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Orthodox Jews & Science:
An Empirical Study of their Attitudes Toward Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Modern Geology

Skeptic is a science magazine, and as such we only deal with non-scientific issues when they come into contact with science. Foremost in this category, in our culture during the past decade, is the intersection of science and religion; in fact, science and religion studies have become something of a cottage industry in academia, with conferences, journals, magazines, and books on the subject being generated at a prodigious rate. Our primary focus in this area has been on evolution and creationism, most notably Intelligent Design creationism. Related to that in vol. 12, no. 3 of Skeptic is an article reporting for the first time the results of a study on the attitudes of Orthodox Jewish college students on the theory of evolution. Although one might expect skepticism of evolution to be found in this cohort, we were surprised by just how skeptical Orthodox Jewish college students were — not just about the theory of evolution, but about most aspects of science. For details, read on … and pass along this article to your friends and colleagues and encourage them to subscribe to Skeptic and eSkeptic.

Abstract

Denial of evolution is a defining characteristic of education in Orthodox Judaism. But what does the most modern segment of Orthodox Judaism — the small number of students permitted to go to a public university and be exposed to non-censored scientific knowledge — believe about evolution and other scientific issues? The sample of 176 Orthodox Jewish students surveyed showed almost complete denial of evolution and other central tenets of modern science (such as the age of the universe); the survey also revealed that these students received their scientific beliefs not from their college science courses, but from rabbinical authorities, or from Orthodox Jewish scientists, who in turn propagate the anti-science views of rabbinical authorities. Perhaps the most surprising result of the survey was that the Orthodox Jewish students who were science majors were even less accepting of mainstream science than those who were not science majors.

Introduction

Ultra-orthodox Jews have always forbidden members to get a secular education. Modern and Centrist Orthodox Jews are allowed a secular education only for reasons of parnasa, to make a living. In the last couple of decades two phenomena have interacted to shape Centrist Orthodoxy’s relationship with secular education. First the entire Orthodox spectrum has moved radically to the right. Modern Orthodoxy is in tremendous decline, the name itself becoming a term of disdain for those not “really religious,” i.e. “modern.” Centrist Orthodoxy is rapidly adapting Ultra-orthodox outlooks as the distinctions between them are fading. The entire community is being polarized over the issue of who is the most religious. The second development influencing the relationship between Orthodox groups is an increase in the need for college and advanced degrees in order to get a prestigious or high paying job. This has led to the creation of colleges and other educational institutions where courses are taught by Orthodox professors who shield the Bnei Torah (the sons or followers of Torah) in order for them to obtain degrees while avoiding forbidden practices and knowledge, such as sitting in the same room with members of the opposite sex, or taking courses in which sex or “heretical” philosophies are discussed. As we shall see, however, even those Orthodox Jewish students who attend public universities are insulated from evolution and other “heresies.”

There is little available information on what Orthodox Jews think about evolution and other issues related to science and religion, and what little is available is of limited accuracy. There are a number of reasons for this. Scientists tend to view the rejection of evolution as a fundamentalist Protestant phenomenon, and those interested in the issue have often talked to Conservative or Reform Rabbis who accept evolution. But the Conservative and Reform movements are not even considered Judaism by Orthodox Jews.1 (It should be noted that while the Reform and Conservative movements tend to accept evolution, “intelligent design” is making inroads here, and there is a strain in left-liberal Judaism that looks askance at evolution as incompatible with its Marxist sympathies.)

Orthodox children go only to Orthodox yeshivas for elementary through high school education, so the community tends not to pay attention to or raise issues about what is taught in public schools. Also, Orthodox rabbis and scientists tend to insist that Orthodox Judaism is not fundamentalist. In part this is done to get outsiders to assume that Orthodox Jews are theistic evolutionists along the lines of contemporary Catholics. But strictly speaking they are telling the truth when they insist Orthodox Judaism is not “Fundamentalist” because, indeed, Orthodox Judaism believes that the Bible must be interpreted. But this interpretation is not done in the light of modern science, nor are individuals permitted to have their own opinions. Orthodox Judaism believes that the interpretation of the “written” Bible is done by the application of the “oral” Bible, originally dictated by God to Moses on Sinai and then passed down orally until it was written down by Chazal, or the great sages (“Chazal” is an acronym, which stands for “Our Sages of blessed memory”). Their writings are considered authoritative, sacred, and infallible. As a Torah Internet site succinctly put it, “The words of our Sages are part of the Oral Law, which is Divine and beyond the realm of flaws in human behavior.”2

Method

Students who sat at the kosher area of a New York City public college cafeteria were surveyed about their attitudes on evolution and other scientific issues (Figures 1–12). Only the answers of participants listing themselves as Orthodox Jews in the survey were retained in the results below. Participation in the survey was entirely voluntary and no compensation was given. Potential participants were informed of this both verbally and in writing. Participant anonymity was maintained, as no names were recorded. The survey was done through the psychology department with the permission of the college’s institutional review board. Participants were given contact information for the experimenter, myself, and the chair of the psychology department in case they had any questions or ethical concerns.

