evidence points to an early point in time when all the material in the universe was concentrated at one spot, from which it started to spread out into space. This and other evidence led physicists to assume the existence of a Big Bang, a mighty explosion of energy in the distant past, at the time when the universe began to develop and spread out into space from one small point in its vast dimensions.

To say the least, these theories do not suppport the assumption of the eternity of the world. However, as in the past so today there are scientists who zealously uphold their belief in the Eternity Theory, and who have thereby been forced to develop "spring theories" in which everything spreads out and then springs back into place. There is no scientific basis for any of these theories, merely a need to reconcile scientific discoveries with their belief in the eternity of the world. In practice, many leading scientists today reject Aristotle's theory from a scientific standpoint.

How Was Man Created?
Rejecting belief in the eternity of the world poses a very difficult and sensitive problem to those scientists who "believe" in the absence of a creator: `How was man created?'.

The theory of the Origin of Species was formed to overcome such difficulties by applying the Laws of Evolution. The source of the theory goes as far back in history as ancient Greece, but it was rejuvenated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when it enabled European scientists freed from oppression by the Church to live with an explanation of the existence of life in the world.

The conceptual basis of the theory was supplied by fossils in early geological layers. The earliest creatures, which are also the simplest in structure, are generally found in the oldest layers. The oldest fossils discovered were single-celled creatures. In later layers there were algae and simple multiple-celled creatures. Still later appeared molluscs and creatures with legs, followed by insects and amphibia, then reptiles, birds and finally mammals. The order of the discoveries of living creatures from simple to complex led to a further assumption: not only did the complex creatures appear later in time than the simpler ones, but they are assumed to be derived and developed from the simpler ones who are their ancestors. To explain the mechanism that was claimed to have enabled this radical change to occur, the Darwinists and Neo-Darwinists used the Laws of Evolution.

The Laws of Evolution
For our discussion we first need to define the Laws of Evolution. These are laws of nature that explain changes in the characteristics of living organisms over a long period.

Examples of these changes are found in many areas. In the course of time bacteria that are initially sensitive to a specific antibiotic medicine develop immunity. The expression "changes in nature" is known to all familiar with halakhic (Jewish Law) literature, and is an example of the wider variety of changes in organisms over a long period.

Darwin coined the expression "natural selection" as a basic mechanism for evolutionary changes. The theory of Natural Selection states that all varieties reproduce more than is required to maintain the species in a world in which there is a cruel competitive struggle for survival, and most of those born are destroyed. There are small differences in the characteristics of individuals of each species which affect their ability to survive, so that the organisms which have characteristics most suitable to the environment have a greater chance of surviving long enough to pass on their characteristics to the next generation.

I have avoided here mentioning Darwin's additional assumptions that have since been disproved, for example the assumption that in every defined region the adult population tends to remain fixed in number, and have limited myself to considering the basic authorized principles of the theory of Natural Selection.

This theory explains observed changes in many species, and with the amendments of the geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky in 1937, who pointed to mutation as an additional mechanism, further evolutionary changes can be explained.

In a laboratory it is not difficult to demonstrate changes in large populations of bacteria and insects, changes in certain characteristics that affect their ability to survive in specific situations. But it has not been possible to demonstrate in a laboratory changes in which one species of living creature can produce offspring that is similar to, and appears to belong to, a different species! An analogy is the difference between chemistry and alchemy. It is possible by chemical means to alter chemical compounds, but it is not possible either by chemistry or alchemy to change lead into gold.

From a scientific point of view one can relate to the basic Laws of Natural Selection as to conclusions from controlled experiments. But there is no scientific evidence to support any assumption that these laws can be extrapolated to explain the alleged birth of offspring whose species is different to that of its parents.

The Attitude of Halakhic Scholars to Controlled Experiments.
Scientific principles based on observation and controlled experiments were always accepted in the world of halakhah (Jewish Law). Rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet, known as Ribash (1326-1408), in his Responsum 447 draws a fundamental distinction between the scientific approach of the (Talmudic) Sages and the Aristotelian approach. As is well known, Aristotle and his followers in many cases performed no experiments, but simply produced intellectual theories on what ought to happen in the world on the basis of the teleology (purpose) of nature, on the assumption that what ought to occur according to human thought certainly does occur. Even when the Greek scientists actually performed experiments, they did not take the trouble to perform controls to prevent doubts that might arise as to the validity of that experiment. For that reason, says Ribash,

We place no trust in the words of the Greek and Arab scientists, who gave their opinions only on the basis of their own theories or on some experiment without caring about any doubts that might arise regarding the validity of those experiments.

Consequently, Ribash accepted the opinion of the Sages that offspring inherit characteristics from both father and mother, in contrast to that of the Greek scientists who claimed that heredity is from the mother alone. Similarly, whereas the Greek scientists claimed that intercourse is dangerous for the mother in the eighth month of pregnancy, he accepted the opinion of the Sages that in the third trimester of pregnancy intercourse is beneficial both for the mother and for the fetus -- which is fully in accord with medical knowledge of the past decade.

