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.