Although the subjects were all Orthodox Jewish college students, the orthodox continuum is partially defined by attitudes on how much college education is permissible. Those on the extreme right of the orthodoxy continuum hold that no college education is permissible, while those slightly more liberal hold that vocational courses are permissible, if taken under Orthodox auspices. Further, Orthodox Jewish males are required to study Talmud all their lives, and those of college age usually go to a Yeshiva Gedola for all day studies, so even if they were allowed to attend college it would be only part time at night. The participants for this study were recruited from those dining in the kosher cafeteria between 12–3 p.m. The survey thus only included females who were allowed to be exposed to secular influences, and males who were not in Yeshiva Gedola; that is, these were fulltime day students who were not only allowed to attend college, but were allowed to attend a secular public college. This makes the findings below even more dramatic.

Results

Since all non-Orthodox Jewish participants were eliminated from the analysis, the sample size was 176 Orthodox Jewish students, with the following breakdown for highest degree attained: High School–121, Undergraduate–48, Graduate–6, with 51 either holding a science degree or majoring in a science area.

Figures 1 and 2 present the results of the main questions pertaining to evolution. As can be seen in Figure 1, the statement “Evolution correctly explains the origin of life” produced 14 true responses and 156 false responses, and as can be seen in Figure 2, only 11 respondents answered true to “Human beings evolved from apes,” while 163 answered false. These two results alone are dramatic and unsettling, but as will be seen below, they do not represent the end of the rejection of mainstream science on the part of the respondents.

Two other items involving evolution were the statement “Scientists know that evolution has been discredited but are deliberately lying,” for which 47 answered true and 118 answered false (Figure 3), and the statement “Statisticians have proved that the first cell could not arise by chance and evolution could not occur,” for which 84 answered true and 81 answered false.

Only 45 of 168 respondents answered that “The age of the universe is” about 15 billion years old, as opposed to about 7,000 years (Figure 4). Taken with the results of the evolution items, this means that about 94% of the respondents are creationists and 73% believe that the Universe is only a few thousand years old!

The bulk of the respondents also accepted the rest of the Genesis narrative. Figure 5 shows that 159 answered true to the statement “Current land animals descend from those on Noah’s ark,” while only 16 answered false. The respondents were about evenly split on the statement “Hebrew was spoken universally until 4,000 years ago” (Figure 6). Figure 7 contains the results to beliefs about dinosaurs and humans coexisting. The belief that dinosaurs never existed and fossils were created as a test of faith is promoted by the Orthodox establishment. It was still a minority position here (about 18%), but this is still a strong showing for a relatively new dogma to “unchanging” Orthodox Judaism.

Of particular interest was the item “Which is true? The Sun revolves around the Earth [or] the Earth revolves around the Sun (Figure 8). Only 22 of 173 answered that the Sun revolves around the Earth. Geocentrism is fast returning as a centrist Orthodox belief, so the paucity of geocentrists among these college students is a strong indication of their (relatively) modern Orthodox status. It is my guess that if this survey is repeated in a few years on a similar “modern” Orthodox sample the percentage of geocentrists will be much higher.

Effects of Science Education on Science Attitudes

Could the general disbelief in basic scientific facts about nature by participants be a result of lack of science education? Would those with a science degree or science major be more accepting of scientific findings? Participants were asked whether or not they had a science degree or were majoring in an area of science. Responses on the items were separately tabulated on the basis of whether the participant was a science major or not.

Figure 9 contains the responses for the statement “Human beings evolved from apes.” For non-science majors the results were 10 true and 111 false, while for science majors it was 1 true and 49 false. Thus while only 8% of non-science majors answered true, for science majors it dropped to 2% answering true.

Figure 10 contains the results for the statement “Evolution correctly explains the origin of life” according to the student’s status as a science major, or a non-science major. Again the story is the same. For non-science majors 13 answered true and 107 answered false, for science majors 1 answered true and 48 answered false.

Science majors were likewise less accepting of a 15 billion-year old universe: 42 of 50 (84%) said the universe was about 7,000 years old, while 80 of 116 (69%) of non-science majors said the universe was about 7,000 years old (Figure 11). Science majors were also slightly more likely to agree with the statement “Scientists know that evolution has been discredited but are deliberately lying,” with 16 of 48 science majors answering true (33%), and 31 of 115 non-science majors answering true (27%) (Figure 12).

Examine again the responses of science majors — only one in 50 accepted evolution. It seems that the science majors and degree holders — precisely because they were more likely to be exposed to evolution — were subject to additional community influences not to be “taken in” by the “heresy” they would hear, and were even less accepting of evolution. And individuals with a science background from that community have the added responsibility to use their knowledge and standing to promote religious doctrine in scientific matters. While conducting the survey I was told by one participant who was currently majoring in biology that she was advised to read books by Orthodox Jewish scientists, such as Aviezer, Schroeder and Spetner (see below).

