“If you try and take a cat apart to see how it works, the first thing you find yourself with is a non-working cat.” – Douglas Adams
“If we are going to teach creation science as an alternative to evolution, then we should also teach the stork theory as an alternative to biological reproduction.” – Judith Hayes
“If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the facts and law are against you, yell like hell.” – Unknown
It was time again for elections in Israel. The year was 1988 and a new political party had just recently joined the political chaos of this small democracy: ‘Shas’, the party of the religious Sephardic Jews (Jews of African or Arab origin). While giving a rousing election speech, Rabbi Itzhak Peretz of Shas, extended his arms towards heaven and shouted: “One Sephardic woman kissing the Bible is worth more than forty professors who teach that man originated from the monkey!”
Widely promoted by Charles Darwin in the 19th century, evolution, though perhaps not fully understood by many, can probably claim the prize as the most slandered branch of science ever.
Thomas Henry Huxley, a scientist who also lived in the 19th century, was one of Darwin’s enthusiastic followers. In 1860 he had a famous dialog with Bishop Samuel Wilberforce of the Catholic Church. During the discussion it is said that Wilberforce asked Huxley whether he was descended from an ape on his grandmother’s side or his grandfather’s side, to which Huxley responded: “I would rather be the offspring of two apes than be a man and afraid to face the truth.”
Presumably, Rabbi Itzhak Peretz of Shas has a lot in common with Bishop Samuel Wilberforce. Apparently, Thomas Huxley qualifies to be worth less than 1/40 of a Sephardic woman who kisses the Bible. Fortunately, Mr. Wilberforce also provided us with some basic explanation for his interest in Mr. Huxley’s genealogy, saying, “The principle of natural selection is absolutely incompatible with the word of God.” And that it “Contradicts the revealed relations of creation to its Creator.”
So, evolution is not really about telling us that our grandfather was an ape, but rather about the principle of natural selection. What is natural selection? Without turning this into a biology course, the term still deserves some explanation (with my apologies to those of you who have already studied this).
Though Abraham Lincoln stated, “We are all created equal”, it is important to distinguish that although equal, we are neither identical, nor are any two animals that belong to the same species. Except for identical twins, brothers and sisters are also genetically different from each other. Using some other common terminology, they carry different DNA – you know, the stuff that is used nowadays to identify criminals and prove parenthood. On top of that, there are occasional genetic mutations hitting us statistically. As a result, new relatives have different characteristics, for example, one may be more intelligent while the other may be taller.
In many cases, characteristics of ours are directly related to our ability to survive longer and produce more offspring. For example: A cat sensitive to cold weather (with short fur) will probably live a shorter life and produce less kittens in a cold environment than a cat who is not so sensitive (long fur); A bird of prey with sharp rather than dull claws will generally hunt more easily and as a result will eat better and therefore live longer and produce more little birds of prey… On average, these animals will pass on more of the desired characteristics to the next generation. So, following many generations of cats and birds, we will end up with animals that are better adapted to their environment: Cats less sensitive to cold weather, and birds of prey with sharp claws. You may say they were selected by nature, hence the term natural selection, the point being that in the long run, only the fittest survive.
The term many generations may be misleading. From biblical times to the present, there have been no more than 100 – 200 generations. Imagine the whole history of our young planet squeezed into one 24-hour day. All of human glorious history would be found, more or less, within the last 1/10 of a second. That includes as far back as King David, as well as Muhammad, Jesus and Confucius (not to forget the Chinese).
Even during this extremely short period of time, the human race has demonstrated a certain adaptation to the environment, by exercising the process of natural selection. In the 14th century about one third of Europe’s population died from the Black Plague (known also as the Black Death). Many survived though – for various reasons, some of which had to do with natural resistance built into their genes. Nowadays it is suggested that through evolution, large portions of today’s European population have acquired genetic resistance to several Black Death related diseases.
