For practical purposes the Darwinian doctrine of biological evolution through natural selection is accepted as true in probably all textbooks of biology and by most of the people who teach life sciences in the schools. Jewish youth, raised in traditional Judaism, may well ask two questions in this regard: First: Is it reasonable to question the validity of a belief so widely and firmly held by so many knowledgeable professionals; and second: What, if anything, is so terribly wrong with this doctrine from a Jewish point of view?
The first question is easily answered by pointing out that for tens of centuries knowledgeable astronomers and geographers believed that the earth was a flat disc. These beliefs did not appear foolish during those times because the objective and scientific evidence available then made such hypotheses very reasonable. But when more information was accumulated and more accurate
measurements were made these ancient theories turned out to be false. The point is, the mere fact that lots of people believe in a particular hypothesis does not automatically make it true. Every scientific theory, every scientific doctrine must be examined and checked relentlessly in the light of information gathered constantly by reliable investigators. Thus, to question accepted doctrine is to act in the best of traditions of scientific research.
To understand the incompatibility of Darwinian, or what is now called neo-Darwinian thinking (to accommodate information accumulated since Darwin) with Judaism, it is necessary to recognize what the heart of the Darwinian belief is: That living things change from one form to another as a result of accidental events, and not as a result of deliberate purpose on the part of a Divine Power. Thus, although the account of Creation in Parshas B'raishis (Genesis) indicates that plants and animals appeared on the earth in sequential suggesting an evolutionary development, believing Jews cannot take this as confirming Darwinism. In B'raishis G-d brings forth each form and its varieties as a deliberate act; in Darwinism each form comes into existence purely as a result of "natural selection." G-d is irrelevant in the Darwinian evolutionary scheme, and that is what is wrong with it for a Jew.
To the Jew with comp ete faith there can be no question here of saying "Which of these two views should I believe?" since our Torah and our Sages have clearly pointed to the belief we accept as true. The questions we are authorized to consider, however, are how to demonstrate even to the non-believer the falseness of his secularist beliefs, and, conversely, how to convince even the secularist that Judaism's beliefs do not violate either rationality or established scientific facts.
It is an attractive fantasy to imagine that G-d's hand in Creation might be demonstrated by some miraculous act being invoked in plain view of a room full of skeptics. The fantasy derives from the fact that G-d has no physical attributes detectable by man. Thus, even a miraculous act of Divine creation would be seen by skeptics as not Divinely caused, and would simply be relegated by such critics to join the thousands of other events that occur daily for which no "scientific" cause is ever established.
It is obviously impossible, in a short article, to examine even a small proportion of the facts that have been accumulated in biology in order to determine their bearing on the question of evolution by natural selection. What I will attempt here, therefore, is to analyze form the strictly scientific point of view. the evidence in favor of Darwinian evolution as presented in one of the most prestigious high school biology textbooks, the so-called Blue version of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. This text is completely committed to the Darwinian doctrine, and may be taken as presenting as good a case for the doctrine as can be mustered for a high school text.
On page 53 of the 1963 edition we find a brief review of Darwin's reasoning in developing the concept of evolution by natural selection. In paraphrase it goes like this.
1. Living things tend to increase at a geometric rate; e.g., a single oak tree may produce thousands of acorns, each capable of growing into another oak tree.
2. In spite of this, the number of individuals in a given species tends to remain constant at each generation.
3. Therefore, there must be a competition to survive among the members of each generation.
4. No two individuals are precisely alike in any one species or even any one family.
5. Those individuals whose particular variations give them a favorable edge in the competition with other individuals will survive to reproduce offspring with similar favorable variations. This is the "survival of the fittest" doctrine.
6. Such variations accumulate and, in time, the offspring of a particular line of variation may differ very considerably from their ancestors. Thus, new species evolve from old ones.
This is an attractive hypothesis because it sounds reasonable on common - sense analysis, and because each step in the reasoning appears to be testable scientifically. Let us, therefore, examine each step and see how well the textbook proves each point.
Points 1 through 4 need little attention because they can be readily verified by anyone who has a backyard with trees or shrubs, or who has seen a pet cat or dog produce a litter of young. Following through the example cited above of this oak tree producing myriads of acorns (point 1), it is obvious that even in natural woodland the number of oak trees stays about the same from year to year (point 2); it is also easy to see how some acorns never even sprout, because favorable patches of soil may already be taken up by other acorns, or other plants that are in competition for the limited space available (point 3); and finaly, no two acorns or seedlings that develop from them are precisely alike in weight, shape, nutrient supply, etc. (point 4).
Point 5 (survival of the fittest) is a more difficult point to verify, and here we must distinguish clearly between laboratory experiments and field observation. In the laboratory there is no difficulty in producing substrains of living things that differ in specific details from the parent strains. For example, one can take a culture of amebae that ordinarily live inside the human body at a temperature of around 37°C, and, by slowly changing the temperature at which the amebae are being cultivated in test tubes, develop substrains that will grow better at 33 or 39 degrees. Everyone is familiar with the different varieties of fruits and the different breeds of dogs that have been developed by selective breeding. None of this, however, demonstrates "natural selection" and "survival of the fittest." On the contrary, these are all examples of "artificial" selection by man, and the new breeds tjat are produced may be "fit" to survive only under the watchful care of human against the competition of the "wild" or natural strains.
