A UNIFIED VIEW OF TORAH AND EVOLUTION
Professor of Biology, UCLA
CEO, Torah Science Foundation
BASED ON THE TEACHINGS OF RABBI YITZCHAK GINSBURGH
The questions about the origin of life and its diversity are very important for most people. How did life originate? How did different species come about and how is the existing biological diversity preserved? Attempts to answer these questions can elicit fierce debate which is not usually found in other areas of knowledge. Among the many reasons behind the sensitivity of the subject is its central relevance to theology, scientific knowledge and human consciousness.
At the core of the concept of evolution is the implication of change, that what is being observed was not always as it appears today. Broadly, evolutionary change can refer to many dimensions: galaxies, languages, chemical elements, and the like. Biological evolution deals with the origin of life and of biological diversity. In this paper, I rely on the inner wisdom of the Torah, as found in Kabbalah and Chassidic philosophy, to describe what the Torah teaches about biological evolution. Using the emerging concepts of this analysis we can look at the scientific theory of evolution, and ask how the viewpoints compare. This exploration shows that Torah knowledge clarifies and rectifies the scientific perspective and a rectified viewpoint of the scientific theory of evolution in turns helps us understand the Torah teachings.
The scientific theory of evolution: What an organism looks like (its phenotype) is determined by an interaction between its genes and the environment. The genes are hereditary units of information encoded by DNA, a chemical material contained in all cells. The discovery of genes as the basic units of heredity is one of the wondrous achievements of modern science.
According to the scientific theory of evolution, living organisms evolve as a result of the process of natural selection, in which random mutations – accidental changes in the chemical structure of DNA that alter the encoded genetic information – are subject to a continuous selection by the environment. Beneficial mutations are rare, but continuously selected over large periods of time lead to new forms of life.
Living organisms show different levels of complexity, which is reflected in the way they are classified taxonomically. Some taxonomic levels are very broad, such as kingdoms, which separate plants and animals. Within the kingdoms there are more restricted, although still broad categories. For example in the animal kingdom we find vertebrates, a subphyla of animals with a backbone, and reptiles, a class of animals such as the crocodiles. Taxonomic categories get narrower as they encompass organisms that are more closely related. For example, the wolf, the dog and the coyote are classified in the same genus, but are considered different species.
The species category is critical for the understanding of biology diversity and of evolution. A species groups populations of organisms that share a pool of genes and that it is reproductively isolated from other species (there are a few exceptions such the horse and donkey, which are distinct species that can interbreed but their offspring is sterile, so reproductive isolation is preserved). Thus, dogs that look quite different, such as a Shepard and a Terrier, are classified in the same species because they interbreed and have fertile offspring, whereas dogs and wolves can look quite similar but are considered different species because they do not interbreed (again, there are a few, rare exceptions to this rule). Below the species category, there are more narrow classifications such as breeds of dogs and varieties of apples. The species level however is critical, both from a taxonomical and an evolutionary viewpoint. Since the 18th century, taxonomists have used the binomial system for the classification of all organisms, giving each one a genus and a species. Thus, man is Homo sapiens, and the dog is Canis familiaris.
Evolutionary changes below the level of species are called microevolution. A classical example of microevolution is the change in beak size of bird populations living in isolated islands. Birds from the same species, such as the famous Darwin’s finches from the Galapagos islands, are subject to different selection pressures arising from different food sources in each island, and bird populations with different beak sizes evolve. The term microevolution is meant to indicate that the evolving bird populations retain a capacity to interbreed and therefore remain a single species. Microevolutionary processes under natural conditions are usually subtle and often complex, but can be dramatic under artificially strong selection pressures such as antibiotic resistance in bacteria, or breeding for a certain phenotype in plants and animals. In general, microevolution is well documented and widely accepted.
The well understood process of microevolution has been used as a model to explain macroevolution. Macroevolution explains the origin of life as a slow process (billions of years) in which changes driven by natural selection led to a progression from atoms to molecules to living unicellular organisms. It further proposes that all living forms arose from the effect of random mutations and natural selection on a common ancestor.
This model of biological evolution is incompatible with a religious viewpoint for two main reasons: the absence of a Creator and the lack of purpose in creation. This discrepancy has led to passionate public debates and court battles that remain current at the present time. The main opponents of the scientific theory of evolution have been creationists and proponents of intelligent design. The creationist viewpoint follows a Christian doctrine based in a literal interpretation of the creation of the world found in the book of Genesis. Intelligent design is a viewpoint that seeks to find scientific evidence for an intelligent designer in nature.