In this community evolution is only brought up in order to disparage it, so if an Orthodox school ever allows evolution to be discussed, it is only to inoculate its students against what they may be exposed to outside of yeshiva. In fact, I have come across students from Orthodox schools that barely cover any secular subject matter who have been taught that there are no intermediate forms, that Archaeopteryx is a fraud like Piltdown man, and that paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould had to propose punctuated equilibrium because there was no evidence in the fossil record for evolution, and so on.3

Discussion

The results of the survey may seem disconcerting, even for skeptics accustomed to creationists’ views of evolution. Even more startling is the fact that the sample was from the most modern group of Orthodox Jews — those that allow attendance at a secular college. However, it would be more surprising if they accepted mainstream science over dogma, considering the social norms of the entire spectrum of Orthodox Judaism, which are extremely stringent and far removed from the mainstream. A few examples of these beliefs are: that women are ritually unclean; that a man must not touch any woman (including shaking hands); that a man may touch even his own wife for only half of each month; and that the visible hair of a married woman is considered to be unacceptable nudity.4 Given the extremism of forcing of women to cover themselves from head to toe, and the total removal of women from the world of men (beginning at birth), the results of the survey are more understandable.

Why Orthodox Judaism Cannot Accept Evolution

By definition Jews who accept evolution are not Orthodox. Up until about 25 years ago there were fledgling attempts to reconfigure evolution to fit within a modern Orthodox framework, and there was some acceptance of the idea that a biblical year meant a vast time span. But with the extreme move to the right in the Orthodox community, and with ever more stringent observance constantly demanded, evolution is light years beyond the pale — 5,766 light years to be exact, which is the age of the universe according to Orthodox Judaism. Conformity to Orthodox views now demands fidelity on issues such as the dirt (or mud) mouse — the great sages wrote about the existence of a mouse that forms directly from the earth, created by God to show that he can and will raise the dead from the earth they are buried in (this is one of the 13 great principles that must be accepted with “total faith”). The great sages wrote that lice form directly from sweat. Current Orthodox Jewish scientists have found themselves under rabbinical bans for daring to rely on secular science instead of the great sages.

The problem of accommodating evolution within a yeshiva curriculum, or within Orthodox Judaism, is as follows: can it accept that 5,766 years is not the time that has passed since the creation of the Universe? Can Orthodoxy accept that Hebrew was not the first language, created even before the creation of man? Can Orthodoxy accept that Noah’s Ark was just a myth? Can Orthodoxy accept that the Bible itself evolved? The answer to all of these questions is “no.” In fact, doubting that the Torah was dictated by God word for word to Moses on Sinai is the ultimate in heresy, and not doubted by even the most modern Orthodox Jews.5

Conservative Judaism accepts the views listed above — exactly what the Orthodox consider heresy. Orthodoxy currently makes believing that creation occurred 5,766 years ago a litmus test of faith, and works to keep out “the Copernican heresy.” One can thus question whether the unfettered pursuit of science has any place in Orthodox Judaism or can exist in any academic institution under its auspices.

Evolution and Halacha

Every aspect, indeed every second, of an Orthodox Jew’s life is controlled by Halacha, or “the law.” There is even a Halacha as to the order in which shoes must be put on! And as stated by an article in the Yeshiva University newspaper, “Halacha legislates every aspect of a Jew’s life, and speech and thought are no exception.”6 As one person noted after breaking free of the Orthodox community and buying his first clothes based on personal preference instead of Halacha, “For the first time I felt I didn’t belong to the collective. That I didn’t belong to the rabbis. I’m a human being who dresses the way he wants to.”7

Rav Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) was the world’s leading Halachic authority who ruled that the reading of an evolutionary textbook was absolutely forbidden and that belief in evolution is so great a heresy that even being exposed to it was forbidden.8 If the textbook was absolutely required for other purposes, Feinstein ruled that the specific pages containing references to evolution had to be torn out and thrown away. Indeed, many yeshivas do just that.

The Orthodox Union is responsible for determining kasruth, the quality of being kosher, or which food products are permissible for Orthodox Jews to eat. Orthodox Jews look for the OU seal on packaged food products. But kasruth means much more than just permissible food, it signifies the total range of what is permissible for Orthodox Jews — what is permissible to wear, how it is permissible to act, what it is permissible to think. And the OU has branded evolution as not kosher.

The Orthodox Union regularly publishes creationist materials, including the book Human Intelligence Gone Ape by Josh Greenberger, which by its own description “disproves the theory of evolution in more ways than one. It shows how evolution is genetically impossible.”9 The Orthodox Union also put out A Science and Torah Reader, which declared evolution incompatible with Orthodoxy and scientifically invalid.10

In the Summer 5760 issue of the OU official journal, Jewish Action, there was an article entitled “Genesis, Cosmology and Evolution” that contains all the standard creationist arguments, such as “Darwinism elicits a dogmatic view of evidence,” “Darwinists circumvent or disregard evidence and logic,” “irreducibly complex biochemical systems,” and “Genesis’ creation story is scientifically accurate.”11

Kefirah and the Orthodox Jewish Scientist

While Orthodox Jewish scientists garner community praise for using their secular scientific status to promote the scientific validity of Torah, and are obligated to do so, even that enterprise necessitates prudence. Orthodox Jewish scientists require and seek the imprimatur of the great living rabbis for their works. But with the ever-increasing shift to the right, what was acceptable yesterday may be Kefirah (or kfirah, rejection-heresy) today. To be declared a Kofer, or a heretic, means excommunication and social ruin.

