lecture: Spiro: Monkeys, Genesis and Jews (3/07)

“Monkeys, Genesis and Jews: The Darwinian Impact on Judaism” Presented by Jack D. Spiro: March 22, 2007:

[One year later: There’s this one key point that the public tends to get wrong when it comes to groundbreaking publications, being that the author did not begin working with a void, but is only the latest in a continuum. What if Einstein hadn’t published when he did? Somebody else would have. And the same goes for Darwin. What pop critics of Darwin tend to ignore is how humble Darwin appears in his works, hardly a page without his giving credit to the research and findings of somebody else. Secondly, Origin of Species comprises little more than a list of possible refutations, the same ones being used today, followed by illustrations of how his own theories are maintained. There’s a book I recommend, if only for the gorgeous examples of evolution; the one I will mention goes like this: there is an orchid that has an organ functioning as a water fountain, and when the cup of the orchid is filled with water, the flower tilts over and the water spills out and begins filling up again. Its pollen is only to be found near the bottom of the cup, so when humble-bees fly inside to fill their honeybags they end up being doused with water, unable to fly out of the cup. Their solution? Bite through the side of the cup to escape, and in so doing inadvertently get dusted by pollen, which they carry along to the next flower. Such elegance in whole!]

Spiro’s lecture essentially showed why Stokes-Monkey episodes have not, and will not, occur in Judaism, that Judaism has always been a religion of dialectics, “where there are two Jews there are three opinions.” What was most enjoyable was not the lecture, but the question-answer session afterwards. While the room was 90% Jewish, it seems, the questions were all asked by Christians, tending to use the “well, if you don’t believe in Jesus, what is the meaning of life?” tone of voice. One of the questions was asked by a young man who spoke very quickly, very self-assured, using jargon he’s picked up from anti-Darwin websites, explaining quickly that according to Darwin’s own definitions, there has never been any proof whatsoever, based on fossil records, that evolution has occurred, that evolution cannot be proven, but that there are things that can be proven, such as Intelligent Design, and is Judaism firmly set in its ancient belief of evolution so that it cannot see that evolution is not real? Something along those lines. Spiro spoke kindly, and yet made an ass of the boy, explaining that it’s not so much about “proven” as “suggested by evidence” and that in any case, there is no question as to whether or not evolution occurs. He’s cited a study done by a husband and wife team who for decades researched at the Galapagos and apparently observed evolution in those same sorts of birds that fascinated Darwin. Another question was asked by a girl who wanted to know “how can you say the bible evolved, I mean, I thought it was just written, and anyone can interpret it however they’d like, but, someone wrote it and everyone interprets it differently, though it doesn’t change.” He answered that the bible was not just written by a single person, but by many people, as shown through all sorts of evidence in the text, by what seems to be obvious motivations changing in section to section, by segments supposedly identical being entirely different (ie, the ten commandments, the creation myths, the invasion of Canaan), and the fact that the books were chosen by people, and that the Talmud contains records of that decision making process, including the books that nearly didn’t make it, and the reasons why they finally did make it. That another rabbi I spoke to told me he disagrees entirely with Spiro is evidence enough of Spiro’s point about the tradition of disagreement in Judaism.

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