Remarkably, the Torah viewpoint, presented here, has been conspicuously absent from the public debate on evolution, so it will be new to many readers. The Torah knowledge embodied in the revealed tradition covers the Pentateuch and all the writings of the Talmud. The inner wisdom of the Torah involves Kabbalah and Chasidic philosophy. Both the revealed and inner wisdom of the Torah make major contributions to our understanding of the origin of life and its diversity. In addition, Kabbalistic models of the universe provide us with a potent tool for comparative studies of Torah and science. These studies illuminate our understanding of science and enrich our Torah learning.
The two stories of Breishit in the Torah: Kabbalah and Chassidic philosophy clearly teach us that the universe created by God is a vectorial process that has a beginning, a direction, and an end. The beginning is described by the first portions of the book of Genesis, and the end is the culmination of the creative process in which the ruling of the universe by God will be revealed. The process is a sequence of transformations that is described in detail in Kabbalah, and that, in the world of science, is called evolution.
Genesis tells two different creation stories (Genesis 1:27, And Elokim created [ex nihilo] the man, and Genesis 2:7, And HaShem Elokim formed the man). In the first story, the Torah uses the verb bara, which means to create. The sages interpret bara as an ex nihilo process, yesh me’ayin, something from nothing. In the second story, the Torah uses the verb yatzar, to form. The formation story of the second account of creation is not a something from nothing story, as evident from the text: Va’yitzer HaShem Elokim et ha’adam afar min ha’adamah (God formed man from dust). Thus the formation story hints at transformation and change, the inner meaning of the biological concept of evolution. The two stories of Genesis therefore teach us that at the beginning the universe was created ex nihilo, followed by a formation process.
The Torah further teaches that there is a sequence of created acts, first light is created, followed by the firmament which separated the higher waters from the lower waters, and so on. This sequence of creations matches the order described in Kabbalah as the four categories of created beings, inanimate, vegetable, animal, and human, called medaber, "speaker." The creation sequence described in Genesis teaches us an important point about the evolutionary process. Progress occurs at the top, with the new, more advanced forms emerging as quantum leaps from the most advanced existing beings.
The four worlds: Kabbalah and Chassidic philosophy describe another sequential change: the creation of the four worlds. These worlds are best understood as consciousness dimensions, not space dimensions. The first world is the World of Emanation (Atzilut), a purely spiritual world in which there is no separate self-consciousness, just consciousness of God. Only complete saintly people (tzadikim) can experience this world. In Genesis, the world of Emanation corresponds to the first day, yom echad (literally, "one day"), in which there is no other consciousness than the consciousness of One. The other three worlds are called, relative to the World of Emanation, the three lower worlds: Creation (Briah), Formation (Yetzirah), and Action (Asiyah). In this sequence, there is a progressive descent from heavens (shamaim) to earth (aretz)—Breishit bara Elokim et hashamaim ve'et ha'aretz—in a cascade of decreasing levels of spirituality.
The World of Creation is a mental, formless world, in which there is a mostly spiritual consciousness of creation. The bara (created) act mentioned earlier resides in the World of Creation.
Forms come to the universe in the World of Formation. The forms found there however are of a general quality, as in the biological concepts of genera and species, without any manifestation of the individual. Maimonides wrote that the greatest possible emotional arousal takes place when one truly sees the beauty and wonders of creation, which according to Kabbalah, are identified with the World of Formation. This emotional arousal awakens the key emotions of love and fear in the soul, and connects the soul with the Creator.
The World of Action, is the so called “ordinary reality.” Our experience of reality is all concentrated within the World of Action. Empirical science resides in the world of action. The concept of individuals, this lion or this person is a concept from the World of Action, in contrast with the concept of genera and species, which is a World of Formation concept.
We therefore see a cycle of descending and ascending streams of Divine energy. In the descending branch, from the spiritual to the material, we find the 10 sefirot (Divine emanations), from keter (crown) to malchut (kingdom), and the four worlds, from Atzilut to Asiyah. In the other direction, we see ascending levels of creations, from the inanimate to humans. In the broadest terms, these streams represent the descending Divine energy, from heavens to earth, and the closing of the cycle, the ascending process of earth to heaven, represented by the evolution from the inanimate to humans. Thus envisioned, humans are found at the pinnacle of creation, betzelem Elokim, in the image of God.