Ironically, it was apologetics written by Orthodox Jewish scientists (which spoke about six time periods of creation as a means of sidestepping the issue of the age of the universe while also debunking evolution) that led to almost all the living Rabbonim (great Rabbis) to recently declare in that any Jew who believes the universe is older than 5,766 years is a Kofer. Some Orthodox scientists have even had to state that the universe was created to look older as a test of faith but is actually only 5,766 years old.

Rabbi Nosson Slifkin, formerly Talmud instructor at a leading Ultra-orthodox yeshiva, gained fame as the “Zoo Rabbi” for his interest in the wildlife mentioned in the Torah, and his writing of numerous nature books from the Orthodox perspective. However, last year a committee of 23 of the leading Rabbonim declared his works banned and put him in cherem (or herem), which means the total exclusion from the Orthodox Jewish community, and the highest possible ecclesiastical punishment. The ban read, in part, “He believes the world is millions of years old — all nonsense! — and many other things that should not be heard and certainly not believed.”12

The Intellectual Background

Orthodox Jewish scientists, even those with legitimate degrees from prestigious universities accept the inerrancy of Torah and Chazal, condemn evolution, and proclaim the superiority of the truths of Torah over secular science.13 The Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists14 whose telling motto is “Science in the service of Torah,” published a book entitled Challenge: Torah Views on Science,15 which promotes creationism.

Rabbi Dr. Moses Tendler, former chair of the Yeshiva University biology department, in a 1987 article entitled “Evolution, A Theory that Failed to Evolve,” wrote “The [fossil] record … reveals that species remained unchanged … There are no transitional forms! … There is no theory of evolution to attack or defend in 1987 … To sum up: In 1987 there is not one piece of scientific evidence for macroevolution or the development of one species from another.”16

Gerald (Yaakov) Schroeder, former consultant for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, earned a Ph.D. in Nuclear Physics and Earth and Planetary Sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he taught physics. In 2001 Dr. Schroeder wrote that the only proof for evolution that the Natural History Museum in London could come up with was “pink daisies evolving into blue daisies, little dogs evolving into big dogs … they could not come up with one single morphological change clearly recorded in the fossil record,” and that while “the math in this totally secular text clearly states that evolution via random mutations has a very weak chance of producing significant changes in morphology,” “the difficulty of displacing Darwinian evolution, even though the theory fails to describe reality … [is due only to] a world so steeped in the physicality of materialism.”17

Professor Nathan Aviezer, a Professor of Physics and a Research Professor of the Royal Society of London and the author of more than a hundred physics papers, penned a book in 2001 entitled Fossils and Faith in which he dismisses evolution and paleontology: “One stands in awe at the welter of confusion and mystery that abounds in evolutionary biology.” In the chapter entitled “Misreading the Fossils,” in which Aviezer endlessly harps on Piltdown Man as central to paleontology, he writes: “One naturally assumes that the fossil evidence and its interpretation, the science of paleontology, have been presented by serious scientists who are objective in their pursuit of knowledge and apply accepted standards of scientific rigor. In this chapter, we shall see that nothing would be further from the truth.”18 Nevertheless, Aviezer accepts the 900-year life spans of biblical figures as being literally true!

Dr. Lee Spetner is noted for his book Not by Chance! Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution.19 Ever since Spetner proclaimed Archaeopteryx to be a deliberate fraud in front of a conference of Orthodox Jewish scientists in 1980,20 this notion has become a staple of Orthodox Jewish scientists’ attack on evolution.21

Herman (Yirmiyahu) Branover, head of the Center for Magneto-hydrodynamic Studies at Ben-Gurion University and editor of B’Or HaTorah, a journal at the forefront of the Orthodoxy’s return to geocentrism,22 writes “People make a big deal about evolution without knowing that evolution is dead. Nobody who is serious speaks about evolution. It is only those who have ideological motives or who make their living from evolution that stick to it.” And: “As the Rebbe Melech HaMosiach stresses … we can be modern and adhere to modern physics and Einstein’s theory and accept that the Earth is standing still in the center of the Universe.” And: “The Rebbe Melech HaMosiach’s words on these matters [allowed us] to accept without fear or apologetics the idea that the earth is standing still.”23 And: “nowadays, science itself recognizes the truth of Maimonides statement that the Earth is stationary.”24

Finally, a good summary of the mindset of Orthodox Jewish scientists is provided by physicist Dr. Naftali Berg, who wrote: “All scientific theories by definition are tentative. They are not absolute. Our job [as scientists] is to investigate those theories that are consistent with Torah.”25

Conclusion

This survey seems to indicate that the Orthodox Jewish participants — students of a secular public university — get their scientific information not from their professors but from their religious beliefs and from Orthodox Jewish scientists who in turn conform to the beliefs of their religious authorities.