The faster an organism breeds, the shorter a generation and as a result, the faster evolution occurs and the process of natural selection. Insects are known to quickly evolve and produce new generations that have greater resistance to popular pesticides. The fast evolution of flies, for example, has been used in labs to successfully experiment with creating new species of flies that live much longer. Fast evolution of bacteria has also been practically used in labs, to artificially grow bacteria with desired characteristics. The massive use of antibiotics in the 20th century has caused certain diseases (such as tuberculosis) to make a come back with new generations of bacteria that resist common antibiotics. Altogether, the creation of new species through evolution has been witnessed both in nature and in labs. It makes one wonder perhaps it’s the extinction of old species that we should worry about…
Evolutionists, like all scientists, continue to research and raise various new opinions, and sometimes instigate arguments. Creationists, like Bishop Samuel Wilberforce – those who refuse to accept the principle of natural selection – tend to point out such arguments as some sort of proof for their man-created-by-God view of the universe.
Evolution, in spite of being a well-established branch of modern science, is not taught in many religious schools. The reason is quite obvious, as explained by Mr. Wilberforce himself: It is “Absolutely incompatible with the word of God” and “Contradicts the revealed relations of creation to its Creator”. If we humans have been gradually created from other creatures, then most of our religious tower of conclusions collapses. No wonder so many religious people are brought up to ignore evolution, or even to oppose it.
There are two related issues worth mentioning. The first one is quite naive: Why are monkeys still around? The answer is quite simple: The principle of natural selection does not necessarily dictate the evolution of one complete species into another. Different groups of plants and animals obviously share different environments, and are often subject to different events. Therefore, branches rather than straight lines of development exist. In fact, evolution does not clearly state that man evolved from the monkey. It presents evidence of both species being different branches of a common ancestor, most likely an earlier version of the chimpanzee.
The second issue is more intriguing: How did life begin in the first place? How did these microscopic creatures that ruled the seas during several hours of the above squeezed Earth day initially form? The answer here is not simple. Several theories deal with the formation of nuclear acids and other primitive components of biological life. Although some of the theories are just speculation, modern studies by biochemists and the like, have demonstrated that the probability for creation of the appropriate organic molecules (over long period of time) is much higher than initially thought.
There are, of-course, many other types of creationist attacks on evolution. Some have to do with mentioning complex body systems, made of several different components, introducing them as if they must have been externally designed, because it makes no sense for the components to evolve one after the other. This totally ignores the simple fact that the components evolved simultaneously and gradually. Other attacks consider organs that seem to make sense only when fully developed (such as wings), but in practice they made much sense also for creatures in earlier stages of development, many of which have been discovered during years of research. Altogether the argument sums up to what one may subjectively feel vs. what we objectively prove, and we’ll come back to this point later.
The difficulty to deny known facts about evolution has recently brought many religious followers to invent a second line of defense. “Intelligent Design” is now preached worldwide, recognizing the basic scientific evidence, while still fulfilling the human need for making complex things simple, by throwing in a virtual almighty designer for the process. This “God in the back door” attempt is perhaps even more dangerous to the future of our education, promoting a concept that says nothing meaningful and is therefore hard to argue with. When it comes to evolution, God seems to behave like a bulge in a balloon: Applying some pressure on one point makes the balloon bulge in another one. Especially when heavenly-inspired people like President George Bush are involved with that balloon. In practice, saying that God created man by way of evolution, is equivalent to saying that God wrote the Bible by way of using human authors.
Remember: The very principle of natural selection called evolution, as described above, is not under any scientific dispute. As mentioned by Richard Dawkins, “Today, the theory of evolution is about as much open to doubt as the theory that the Earth goes round the Sun” (‘The Selfish Gene’). Whether Rabbi Peretz likes it or not, we are all descendants of those animals that survived cold, heat, and attacks by other animals. Evolution has been scientifically proven and applies also to a Sephardic woman kissing the Bible.