Thursday, November 20, 2014

Book Review: "Why Evolution Matters: A Jewish Approach" (2014)

available at Amazon

Why Evolution Matters: A Jewish Approach (2014)
JOEL YEHUDAH RUTMAN  is a graduate of Brandeis and Harvard Medical School with Board certification in Pediatrics and in Neurology with Special Competence in Child Neurology . He has been involved in clinical care and teaching of pediatric neurology for many years . Since graduation from Orthodox Jewish institutions in Cleveland , Ohio , he has had a second career as a professional hazzan ( cantor).
I recently came across this book. It is written by a prominent pediatric neurologist (Harvard Medical School). It is also quite expensive – over $75 on Amazon over $100 on eBay.
He is obviously well acquainted with biology – however I was disappointed about how he dealt with the fundamental questions of  Evolution and Religion. Anybody who disagreed with him - e.g., the Lubavitche Rebbe  he simply dismissed - meaning those who rejected Evolution or those want to keep the two compartmentalized or those who want to reject religion. Thus there is no meaningful discussion about the Scientific issues. He also didn't display a sophisticated level of understanding of the theological issues. He takes for granted that Science is correct and that Evolution is true and that what he explains with Evolution can not be explained otherwise.

His purpose is simply to show that one can reasonably believe in the Torah and Evolution. However he fails to demonstrate why his position of accepting Religion and Evolution should be accepted by someone who rejects either Science or Religion – and in fact he doesn't really try. He is basically taking Rabbi Kelman's approach of Permission to Believe and showing that it is not irrational to accept both Evolution and Religion -  without having to prove the validity of either.
I copied part of his Introduction and his conclusion
This book is organized around three questions:
First Question: How can Judaism insist on a Creator God when evolution informs us that everything out there just happened - with no plan, no purpose? The answer requires an overview, however sketchy, of cosmic and biologic evolution (chapters 2 to 3). This is followed by the main point of the book, which is a proposed way of understanding evolution that is compatible with an intended world (chapters 4 to 6).
Second Question: Where do Genesis and evolution agree or disagree? The answer requires us to look at the Genesis text for its religious, rather than scientific, messages (chapters 7 and 8). Chapter 9 explains the contribution of evolutionary science to Jewish concepts of suffering and death.
Third Question: How does human evolution relate to moral behaviour? The answers will require a brief summary of human evolution and brain development and their contribution to Judaism's ideas of free will (chapters 10, 11 and 12).
1. Among notable works in this area are: N. Slifkin, The Challenge of Creation: Judaism's Encounter with Science, Cosmology and Evolution (http://www. zoororah.corn, Zoo Torah, 2006); G. Cantor and M. Swerlirz (eds), jewish Tradition GIld the Challenge of Darwinism (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2006); ~!'S. Cherry, 'Creation, Evolution and jewi h Thought' (Unpublished PhD dissertation, Brandeis University, 200]); A. Carmel and C. Dornb (eds), Challenge: Torah Views 011 Science and Its Problems (Jerusalem and New York: Feldheim, 1978}. The Catholic Church, relying on its Patristic tradition of biblical interpretation, hJS been increasingly supportive of Darwinian evolution. For instance, the 2009 conference on Catholic teaching and evolution at the Pontifical Gregorian Institute in Rome assumed without protest the validity of biological evolution. Conservative Protestantism has been more wary, as detailed in R.l. Numbers, The Creationists. From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006).
2. Slifkin, The Challenge of Creation, p.20.
3, Quoted in D, Hartman, Israelis and Jewish Tradition (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000), p.95.
4. Tanakh. The Holy Scriptures (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 1985).
5. Hebrew-English Edition of the Babylonian Talmud (London: Soncino, J 990).
6. Daniel Gordis, 'The Shape and Meaning of Biblical History ', Azure, 45 (Summer 5771/201 J), pp.80-1.
The Answers 
First Question: How can God be considered to have created the world when, according to evolution, everything just happened? The answer is that evolution did not just happen. The predictability and progress of evolution mark it as intended (Chapters 1 to 6).
Second Question: How can we believe in the truth of Genesis when it conflicts with the facts of evolution? The answer is that Genesis is a religious text, a source of purpose, meaning and values, rather than a scientific text. Evolution's facts deepen our appreciation of Judaism's truths - as in issues related to suffering and death (Chapters 7 to 9).
Third Question: How does human evolution relate to human moral behaviour? The answer is that even though we evolved, as have all other species, we are nevertheless intended and unique; even though evolution explains much of our moral behaviour, divine law remains necessary; and even though our brain function is heavily determined we retain free will (Chapters 10 to 12).

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