Science has bettered the life of all, yet it and the worldview that produced it is in danger of extinction in certain parts of today’s world. Where ideology trumps science, no other rights exist either. Scientific ethics is an important issue. But scientific ethics must include fidelity to the findings of empirical science. Those who use legitimate scientific degrees to teach religious doctrine as science violate those ethics. Religious freedom is a right, but academic integrity is a responsibility, and academic respectability must be earned.

This paper was based in part on a poster presentation at the American Psychological Association’s 113th annual convention, August 20, 2005.

References
  1. According to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000/2001, about 10% of American Jews are Orthodox.
  2. www.jewishanswers.com/learning/women/responses3.html, last accessed July 28, 2005.
  3. Eidensohn, David. 2005. “Why Was Evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould a ‘Hero’ of an Orthodox Jew?” Archived on Concerned Women for America: www.cwfa.org/main.asp, last accessed July 28, 2005.
  4. A Yeshiva University Dean received publicity for equating the religious status of women with “parrots and monkeys.” “Rabbinically Incorrect,” Jewish Week, 7/30/2004.
  5. Schimmel, S. 1996. The Tenacity of Unreasonable Beliefs in Modern Orthodox Jews: A Psychological Analysis. Paper presented at the American Academy of Religion meeting, New Orleans, November 24, 1996.
  6. Robinson, Avi. 2002. “The Culture of Limitations.” The Commentator, Vol. 67, Issue 4, November 10.
  7. Rotem, Tamar. 2005. “Secular at Last.” Available at www.haaretzdaily.com, last accessed July 28, 2005.
  8. Feinstein, M. 1959. Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh Deah. Brooklyn, NY: Balshon Press. “Iggerot” means letters. This is a compilation of Halachic decisions Rabbi Feinstein made in response to queries.
  9. Greenberger, Josh. 1990. Human Intelligence Gone Ape. Orthodox Union National Conference of Synagogue Youth.
  10. Kornreich, Y. (Ed.) 1970. A Science and Torah Reader. Orthodox Union National Center for Synagogue Youth.
  11. Goldberg, H. 5760, 2000. “Genesis, Cosmology, and Evolution.” Jewish Action 60:4, Summer.
  12. Ginsberg, Johanna. 2005. “An Animal-Loving Rabbi Seeks to Reconcile Science and Torah.” New Jersey Jewish News. Archived at: www.njjewishnews.com, last accessed July 28, 2005.
  13. Nussbaum, A. 2002. “Creationism and Geocentrism Among Orthodox Jewish Scientists.” Reports of the National Center for Science Education, Jan–Apr 2002, 38–43.
  14. The Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists is largest organization of its type with over 1500 members. Its website is www.aojs.org. Dr. Avi Rabinowitz, a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from New York University, who defended geocentrism in “Geocentrism” in B’Or‑Ha’Torah Volume 5E 1986 spoke at its convention in August 19–21, 2005. See Rabinowitz’s article, Egocentrism & Geocentrism; Human Significance & Existential Despair; Fundamentalism and Skepticalism
  15. Carmell, A. and C. Domb. (eds). 1976. Challenge: Torah Views on Science. New York: Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists/ Feldheim Publishers.
  16. Tendler, M.D. 1987. “Evolution: A Theory that Failed to Evolve.” Ten Da’at, vol. 2,1, 3-6. Archived at: www.lookstein.org/articles/evolutionary_theory.htm, last accessed July 29, 2005.
  17. Schroeder, G. L. 2001. The Hidden Face of God. New York: Free Press, pp. 91, 120, 107.
  18. Aviezer, N. 2001. Fossils and Faith. Understanding Torah and Science. Hoboken, NJ: Ktav Publishing House, Inc., pp. 217, 179.
  19. Spetner, L. 1997. Not By Chance! Shattering The Modern Theory of Evolution. New York: The Judaica Press.
  20. See review of “Not by Chance,” by Gert Korthof, archived at: http://home.wxs.nl/~gkorthof/kortho36.htm, last accessed July 29, 2005.
  21. Trop, M. 1983. “Is the Archaeopteryx a Fake?,” Creation Research Society Quarterly, 20, 2, September, pp. 121–122.
  22. B’Or HaTorah, means “In the light of Torah,” Amiel Rossow’s cleverly titled review, B’Tsel HaTorah, “In the shade of the Torah.” Archived at: www.talkreason.org/index.cfm, last accessed July 29, 2005. One of the articles reviewed is Avi Rabinowitz’s And God Said, ‘Let there have been a Big Bang.’
  23. Interview with Professor Yirmiyahu Branover on science and the era of the Moshiach, at the 4th conference on Mosiach and Science. Archived at: www.ryal.org, last accessed Feb. 27, 2004. Melech HaHosiach, meaning “King Messiah,” is Menachem Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
  24. Banover, Y. 2002. “If Science has already done Teshuva [repentance].” Archived at: www.moshiach.net/archives/71ar1_71.htm, last accessed Jan 22, 2002.
  25. Silman, S. 2002. “Moshiah and Science,” The Voice of Moshiach, 5763 (11/08/02).
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24 Comments

  1. Steven Brent says:

    Very interesting. But isn’t 176 students a really tiny sample size? It seems that drawing conclusions from so few results is a bit premature…and a survey including participants from a number of different communities and locations would be more useful. Not that the conclusions are implausible, just would like to see something at a larger scale…

    • Simone Stafford says:

      It was stated that this sample comes from the very small number of Orthodox Jews allowed to attend university where they may come into contact with uncensored scientific knowledge.

