Go After the Majority


With the 150-year anniversary of The Origin of Species just a few years away, here’s a startling fact: most Americans don’t buy it. According to CBS News, 51% believe that G-d Created humans as they are now, 30% believe in G-d-guided evolution, and a mere 15% believe that it happened at random. Last year CBS found that 55% believed G-d Created man (as is), but that’s not a statistically-significant decline (four points is the margin of error of this year’s poll alone).

Considering that evolution has been delivered to public-school students, without any alternative, for generations, this is very surprising — especially to Jews, who might well have expected the numbers to be reversed. The American Jewish Identity Survey (done at CUNY in 2001) recorded that 44% of Jews describe themselves as “secular” or “somewhat secular,” compared to only 16% of the US population. Jews are more likely than any other group to somewhat or strongly disagree with the statement that “there exists a G-d who performs miracles” — more so than Buddhists, whose religion isn’t theistic per se, and more than Americans of no declared faith.

It is interesting that the line between evolution and theism is so clearly drawn — at least in the traditional Jewish view, there’s certainly nothing wrong with believing that it looks like evolution happened from a scientific perspective. But although more than two-thirds of Americans agree that it is possible to believe in both G-d and evolution, an equally large majority do not hold that belief in practice.

This is, perhaps, why the pro-evolution crowd insists upon rejecting Intelligent Design as merely a fundamentalist Christian belief dressed in scientific clothing. That’s foolish. Those who offer ridicule in place of reason, by offering the flying spaghetti monster as an “alternative theory” of Intelligent Design, (deliberately) fail to mention that it’s not an alternative at all — the theory of Intelligent Design does not speculate about the nature of the designer.

Intelligent Design says one thing, and one thing only: the development of intelligent life on this planet is simply too complex to be the result of happenstance. Whether that designer was G-d or a spaghetti monster isn’t for the science classroom. This is where I.D. diverges from “Scientific Creationism,” which is a contradiction in terms — science measures nature, not miracles. I.D. asks whether or not the probabilities add up for the spontaneous generation of life, and for the random production of man through nothing more than natural selection and fortuitous mutation. Questions about probabilities are, of course, hard, factual, scientific questions, regardless of the implications of the answers.

The fact that so many opponents of I.D. attempt to cast it in theological terms — even to the point of offering silly “alternatives” to a never-provided first option — indicates that they are simply unable or unwilling to address the (purely scientific) questions themselves. Why not? Why not defend the theory that despite violating every standard of probability used in every other scientific field, spontaneous generation is still more plausible than design?

One is, at least, inspired to wonder what they so fear they might find.

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9 years 10 months ago

Rabbi Menken, you state in the comments above:

“One cannot dismiss or ignore evidence because it leads in uncomfortable directions. When I recorded that the generation of life is “simply too complex to be the result of happenstance,” that wasn’t some sort of vague feeling. Gerald Schroeder’s work with the numbers is one example of an extremely rigorous analysis, and he concludes that it would take a bunch of random monkeys 100 billion years to type a simple sentence by coincidence—far less complex than the most basic of life forms.”

Your statement of the generation of life, while perhaps not the result of a vague feeling, most certainly was NOT the result of a scientific inquiry, which after all is the theme of Intelligent design. Schroeder’s work is far from “rigorous.” I and many others are tired of Rabbis trotting out Schroeder’s books and statements and peddling them as scientific justification for your religious stances. Schroeder may have a PhD at the end of his name, but his quasi-religious arguments bear no relation to what he did as a geologist. Has anything he’s written with respect to “intelligent design” been peer-reviewed by scientists (as opposed to Rabbi peer-review)? Has he published on these topics in any respected scientific journal or even magazine? Of course not. This is because his work has been totally discredited as unscientific bunk. With all due respect, your assessment of Schroeder’s work (which has been regurgitated in countless iterations by Aish, Kelemen, and Slifkin, et al.) as “rigorous” is off the mark and irrelevant. Let’s hear about Schroeder when he gets published after peer review by scientists.

Also you are guilty of “picking and choosing” when it comes to Schroeder. To my understanding he is only addressing the likelihood of initial amino acids in the early earth’s soupy atmosphere evolving into the complex life forms we see today with his Million Monkey examples. (Or as Dennis Prager says “bacteria to Bach”).

However, Schroeder accepts evolution in principle, he just seems to think something “extra” is necessary. Of course, he also accepts carbon dating (something his geologist background is actually relevant to) yet your Everything Torah book wants to refute that based on the effect of the Flood on carbon isotopes. As far as I’m aware, Schroeder has no problem with humans evolving from apes, for example; he just claims that there must have been a push along the way to accelerate progress. Of course, his model is based on incomplete evidence, as this field is constantly progressing. In the most recent Scientific American, November issue, for example, new evidence is discussed for Earth cooling hundreds of millions, if not billions, of years earlier than previously thought. Thus, with a cooler earth earlier, amino acids could have coalesced even sooner into primitive life forms. And- you guessed it- with all that extra time, the calculations become a lot more appealing in terms of the probability that life evolved in the time frame given.