Therefore, a good scientist does not try to stretch his contusions beyond the limits of his observations. Therefore, although human experiments on selection demonstrate that offspring can be developed that are different (within definite limitation from their ancestors, if we want to know what happens in nature we must search for natural examples of the point we are trying to demonstrate. The Blue Book provides what is supposed to be one example of natural selection and survival in the story of the "dark and light colored moths of Manchester, England." In this part of England, over a period of about a century, collections of the moth Briston betularia have shown a change from predominantly light individuals to predominantly dark ones. This is considered a prime example of survival of the fittest, and of evolution by natural selection because of the following:
During the past century the trees and walls around Manchester have become progressively darker as a result of heavy soot and smoke from local factories. Since birds prey on these moths, and since the light individuals have become more visible against the dark backgrounds on which they nest, while dark moths have become less visible, it is believed that natural pressure predation has caused the shift from light to dark color in the moth population.
As usual with natural situations, the story is not as simple as given in the biology textbook. In the first place, dark varieties of other moths, so-called melanic forms, have appeared and persisted in areas far removed from industrial soot, even though in such "clean" areas darkness is an undesirable trait. Furthermore, the original population of Briston around Manchester already contained melanic varieties, not as rare or occasional mutants, but as stable, persistent populations. Thus, "natural selection" had not, in the aeons of time before the Industrial Revolution, succeeded in eliminating this "undesirable" trait of darkness in light surrounding. Conversely, in spite of the strong pressure in the last century favoring melanic forms, light moths continue to persist as 10 to 15% of the population and not just as rare back-mutations. To explain this unexpected situation, the expert who has studied Briston most intensively (Kettlewell) writes: "The very great disadvantage of the light form must therefore be compensated by a physiological advantage..." But what this physiological advantage consists of is not known. Thus, in this particular case, in order to make the "survival of the fittest" doctrine consistent with the facts it is necessary to throw in what is sometimes referred to irreverently as "Finagler's Constant;" that is, an explanation which cannot be tested, but which, if taken as faith, will make experimental data come out the way you would like to have it.
The truth is that point 5 in the Darwinian reasoning is completely beyond testing, and, therefore, completely non-scientific, for the simple reason that no one can say beforehand what constitutes "fitness." For example, the long neck of a giraffe may be considered a tremendous instrument of fitness because it enables the animal to browse on leaves beyond the reach of competitors. On the other hand, it may be considered a real handicap because in order to reach down to drink water with such a long neck, the giraffe has to straddle his legs to the point where he becomes very vulnerable to attack by his most important natural enemy, the lion. Furthermore, the long neck requires special devices in the circulatory system to enable the heart to pump blood way up there without blowing out all the other blood vessels that are lower down. It is obvious that the long neck of the giraffe is not a necessity for obtaining food in his environment because so many other species of antelope live in the same environment and yet do not possess this grotesque structure. Thus, the Darwinian explanation that "natural selection" chose the long neck as most "fit" is no more scientific explanation than the statement that G-d, in His wisdom, suffers an animal like the giraffe to persist in spite of his problem - causing neck. Neither statement can be tested scientifically for accuracy. They are both simply metaphysical "explanations" of certain facts of life.
When we come to examine point 6 of the line of reasoning that led Darwin to his theory of evolution, namely, that small variations accumulate in time over many generations to produce entirely new types of creatures, we encounter a remarkable fact: during the past 110 years since Darwin's "Origin of Species," and in spite of the untold millions of fruit flies, mice, bacteria, and other experimental creatures that have been studied, not a single laboratory or natural history demonstration of this point has been made. Instead, all examples of "evolution in action" turn out to be no more than demonstrations of strain differences with restricted populations (e.g., Darwin's finches on Galapogos, penicillin-resistant bacteria, DDT-resistant flies), with the new strains always clearly recognizable as
belonging to the same species as their ancestors. No fruit flies have ever been produced, even from the most monstrous mutations, that would not be instantly recognized as fruit flies rather than as houseflies or gnats or other similar insects.
The answer usually given to this criticism is that evolutionary processes in nature are so slow that, of course, they cannot be observed directly during any human lifetime, or even in many lifetimes. This answer is valid for observations in nature, but is quite unacceptable for the laboratory experimentalist. Techniques are used every day in the laboratory for selecting single bacteria with some desired trait out of billions of others. Thus, selective pressures in the bacteriology laboratory can be multiplied hundreds and thousands of times what they are in nature, and yet no one has succeeded in so much as changing a diplococcus (a bacterium that grows in pairs) to a staphylococcus growing in clusters.
Although it is true that laboratory techniques are not that favorable when dealing with larger creatures, the fact is that naturals processes can still be speeded up many fold even with insects and mammals.