      This suggests to me that there would be an even greater skew towards popular bible beliefs if a larger sample were used.

      • Vincent Calabrese says:

        It seems to me that the author is using ‘orthodox’ as a virtual synonym for Haredi. Very few *Haredi* Jews are allowed to attend secular universities, but I know plenty of Orthodox Jews at secular, public universities who subscribe to none of these views.

    • Tefbox says:

      I agree with you, and even more then that, how can you know what what orthodox Jews believe by a survey done in a collage. To get a more honest view you’d need to survey all kinds of orthodox Jews as well as Chassidim and Chabad and them maybe you’ll get a bit more of an honest answer.

      But even then the issue won’t be fully answered because what Judiasim as a who believes is what the Rabbis say, not the ordinary layman, and the bigger the Rabbi the more his opinion is held.

  2. obzabor says:

    While the conclusion is plausible, the method is very questionable: the questions are not correct (e.g. evolution does not “explain life” etc), and control group is missing.

    • KT says:

      exactly what I was thinking Obzabor…. Some of those questions are misleading. How are we supposed to know if they answered false due to knowing that we shared a common ancestor vs. directly evolving from apes? Evolution is supposed to explain the origins of life? No, evolution explains what comes thereafter. It provides a basis for how we formed into specific species.

      I don’t know how much of the answer would change anyway, but still, it shows sloppiness on the part of those conducting the study.

  3. Mike Riggs says:

    OK, I am convinced that Orthodox Jews are not evolutionists. But somehow we have to get beyond dogma on both sides of the debate and honestly look at the evidence. The book called “In Six Days” a collection of 50 scientists that reject evolution raises convincing arguments that the debate is not between faith and science but between faith and faith at best and faith and a lie at its worst.

    • Larian LeQuella says:

      I am not familiar with the book you mention in your post, but exactly who were these 50 scientists? Are they in any way qualified to talk on the subject of biological evolution? Sounds too much like the dishonest Discovery Institute list of “scientists” that had bones to pick on evolution. I would strongly suspect that this book you are refering to is more about faith and dogma than anything remotely related to science. And only further goes to perpetrate the manufactuvorsey.

  4. Eliyahu Konn says:

    I suppose you haven’t heard the stir Natan Slifkin’s book, “The Challenge of Creation,” made in the orthodox circles. In fact there are many orthodox who have not hidden their heads in the sand and are scientists that understand the world is not only 6000 years old. There is the problem of breaking with traditional thinking when you are ostracized for thinking according to mathematical logic, science, and extant historical documents. But living in the medieval ages and fables and superstition is not living according to Torah. The rabbis that do so are wrong and destroying Torah Judaism. The cutting edge of Torah and science is found according to the Netzarim in Raanana, Israel, certified orthodox. http://www.netzarim.co.il Are skeptics ever wrong?

    • Larian LeQuella says:

      Skeptics, and scientists, are OFTEN wrong! If they were always right, why whould they even bother doing science and asking questions? However, as opposed to a weakness, it’s a strength that is a self correcting mechanism that improves our understanding of the universe, as opposed to a rigid adherence to myths that have their origins in the bronze age… I think that is really the point here. While skeptics and scientists may be wrong from time to time, they are not nearly as wrong as the majority of respondents to this survey…

  5. Nathan Prophet says:

    Stupid debates like this over the fact of evolution, including human evolution, the age of the Earth and the Universe should be over. They are a waste of time. A huge percentage of the scientific community agrees that evolution is a fact and is the best explanation of life (species) (not the origin of life). It is based on hard science – fact finding, fossils, DNA analysis, etc. What do the disbelievers offer? Nothing by standing on the sidelines and making pot-shots at the Theory. They do not do science; they do not publish scientific, peer-reviewed papers, and so on. They are frauds trying to protect the darkness of their religion from the light of science. I am surprised at the length believers will go to in order to preserve their ingrained beliefs, but then all I have to do is reflect on the Inquisition. True believers will NEVER change their beliefs out of FEAR.

  6. Charley Darwin says:

    KT and Obzabor have already pointed out the flaws in two key questions, but I must add my dismay. Although I am an atheist and evolutionist, I would not have answered the first two questions “correctly.” Evolution does NOT explain the origins of life, only the development of more complex forms; humans did NOT descend from modern apes, which is implied by the wording of the question.
    It is amazing that those studying such an interesting matter could thus invalidate their own work. Do the authors have any response?

  7. Ben says:

    Jews as always.The first reating contemporary religion they I see demonstrate the majority of active non believers.