From the words of Ribash we see that the Sages pioneered the approach that demands drawing conclusions only from controlled experiments, an approach that has been accepted in the medical world only in the past few generations. A similar conclusion may be reached from the words of Hatam Sofer (Responsa Yoreh Deah 45): "experience is a more trustworthy witness than all theories put together," or Nachmanides (Genesis 9:12), Maimonides (Guide for the Perplexed) and the Talmud itself (Hullin 55b): We do not say in terefot that this is like this." It follows that laws of Natural Selection that can be verified by observation and controlled experiment are accepted in Judaism. The Laws of Natural Selection explain satisfactorily phenomena of characteristics that change in the course of generations, but tell us nothing at all about the origin of species.

On the other hand, Darwin's Theory of the Origin of Species makes use of the Laws of Natural Selection in an attempt to explain the "faith" in the absence of a divine creator, and in the development of man from the ape (or, more strictly, both from a common ancestor, man being a more advanced development), in turn a development from an early single biological cell that came into being by accident by physical and chemical actions in the distant past.

The Origin of Species
Many are persuaded that the theory of the Origin of Species originated in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries from the Frenchmen Georges de Buffon and Jean Lamarck and the Englishman Charles Darwin. However a brief glance at history shows the existence of a similar theory already in the sixth century B.C.E. Anaximander of Miletus the Greek, a pupil of Thales, explains in his Book on Nature how life developed according to his belief: "The Earth was initially in liquid form, and as it settled into shape animals and man were created from it. First came fish, then as the water receded some of these were swept onto the land; of the latter some developed the ability to breathe air, and these were the ancestors of land animals at a later epoch."

Anaximander had nothing with which to back up his development theory. 2500 years later the Neo-Darwinists, believers in the Theory of the Origin of Species, try to use the Laws of Natural Selection to explain the mechanism of development from mineral matter to initial cells and eventually to man.

There have been Torah philosophers who found no fundamental contradiction between the Theory of Evolution and Jewish belief. Early in the twentieth century Rabbi Abraham Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel, wrote about this. On account of shortage of space, we will not deal here with this surprising approach, but will confine ourselves to actual scientific problems that prevent the acceptance of the neo-Darwinian theory.

What are the statistical chances of a living cell arising spontaneously from mineral matter? Two world-famous astronomers, Professor Sir Fred Hoyle and Chandra Wickramasingh, calculated the probability of such an event, and published their findings in a book (Evolution from Space, Hoyle F. & Wickramasingh C., London 1981). They claim that the probability of such occurring is one in ten-to-the-power-of-forty-thousand (1/1040). In their words, this number "is sufficient to bury Darwin together with the Theory of Evolution." It is worth noting that this same Fred Hoyle, one of the greatest astronomers of the past generation, is renowned in particular for his atheism! The London Times book critic (7.9.81, p. 6) impartially concluded that it seems that faith in Evolution and the Origin of Species has blinded the scientists.

As an attempt to reach a scientific expression, the Theory of the Origin of Species is far from convincing, despite the beautiful and attractive theories and "convincing pictures" of popular science books and secondary-school text-books. From a scientific viewpoint one may say that the Theory of the Origin of Species is not just unproved but almost disproved. From its very beginning it has been beset with serious scientific difficulties. When Darwin set it up, the terminology regarding heredity on which it was based was already out of date. Meanwhile it has been re-expressed on the basis of modern terms of mutation, but that has removed only a few of the problems. The theory requires that there should be thousands of generations to develop a new organ such that it can help in the fight for survival. Until it reaches a certain stage of development, the organ is usually an impediment; and as such, in the natural process that leads to the survival of the fittest, such an under developed organ is a cause of destruction for those who carry it. Further, there are a number of giant leaps that raise serious difficulties with the theory. In view of all this one needs a very strong and almost fanatical faith to continue to maintain belief in the theory.

Absurdity reaches its peak in the writings of the biologist Du-Noi (1947). After attacking the lack of reasonableness of the theory, he none the less accepts it, because in our times "it is almost impossible not to believe in evolution"! He answers the unacceptable problems by saying that he assumes direct divine(!) influence, on the assumption that the miracle of converting asexual reproduction to sexual reproduction is less of a miracle than the possibility of divine creation of the sexes separately, one after the other.

There is an enormous amount of literature scientifically criticising the theory of the Origin of Species from a variety of aspects. Hebrew readers interested in learning more about the problems that have arisen following new discoveries of fossils are recommended to Creation - Origin of Life (Jerusalem 1982, in Hebrew) by Dr. Mosheh Trop, which also deals with additional scientific glances at neo-Darwinism and an analysis of recent ideas in the field of evolution research. English readers may use its extensive English references to scientific literature.

In conclusion:
one needs to distinguish between results of controlled experiments in evolution on the one hand, and extrapolated results of `believers' in neo-Darwinist theories on the other.

There is no reason for a religious person to be afraid of exact science that deals with mutations and the Laws of Selection. On the other hand, there is no reason for an atheist to treat the theory of the Origin of Species as proven scientific fact, which it is not. One who wishes to believe in the Theory because it appeals to him aesthetically or because it provides an alternative emotional faith may do this only on his own responsibility, while recognizing that he is dealing with a personal belief and not with objective science.

1. Asimov I., Smithsonian Instit. Journal, June 1970, p. 6. (retranslated from the Hebrew translation).

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