Darwin and the Jews

by Maskil on February 26, 2009

No, as far as I’m aware, Darwin never expressed himself on the subject of the Jews. Now that I have your attention, however, here’s the point of this post.

The online article “Faithful can accept both Darwin and God, pastors say” included the following snippet in the sidebar, concerning views on evolution across religious groups.

Views on evolution by religion
In the United States, Buddhists, Hindus and Jews are the most likely among religious groups to accept evolution, while Christian evangelicals, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses are least likely, according to a Pew Forum survey.
Percent who agree that evolution is the best explanation for origins of human life:
Buddhist…81
Hindu…80
Jewish…77
Catholic…58
Eastern Orthodox…54
Mainline Protestant…51
Muslim…45
Historically Black Protestant…38
Christian Evangelical…24
Mormon…22
Jehovah’s Witness…8
Source: 2008 Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey

At first glance, a 77% acceptance of evolution (which I also take to mean an acceptance of the scientific method) sounds pretty good; right up there with the Buddhists and Hindus. On further reflection, though, perhaps there’s less reason for complacency.

I have a question regarding whether that percentage acceptance of evolution is growing or shrinking? Without understanding the Pew survey and its methodologies (including how those surveyed were selected), I can’t answer that. My intuition, however, is that it’s shrinking.

Why would this be the case? Simply because the sectors within the Jewish population showing the strongest demographic growth are the Haredi/Hassidic (ultra-Orthodox) segments, who are increasingly embracing Creationism and Intelligent Design, in imitation of (“aping”) their Fundamentalist Christian counterparts.

My understanding is that the cognitive dissonance between our scriptures and scientific knowledge about our universe was confronted and addressed centuries ago, by figures such as Maimonides. So, it’s something of a mystery to me as to why the sages of our very own Yahweh’s Witness movements choose to retreat into Biblical literalism.

Should this trend be of concern to us as progressive Jews in the broader sense? Our initial response might be that such views (which contradict common knowledge, common sense and scientific methods) simply cannot thrive, that they will eventually be crushed beneath the weight of evidence.

The problem with allowing events to simply take their course is that – through a combination of demographic growth, organisation and outreach, and just shouting louder – they may drown out other voices. Eventually these Fundamentalist views will be seen as part of mainstream Jewish beliefs. This will in turn succeed in driving rational Jews into the arms of all the other “isms” so dreaded by those who embrace the theology of fear, suspicion, hostility and inward focus.

The idea of Jewish Pluralism is close to the hearts of progressive Jews, but perhaps its time to be a little less accepting when we hear these backward views being identified with Judaism.

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