  8. ra'anan says:

    I live in amongst communities in Jerusalem (mostly English-speaking Jews) where Slifkin (aka The Zoo Rabbi) claims that physical evidence points to a type of evolution. R. Shemuel Kamenetsky (Philadelphia), son of R. Ya’aqov Kamenetsky, supported Slifkin. R. Moshe Shapiro (Jerusalem) & R. Aharon Feldman of Ner Ysrael (Baltimore) opposed Slifkin in a very strong way. R. Shapiro & R. Feldman felt Slifkin opposed the Talmudic sages. R. Kamenetsky felt that the Talmudic sages themselves used scientific methods of observation & hypothesis. I did not like this whole argument. What difference does it even make whether there was even a Darwinian evolution or everything appeared in 6 days? And just because someone takes EITHER position doesn’t mean he rejects other science. Evolution & universe age are issues of CONJECTURE in science, which is not the case w/so many other areas of science. I remember watching a news report at how upset scientists were when they saw the rings of Jupiter up close because their shapes totally defied their scientific expectations. Einstein sat on evidence supporting his theory of relativity for TEN YEARS because he was afraid to oppose the scientific community (sounds like a community of FAITH!!!). Scientists do NOT hold a consensus on evolution, just google that. I think that Gerald Schroeder has most clearly articulated problems w/the views of SOME scientists of evolution as well as the age of the universe. Schroeder doesn’t dismiss scientific evidence, he reconciles it. If the Torah & evolutionists both required a leap of faith of the same length, which would you choose? If the lengths are equal, then choosing one over the other implies an ideological agenda.

    Why is it “unsettling” that orthodox Jews reject evolution? What in the world difference does it make? If YOU believed in the man in the moon, I’d let it slide because it wouldn’t make a difference to me.

    I don’t have the facts anymore, but in some scientific journal there was an article about a woman scientist who, because of her different scientific background (biologist???) decided to somehow extract liquid from dinosaur bones. The article said that such liquid cannot exist in bones UNLESS they are LESS than 10,000 years old. I’ve also read that Red Wood trees’ rings are less than 7000 yrs old.

    BTW, do you have any evidence that Hebrew was NOT universally spoken until 4000 yrs ago???

    Also, Charles Walcott’s suppression of the evidence of the Burgess Shale in the Cambrian Explosion demonstrates that all life appeared at once (isn’t that a whale bone in the throat of evolutionists?) at the Smithsonian Institute & their accidental rediscovery almost a century later doesn’t bode too well for the integrity of scientists.

    As far as geocentrism, your guess is wrong because there is no Biblical claim that the sun rotates around the earth, though the CHURCH thought that to be LOGICAL & “inquired” such belief of its congregations. I’d imagine that the 22 who seemed to support geocentrism are really just non-scientific types.

    Women are ritually unclean??? That’s INCORRECT & that’s THEOLOGY!!! How did you drag that into the discussion??? Theologically, menstruents are forbidden to engage in sexual intercourse w/their husbands until their blood flow has stopped & they’ve counted 7 clean (bloodless) days & immersed in a special ritual bath (or a lake or the sea etc.).

    What’s this chorus of “mainstream, mainstream” as if that label somehow makes a position on a issue to be somehow better??? My goodness, littering & smoking were once mainstream, does that somehow make them more legit???

    You are dishing out DISINFORMATION! Men are not allowed to touch any woman??? Are you saying that orthodox women are all virgins??? A man may not assist or hug his own mother??? A man can’t touch his wife for every two weeks??? Come on, that’s talking about menstruation, where are you getting these absurd claims from, a Mein Kampf site??? What else did that site say, that orthodox Jews have sex through a hole in a sheet & sandpaper down their horns (which are safely hid under those yarmulkes)???

    “The extremism of forcing women to cover themselves from head to toe,” that’s a variation of the “mainstream” chorus. Did your extremist mother cover your body w/clothes when you were born? Did she FORCE you to get DRESSED for KINDERGARTEN??? I guess THAT was okay because OTHERS did so & therefore it became MAINSTREAM (that means “not extreme”), right? Do you think that everyone should maintain a lifestyle like yours & your ideal, whatever model that is?

    “By definition Jews who accept evolution are not Orthodox???” I think there are 13 Principles of Believe & this is NOT one of them. Do you just make up baseless, shocking ideas as you write???

    The “mud mouse” is one the 13 Principles of Belief??? Can you google that & send me a link (not from the Mein Kampf site, though…you know what, EVEN from the Mein Kampf site!)?

    I always wanted to see close-up evidence of Noah’s Ark on Mt. Ararat. I’ve googled that many times & there was a Soviet team of investigators up there, but then war broke out & they were called back to Russia.

    Biblical evolution of the Wellhausen school of higher German Biblical critics has long been discredited. Did you read up on anything your writing before publishing or were you too busy cutting & pasting?

    As I said above, the “Copernican heresy” is NOT Biblical & comes from the CHURCH, not the Bible.

    One of the leading rabbinical figures in orthodoxy (in Jerusalem) issued a legal decision that it is FORBIDDEN for the Chinese (or others) to murder prisoners (or others) for their body parts.

