|Ask Rabbi Simmons|
Does the Jewish faith accept the doctrine of evolution as opposed to creation. If so please explain further.
How did G-d create the world? The Torah commentator Rashi tells us that G-d created everything in potential on Day One, and then different species developed from that primordial soup. (see Genesis 1:24, 2:4) It is worthwhile noting that as he was writing in the 11th century, Rashi was not making apologetics in the face of a scientific challenge!
Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch (19th century Germany) further explains that each "Day" represents a specific stage of creation - i.e. a mingling of raw materials and bursts of dramatic new development. As you go through the Torah's account, you see described a gradual process from simple to more complex organisms - first a mass of swirling gasses, then water, then the emergence of dry land, followed by plants, fish, birds, animals, and finally, human beings. This pattern may be similar to the evolutionary process proposed by science.
It is truly fascinating to realize that the Torah's position never changed; science has come to match it! In fact, the recently proposed Punctuated Theory of Equilibria is a further step toward the reconciliation of Judaism and science. In other words, Arnold Penzias, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his research on the Big Bang, remarked: "What we see marking the flight of galaxies with our telescopes, Maimonides saw from his metaphysical view."
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Of course, there is a point where the Torah and the "evolutionists" diverge. The Bible says these things didn't happen by accident. God made it all happen. Or in other words, is the human being simply a smarter monkey, or a qualitatively different creation? The Torah tells us that G-d blew into Adam a spiritual soul, which is what separates man from all other creatures. (see Genesis 2:7)
You may ask, what difference does it make? Judaism teaches that the purpose of our existence is to sanctify life by utilizing everything in the world to get close to G-d. Only a being with a spiritual soul can have the "spiritual consciousness" necessary to achieve this. If you would remove this aspect of existence, then everything in the world is ultimately meaningless and we are all reduced to a random collection of molecules.
On a deeper level, "physics" is actually a pathway toward understanding the inner science of "metaphysics." As Maimonides writes: "As long as you are occupied with the mathematical sciences and the technique of logic, you belong to those who walk around the palace in search of the gate... When you complete your study of the natural sciences and get a grasp of the metaphysics, you enter into the inner courtyard and have are in the same house as [G-d the King]."
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As for the scientific specifics of creation, Judaism understands that all the details are not revealed for us to understand. As the Talmud explains: Why does the Torah begin with the letter "bet?" To tell you that just as a "bet" is closed on three sides and open only in a forward direction, so too there are many things which occurred prior to the Torah's account which we cannot understand. And what is the only letter which precedes a "bet?" It is "aleph," the first letter of the alpha-bet, with the numerical value of one, representing the One and Only G-d. This tells you that prior to creation only one thing existed - G-d. (see Talmud Yerushalmi - Chagiga 2:1, and commentaries)
To learn more, read the "Permission to Believe" by Lawrence Keleman (Feldheim 1990), and the newest book by Dr. Schroeder, "The Science of God." And next time you're in Jerusalem, you can hear both of these authors lecturing at Aish HaTorah.
With blessings from Jerusalem,
Rabbi Shraga Simmons