Science and Creation: Evolution weekend

This coming Shabbat we’ll have P. Thomas Carroll, Executive Director of the Hudson Mohawk Gateway and an adjunct professor at RPI, come to services to speak about Darwin. In particular, he knows a great deal about Darwin’s thoughts about the connection between religion and evolution and about how religious ideas did or did not have an impact on Darwin’s life and work.

We’ll be celebrating “Evolution Shabbat” as part of “Evolution Weekend,” which is in its third year. It’s held, among other reasons, to challenge the point of view that religion and science must be antagonistic. That point of view is a stumbling block for some folks who view the world through a scientific or rational lens and therefore believe that there is no place for them in a religious community. I’ve run into this myself. It’s a misunderstanding of religion, this orthodoxy of the non-religious. In the Jewish world we sometimes describe this as “The synagogue that I don’t go to is Orthodox!”

Of course, once you understand that religion can be flexible, and religious belief is not an all-or-nothing proposition wherein you must reject the whole package if you find some beliefs that are myth to you, then you may find a synagogue that you can go to … and it might still be Orthodox, you know. Orthodoxy and rigidity are not synonymous. Certainly in Judaism, where Orthodoxy (“correct belief”) should really be called Orthopraxy or Orthopraxis (“correct action”).

But I digress. Here are some thoughts about science, religion, Darwin and evolution:

  • Apparently Darwin subscribed to the theory that religions evolve, too, along with the other branches of human endeavor. Clearly Judaism has evolved over time. In fact, the Reconstructionist definition of Judaism is “the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people.” Berith Sholom isn’t Reconstructionist, but I most certainly am at heart, and the philosophy has permeated the Reform and Conservative movements as well.
  • I’ve been thinking about how all organized “knowledge” seems to have originally been religious in nature, except perhaps for the “proto-science” of the Ancient Near East’s scribal schools, which made long lists of things … But even that comes under the rubric of “wisdom literature,” which was considered religious too. This is just a quick and vague sketch of an idea: That the domains of religion and sciencer were originally essentially contiguous. You might say that religions originally answered all questions, both the “what when where why how?” and the “What does it mean and what should I do about it?” questions. But the first set of questions, over time, “peeled off” to become the various scientific disciplines. Along these lines, it has been suggested the theater originated in religious rituals, too.Today the two domains of religion and science are no longer continguous, and they seek to answer different questions. Ditto religion and theater; they overlap, but are no longer contiguous (“exactly the same”).
  • I do not think that the first few chapters of Genesis were ever intended to be science. In fact, I think it’s very clear that the Torah is interested in humanity once we’re here, however we got here, and very uninterested in the details of how we got here. Genesis 1 and 2 even contradict each other on how we got here (though they *can* be harmonized if that’s your goal).
  • In introducing the topic, I will certainly quote from Moses Maimonides (d. 1204), probably the greatest rabbi of the middle ages, who was a physician and mathematician and knew Aristotle in the Arabic at a time when it was lost to Europe. Maimonides believed that only a highly trained scientific mind could apprehend God; the rest of us have to make do with our stories and metaphors and myths, and so on. I’m going to have to look this stuff up again; it’s been a while since I studied it, but I’m excited to see how I can connect it to our theme.