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Piety, Polity, and Darwinism

Thank God U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III ruled that intelligent design (ID) is not science and therefore has no place in the classroom. Thank God that the concerned parents in Dover, PA, had the courage to fight their school board on this issue. Our constitutional guarantees of separation of church and state and the disestablishment of religion are only as secure as we make them by our vigilance and participation in the political process.

That said, what are we, as Jews, to believe during this brouhaha about science, faith and evolution?

Ironically, the very science that is under attack by the “faithful” strengthens my own faith.


That a biblical story thousands of years old even loosely reflects the steps that science, in the form of Darwin’s theory of evolution, has uncovered, seems incredible, unless the biblical text was inspired by the very creator responsible for these events. (How else would an ancient people have conceived of such a thing?)

The whole six, 24-hour, day program, of course, seems clearly metaphoric: God’s sense of time is certainly not our own. I chalk up minor discrepancies between the evolutionary record and the biblical text to the way God needed to communicate in a simple manner to an ancient people. Nevertheless, to me, the seeds of evolutionary theory are there in the biblical text, as simple life forms are followed by more complex life forms. Darwin’s theory merely exposes how God’s hand worked behind the scenes throughout prehistory, as it so often has done throughout human history.


If that sounds like ID, in a way it is, because I believe in God as creator of the world. But that doesn’t mean I think ID belongs in the classroom. I believe there is a difference between personal piety and communal polity, between being an honest observer of the world while retaining one’s own personal faith and foisting one’s own faith upon others.

The most important point of the creation story, though, has nothing to do with science or the (pre)historical reliability of the biblical text. It has to do with the values that make the Bible eternally sacred and relevant.

In particular, these values are found in one little word that appears repeatedly in the Creation story: the word “good.” The physical world is good and was created for good.

Our lives here have a God-given value, meaning, purpose, and responsibility: to actualize that good in the world. That is the essence of the Jewish reading of Scripture. All the rest is commentary.

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posted January 26, 2006 at 2:07 am

No rabbi instead we have a whole new faith system, which is what you seem to have bought into. Darwinian creation is even more of a faith system than intelligent design. there is no, zero, nil, nada proof of a system that can create and grow itself, it defies all the laws of physics entropy. At least intelligent design is intellectually honest, a transcendant being created, put in motion and supervised the creation of the universe. Anything else is a faith system and how that can be foisted on school children which most scientists don’t even accept it is something that is illogical. I have never seen an intelligible argument for it and cannot honestly understand what it’s proponents are trying to say. As for separation of church and state it is not in the constitution it was a phrase used by President Jefferson in a letter. Please check the constitution and a science book the next time you propose to write about creation.

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posted January 26, 2006 at 4:27 pm

Uh, Jim, most scientists do accept evolution as an extremely probable theory. I agree that science relies on faith, to an extent, and some people can even worship science in and of itself. But since evolution seems to make logical sense, as well as have scientific endorsement today, why not take R. Grossman’s approach and say, “Wow, this really strengthens my faith and helps me appreciate the wonder of creation”??

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posted January 26, 2006 at 5:15 pm

Evolution is taught as a theory, based on observation, as are other sciences and mathmatics. A theory remains until it is either proved or disproved. I can live with that. The problem with presenting ID or any other form of “G-d made this” to a public school class, is…how do you answer the follow-up questions? Whose G-d? I personally believe in One, and only One, but others disagree. Public school is not the place to sort this out, as there would not be enough time remaining in the school day to cover the basics we send our children there to learn. Your home and place of worship is a much more appropriate venue for those discussions. Despite what others might say, I believe that parents have more influence over their children than schools, peers, or others. Children learn from what we say, and do. Every comment and action is recorded, including expressed intolerance of the opinion of others, and lack of respect for education. I believe that stronger faith is developed when it is questioned.

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posted January 27, 2006 at 2:40 pm

Elizabeth: You are completely correct. Once we permit I.D. to come into schools Hindu children will try to tell the class that not only were the species created by a god, but that after they were preserved for a certain length of time by another god they were destroyed by a third god. This follows the polyteistic view of Hinduism which puts all (or almost all) of their gods into three lineages, from Brahma, the Creator to Vishnu, the Preserver, to Shiva, the Destroyer. It may be best to leave religious ideas in religious places and not to force it into the places of secular education.

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posted January 27, 2006 at 4:05 pm

And if nothing comes from nothing, but only from an intelligent designer Then — where does that designer come from? Who made the watchmaker? And if the design is so intelligent – why does Down’s Syndrome exist (strictly speaking they are mutants with a different number of chromosomes than normal humans), or Tay-Sachs, or small pox? Or a host of other conditions like XYY genes? Even Behe admitted under oath that ID is not science. I believe in a design but not as an article of science, especially because ID is only invoked to avoid hard reasearch and tough questions.

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Elan Netser

posted January 30, 2006 at 3:54 pm

of all things I agree with your conclusion. If I may reitirate it in my own words: The different between inteligent disign and evolution is that God created the world and at the end of each day, at the end of each task he looked at the work done and saw good, thus imbedding a value into it. where Is evolution, like all science, sees nothing but fact. Simple, cold, with no spirit or value fact. what we do with this fact is left to us. where is if we follow biblical thought – according to my humble opinion – than what we have around us is good. is full of value and thus should be preserved. And when used, used only for good.

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