Let me start by saying that I think that evolutionary science provides the best description we have of how life came to exist in its present form, that intelligent design is junk science (at best), and that Judge Jones made exactly the right decision in the Dover School Board case. I.D., which is just creationism by another name, has no place in a public school curriculum. That said, the concept of intelligent design is central to my understanding of what it means to be Jewish.
Before we eat, we say a berachah (a blessing). When we wake up in the morning, we say a berachah. When we see the first buds blossoming in the spring–we say a berachah. A berachah is a way of acknowledging how astonishing the world truly is, of looking at everything around us with radical amazement and gratitude. More specifically, the berachah acknowledges God as the source of all of these wonders, honors the divine flow of life that animates the universe.
Intelligent design is rooted in a similar sense of awe and wonder. Science can describe the cellular structure of an apple, tell us how it grows and propagates in great detail, explain the organic compounds that make it sweet. But science cannot tell us that the apple is a miracle; intelligent design can.
Intelligent design at some level means acknowledging that the world around us is beyond our comprehension, cannot be fully described in terms of equations and chemical reactions–and I agree. Perhaps this is because as a rabbi, I am more interested in meaning than in mechanics.
Evolution, with its doctrine of survival of the fittest, would be a dismal model on which to base a system of ultimate moral meaning. The Jewish religious approach to how to understand the world–with radical amazement, with a sense in the world’s abiding goodness and purpose–is far more in keeping with intelligent design than with evolution.
When I say “intelligent design” here, I should be clear I’m not talking about a pseudo-scientific political movement for which I have no sympathies, but rather the core values that underlie the desire to see the world as more than the sum of concrete, describable parts. These values are mine as well, and I hope to pass them along to my children, pray never to take the world and its precious resources for granted.
But this is my choice and my role–the lens I use to see the world as a rabbi is just one of the many possible lenses that we can use and that people do use in this country. There are other religious traditions, and there are those who stand outside of any religious tradition at all.
The job of the public schools is to nurture the mind, and then families can decide how to nurture the soul. This is not the Dover School Board’s job, and I don’t want them teaching my children what to believe.
Let’s teach our children evolution in school so they will be educated, and the wonder of God in synagogue so they will be wise.