    • Larian LeQuella says:

      I don’t see it the same way you do. A complaint that I often hear from many of my secular Israeli friends is that the orthodox parties are attempting to impose their rules on those in Israel who are not as orthodox. Much like the christian right in the US is attmepting to impose their views on non-christians. It’s a sens of privelidge and entitlement they feel they have becuase of their favoured position with god. They don’t seem to care that by imposing their views on others who don’t follow them is a violation of their rights, because they already accept the loony nuttiness that is ultra orthodoxy…

      I won’t bother with your entire post, because it is bat guanno crazy through and through, but you ask: “do you have any evidence that Hebrew was NOT universally spoken until 4000 yrs ago?” Yes, TONS! Hyroglyphs. Chinese writing. Ancient Sanskrit. Proto-cuneiform writings. And many of those go back as far as 4000BC (which I think is even more damaging to the silly creation myths..).

    • Josh says:

      I, too, am unable to read through your post, but I did pick up your lack of understanding of the practical importance of evolution – just as an example in medicine, we need to know the relationship between animals and humans in order to conduct any drug trials on animals – and I do presume that you would never deny the importance of medicine.

  9. jdaniels says:

    The rings of Jupiter?

  10. rey says:

    Atheists treat science as an infallible book rather than a methodology. Its “anti-science” to deny and unproven and unproveable theory that makes no sense? Random mutations for no purpose whatsoever magically happening to help species survive, but without any mind controlling the process? I mean, seriously, the concept of the Ancients creating Stargates and putting them on every planet in the galaxy is more scientific than that.

    • Nathan Prophet says:

      Study the data; read peer reviewed journals; clear your mind of bias as much as possible. You will see that evolution, including human evolution, is a fact.

      And, as a scientist, I can say that I do not view science as infallible as is erroneously generalized here. The atheists I know do not hold that view either.

      To make these types of hasty generalizations is to cut off the conversation and revert to prejudice.

  11. rey says:

    “Science has bettered the life of all, yet it and the worldview that produced it is in danger of extinction in certain parts of today’s world.”

    This is idiocy. Science is not an infallible book. Just like Protestant Fundamentalist morons who say “The Bible is a take it or leave it book; either you believe it all or none of it” so you moron atheists say of science “take it all or leave it.” Everything said by “science” is not true. String theory anyone? No seriously, let the atheist fundamentalists come and defend STRING THEORY of all things. A rational person will believe whatever in science makes sense, as well as whatever in religion makes sense. He will, as they say in Britain, “pick and mix.” Anyone who uncritically believes anything that any scientist says is an idiot. “Science has bettered the life of all” but it was REAL science, PRACTICAL science, not evolutionary theory, that bettered the life of all. The science that tells us how to DO something bettered our lives, not the fake science that usurps the role of philosophy and attempts to explain the origins of the universe!

  12. Alan says:

    This is a very weak survey and thus the interpretation is flawed. As others have pointed out, the sample selection is highly questionable (why didn’t you validate with a survey at YU, or the Orthodox communities at higher quality institutions like Columbia and Penn?), there is no control group and the authors seem to have either a narrow or caricatured understanding of what the range of Orthodox Judaism is.

    But beyond that, they clearly have confirmation bias in their interpretation of the results and demonstrate nothing that would lead me to believe they are actually skeptics or scientific in their approach.

    The questions are poorly worded. One and two are in fact false (and the wording suggests the authors have a trivial understanding of evolution themselves)- evolution does not explain the origin of life that is abiogensis and humans did not evolve from apes though they share a common ancestor with them. And in at least one case the resulting answers are contradictory and should have raised tremendous red flags for the veracity of the survey – how could only 53 respondents not think the earth is greater than 7000 years old while 70 think the dinosaurs went extinct millions of years before humans?

    All in all, anyone holding this out as an example of scientific analysis is not doing science any favors.

  13. Elan says:

    Wow, this paper is remarkably ignorant. First off: “Denial of evolution is a defining characteristic of education in Orthodox Judaism”. Whose ‘tenets’ are these? Sources, pleas! And then this whopper: ” the small number of students permitted to go to a public university and be exposed to non-censored scientific knowledge ” Small number? Has this guy been to Upenn or Brandeis. Or Harvard for that matter? Has he even heard of Modern Orthodoxy? Oh, it seems he has, referring to the study sample, derived from an unnamed ‘New York City Public College’, a “the most modern segment of Orthodox Judaism “. But the ‘most modern’ Orthodox kids don’t tend to go to Queens college, or Brooklyn College or whatever this place was. Geez, looks like the skeptics need some skeptical reviewing of their own.

  14. Josh says:

    It would be interesting to know how many of the students questioned were studying science as in medicine, physics, chemistry etc… I believe this is a reason why Orthodox Jews, while they may go for higher education, it is often to study Law, accounting etc…. There are a precious few who are encouraged to go into the sciences where it will be very difficult to deny evolution. But apart from that point, I was not all surprised of the findings, I grew up with the same beliefs!

  15. John C Wellon says:

    No one should be surprised with those findings, Its what all good Christians are thought. Until the world rids itself of all religion, (don’t hold your breath) nothing will change!

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