In the absence of any direct evidence on point 6, evolutionists turn to the indirect evidence offered by the fossil record. Here, it is said, one can observe the effects of the accumulation of small changes over long period of time to produce major new kinds of living things. The Blue Book cites as examples of this process the fossil record of the horse, "elephants, giraffes, camels and many other animals."
Paleontology, the study of fossils, is a very scientific discipline so far as description goes. That is, a given bone, tooth, or shell recovered from some rocks can be described in extremely minute detail with very fine measurements. However, the reconstruction of an animal just from a few boned, or the relationship of one fossil to another found many miles away is purely an act of imagination. The presumed fossil ancestry for the horse, for example, is not based upon finding bones and teeth of various types of horses stacked up in layers of rock one upon anther in particular place, so that one might reasonably conclude that each type was descended from the one below. Instead, fossil remains of horse-like animals are found in all the continents except Australia, in different layers of rocks which are not always readily dated, and with a variety of anatomical features. Thus, the so-called evolutionary sequence for the horse as shown in biology texts is a pattern created subjectively by selecting particular fossils to fit a particular theory of development. This method of building evolutionary sequences is followed throughout paleontology. In a recent article entitle "Evolutionary History of the Elephant" the author writes,
"Explanations of the phylogeny of elephants have had one feature in common: the patterns of the phyletic trees have agreed with the fashionable evolutionary theories of the particular period. Thus, all the trees are dichotomic and linear from 1881 to 1888...and pollyphyletic until 1923. After 1940 dichotomic patterns are again found."The result of this kind of speculation is that if the theory calls for new forms to arise by accumulation of small changes, and a fossil is discovered whose location in time is not known for certain, then it will tend to be placed arbitrarily in a position where it will have the effect of supporting the underlying theory. An interesting example of this tendency can be found in the story of certain extinct octopus - like molluscs that secrete shells, the nautiloids. Originally, a theory was formulated that the evolutionary sequence in these animals was straight to coiled shells, and this theory was taught with examples from known fossils. Later it was decided that this sequence was not consistent with the true ages of fossils involved, and that actually the evolutionary direction was from coiled to straight and back to coiled. At any given time, therefore, an "evolutionary sequence" for any particular form is little more than a fashionable theory, and not at all scientific fact. Since there is no way to prove that any particular evolutionary sequence is correct, a good deal of paleontological research involves revision of the evolutionary schemes somebody else drew up for certain fossil collections.
If new species arise by slow accumulation of small differences over long periods of time, we would expect the most highly specialized forms in a particular group be among the most recent members of the group, and to show a long fossil record of intermediate species. The actual facts are quite otherwise. Taking as examples extreme and unique specialization among mammals, the bats and whales, the fossil record so far shows that the earliest bats lived about 50 million years ago, and the earliest whales about 35 million years ago. This is about the same time that many other more typical mammals begin to be found, and long before several other less specialized mammals occur as fossils. Furthermore, these early bats and whales are not intermediate in appearance between ordinary terrestrial mammals and the modern bats and whales. Instead, they are fully formed for flying and living in the water, respectively, so that if they were alive today they would be considered normal representatives of their particular groups. This situation is not unique for bats and whales. The fossil record as a whole is characterized by the sudden appearance of highly developed forms with no gradually changing antecedents. Since this situation is not consistent with Darwinian evolutionary dogma, "Finagler's Constant" needs to be invoked constantly. A typical example follows:
"The variety and structural complexity of trilobites found near the base of Cambrian rocks surely indicates a very long antecedent existence of animal life during which the first arthropods became differentiated"In actual fact, no fossils have ever been found that would represent what the author refers to as the "long antecedent existence." Nevertheless, since it is necessary to support their theory, a completely imaginary fossil record is created on faith and taught as if it were fact.
In summary, therefore, this article has tried to show the following: (1) that it is scientifically legitimate to question and challenge even so firmly entrenched a doctrine as that of Darwinian evolution; (2) that the dogma of evolution by natural selection of the most fit individuals is not a scientific theory because it is not susceptible to scientific testing; and (3) that the theory that new species and entirely new kinds of living creatures come into existence by random accumulation of small variations has never been demonstrated scientifically either t in the laboratory or in the field. On the contrary, the known facts are actually unexplainable on the basis of this theory.
Non of the above is proof of Divine guidance since, as stated earlier, that is outside the realm of proof by the scientific method. On the other hand, it does indicate that the thesis of Darwinian evolution is not a scientifically self-sufficient hypothesis, as is so often assumed. Instead, it is a doctrine resting on faith that satisfies the secularist yearnings of our age. As such, it can be rejected by the religious Jew without any compromise of intellectual integrity and rationality. The true story of life in scientific terms is yet to be told. If 4000 years of Jewish history is any guide, no believing Jew need feel any anxiety about how his faith will fare when the full story is known.
1. Aguire, E., Evolutionary History of the Elephant, Science, 164: 1366, 1969
2. Kettlewell, H.B.D., Insect Survival and Selection for Pattern, Science, 148: 1290, 1965
3. Moore, R.C., Talicker, C. G. and Fischer, A.G., Invertebrate Fossils, McGraw-Hill, 1952, p. 475.