I think you said it best: “One cannot dismiss or ignore evidence because it leads in uncomfortable directions.”


P.S.- Your example of how few people believe in evolution in America is misleading and a clear example of the fallacy
of appeal to popularity. When judging a scientific model, who cares what “51%” of Americans believe? We all know that the mean IQ in america is 100. Thus, “50% of americans” could be those who range from 60-100, just following the bell curve for intelligence.

The folks in the article you cite likely believe Jesus is god. Are you therefore persuaded of that claim? In short, the the belief systems of the majority of Americans is irrelevant to this debate. And, if the whole point was to show how unpersuasive evolution is even when taught, why not do a poll of industrialized Western European countries and let’s see how many believe that god made man exactly as he is with no evolutionary influence. For more data, do a poll of the Arab world. I think you’ll find 95% believe “G-d Created humans as they are now.” Also, if you want to “go after the majority,” I’d say go after the majority of scientists when it comes to science and religion. Only 10% of “Eminent Scientists” believe in God! In fact, there is a negative correlation between religiosity and IQ. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religiousness_and_intelligence

I don’t beleive that inverse correlation applies as much to Jews, since our intelligence has been shown to have increased somewhat due to our religious designation. However that increase, ironically for your premise, occurred *through a process of selective mating and thereby favorable adaptation in response to anti-semitic environmental pressures*! That’s right- Jews evolved to be slightly more intelligent than average. This is borne out by our disproportionate representation in Nobel Prize winners, prominent scientists and the like. http://www.lagriffedulion.f2s.com/dialogue.htm

Thus, the Title of your article “Go after the majority”, and your reasoning disturb me. Intelligent Design is one step away from teaching christianity or islam in schools.

Charles B. Hall, PhD
9 years 10 months ago

I’m an Orthodox Jew and a working scientist.

I see two problems with teaching “Intelligent Design” in science classes. The first is that it isn’t science. It is not possible to use it to predict the results of experiment and observation. (To Netanel Livni — there is much science that isn’t experimental; probably the best example is that we know that cigarette smoking causes lung cancer in humans despite the fact that there has never been an experimental study that shows that. It would be unethical!) The scientific method itself neither requires that there be a “designer” or prohibits it. Rather, it tries to explain observed facts and predict future observations.

The second reason is that the idea that there is a “designer” is not something that should be subjected to scientific inquiry! If we as believers really want to argue that ID should be treated as science, we have to be prepared to accept the consequences. And those consequences are that the existence of God would then be potentially subject to scientific investigation. Chas v’shalom! But we can’t have it both ways. If ID is science then it can be tested, if it isn’t then it doesn’t belong in science classes.

I think we are just going through a fad right now. For centuries, philosophers tried in vain to “prove” the existence of God through logic and other philosophical arguments. They failed. Now, as the scientific method has replaced philosophy as the way in which questions that religion does not address can get answered, it is natural for us to try to fit God into a scientific context. That, too, will fail. The reason is simple: Both philosophy and science are human constructs, both of which are inadequate to represent the true nature of the divine.

Better than teaching ID in science classes would be to do a better job of teaching what science actually is and is not. It answers “how”, not “why”. And also better than teaching ID in science classes would be to admit that it is ok even according to the most stringent interpretation of the First Amendment to teach about religion and why it has been important for all of human history — long before the existence of philosophers or scientists. That can be done without any indoctrination and without violating the US Constitution’s Establishment Clause.

There is a false dichotomy that a lot of people posit that one must accept a pretty literal biblical view, or a scientific perspective, but not both. But “The law of the excluded middle does not apply to Torah”: It is possible in Torah for two apparently contractory positions to both be true. We see this in halachah repeatedly; it is true here as well. It may be a challenge to our understanding, but it is one we can use for our own growth in our appreciation of God and God’s creation.

Netanel Livni
9 years 11 months ago


We have evidence for many things that can not be made to fit into the scientific method. Maybe I am using the word science in its most specific meaning while you are using it in its most general sense. Evolution, if you wanted to argue it is a science, would have to qualify as one of “soft sciences” (I would say “softest science”) in that it is not subject to experimental verification. To teach it with the same scientific authority as Newtonian physics or organic chemistry insults the real achievements of true scientific methodology. BTW, I would say the same exact thing about the big bang.

I would not presume to be able to read the thoughts of the average science teacher, but in my admittedly subjective recollection, the average lesson in evolution always carried with it a few snide remarks about G-d and religion. All I am saying that unless teachers are able to give the data over in its proper weight and context, it should not be taught in science class at all.