Faith & Science Icon Faith & Science

Atheist 1, Rabbi 0

David Klinghoffer

You have to give credit to Paula Kirby, identified on the Washington Post “On Faith” page as a “consultant to secular organizations.” She’s got a lot clearer grasp of what’s at stake in the evolution debate than does a rabbi and UCLA professor, David Wolpe, who writes on the same page and is identified as having been “named the No.1 Pulpit Rabbi in America by Newsweek magazine.”
The consultant and the rabbi are commenting in the context of Rick Perry’s recent statement on evolution (which John West reflected on earlier). Ms. Kirby considers herself an ex-Christian. She doesn’t define evolution — frustratingly, these folks almost never do — but never mind that. One can hardly disagree with her when she puts it this way, speaking of herself before converting from Christian to Darwinist.

I had only the vaguest possible idea of how evolution works and certainly didn’t know enough about it to realize that unguided-ness is central to it. While I welcome anyone who recognizes that the evidence for evolution is such that it cannot sensibly be denied, to attempt to co-opt evolution as part of a divine plan simply does not work, and suggests a highly superficial understanding of the subject. Not only does evolution not need to be guided in any way, but any conscious, sentient guide would have to be a monster of the most sadistic type: for evolution is not pretty, is not gentle, is not kind, is not compassionate, is not loving. Evolution is blind, and brutal, and callous. It is not an aspiration or a blueprint to live up to (we have to create those for ourselves): it is simply what happens, the blind, inexorable forces of nature at work. An omnipotent deity who chose evolution by natural selection as the means by which to bring about the array of living creatures that populate the Earth today would be many things – but loving would not be one of them. Nor perfect. Nor compassionate. Nor merciful.

That’s straight talk, given the premise of Darwinian theory. She clearly has our fuzzy-headed theistic evolutionary friends in mind.
On the other hand, Rabbi Wolpe seems to think his religion can accommodate any scientific conception of the world:

Evolution is inconsistent with religion only if you believe that religion must be based on antiquated, disproven ideas. But if you believe, as the Talmud puts it, that “God’s seal is truth” then faith has nothing to fear from what is true. Science describes the mechanism by which God created and creates the natural world.

He observes:

That a majority of Americans do not “accept” [evolution] is not a reflection of national character. It is an intellectual mudslide of gargantuan proportions.

The body of ever-shifting thought that goes by the name “science” at any given moment in history has said many things down the ages, true and false. That Judaism (or Christianity) is compatible with all them must follow from Wolpe’s view, since there’s nothing special about our scientific culture today that makes its statements trustworthy to us without further reflection in a way that science should not have been trustworthy to people of the past. But this makes Wolpe’s religion unfalsifiable and therefore, by Jewish standards as the Talmud defines them in its consideration of legal testimony, unworthy of consideration.
As the Talmud and common sense agree, if a witness’s testimony cannot even in principle be knocked down, then that testimony has to be dismissed.
In scoring this dispute between atheist and rabbi, I give the point to the atheist.