Adam Kadmon, the Primordial Man: Kabbalah teaches that the sefirah of chochmah, wisdom, is associated with the World of Emanation. The sefirah of keter, crown, is above (more spiritual) than the sefirah of chochmah, and it is associated with Adam Kadmon, the Primordial Man. The concept of the Primordial Man is one of the most wondrous contributions of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the Arizal, to the understanding of creation. In the Arizal’s model of creation, the Primordial Man is the first creation after the vacuum that results from the tzimtzum, the contraction of God's Infinite Light that begins the creative process. The Primordial Man is depicted as pure light, Divine energy, without any form or vessels. Adam Kadmon is the manifestation of God's will to emanate the Divine world of Atzilut and create the three lower worlds of Beriah, Yetzirah and Asiyah. The two words which form the name Adam Kadmon allude to its paradoxical nature of being, on the one hand a created being—Adam—while on the other hand a manifestation of primordial Divinity—Kadmon. Why is the very first emanation after the tzimtzum, before the pure Divine consciousness of the World of Emanation, named "man"? Because God intended from the outset of creation to create man, the culmination and pinnacle of creation, in His image—"the end is wedged into the beginning." Primordial Man, unlike physical man, is pure light and totally devoid of form. Primordial Man is best thought of as the complete program of the universe, embodying the potential of everything that will ever exist. Thus, in evolutionary terms, Primordial Man is the ultimate common ancestor of the universe that conveys a human image because the program of the universe is designed to culminate in a rectified and fully evolved human being that embodies a universe returning to God.
The human being and creation in the vision of the Izhbitzer: The Ishbitzer Rebbe (Rabbi Mordechai Yoseph Lainer of Izhbitza, 1800-1854) provides us with a wondrous teaching about the relationship between human beings and the rest of the living creatures. In Breishit 1:26, we read Vayomer Elokim na'ase Adam, “And God said let us make man”. Why "us" in the plural?! Rashi comments that God was planning man’s creation together with the angels. However, the Izhbitzer, in his classic Mei Hasheloah, published about the same time than the Darwin’s “Origin of Species”, writes:
In the beginning, God created all the creations. Then the creations understood their limitation that they did not have anyone to unite their life with the Holy One, and that by means of man all the stages of creation (encapsulated in the Ten Sayings of Creation) will be united with the Creator, and that the inanimate will give its power to the plants and the plants to the animals and the animals to man, so that man will worship with his power the Holy One. When the creations saw what they were lacking, they used their power from below to cause an "arousal from Above" for the creation of man. "And Elokim said 'Let us make man,'” and the Holy One told the creations that all of them give of their power to contribute to the creation of man, so that man will have a part of all of them, so that if man will be in need, they will all help him because when it is bad for man it is bad to all creatures like in the generation of the flood, and when is good for man is good for all creatures as well.
So what is the Izhbitzer saying? First, he is saying that man is the culmination of the creative process. Second, that all the rest of creation, the inanimate, the plants and the animals were waiting as it were for the creation of man, so that they could fulfill their need to praise their Creator. Third, the most amazing teaching of the Izhbitzer is that all creatures contribute to the creation of man, answering God’s invitation: “na'ase Adam.”
The age of the universe: One of the most wondrous teachings of Chassidut is that the universe is re-created, ex-nihilo, every split second. This is not meant to be metaphorical but an aspect of ordinary reality, although like frames in a movie separated by blank spaces, the speed of the movie does not make it possible to visualize the separate frames.
Every soul has a root in one of the four worlds described above. The Alter Rebbe (Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad-Lubavitch Chassidic Movement, 1745-1812) taught that the relatively few souls that originate in the world of Emanation (Atzilut) can experience the continuous re-creation of the world all the time. He also taught that with the proper meditation, all of us can have a glimpse of continuous re-creation, and that such an experience lifts us above time and space.
So, what is the age of a universe that is continuously re-created anew every split second? Age is a function of elapsed time, and the occurrence and elapsing of time depends on the world in which time is measured. Time as we experience does not exist in the world of Emanation; in fact past, present and future co-exist in that world (reference to Time, Space and Consciousness in B’Or HaTorah 15). Time is created in the world of Creation, and it gets progressively slower in the worlds of Formation and Action. Time slows down in the lower worlds because their yeshut (being, materiality) slows things down, as if adding inertia to the world.
How can we estimate how differently time elapses in the worlds of Action, Formation and Creation? There is a story about the Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, related by the Tzemach Tzedek, the 3rd Chabad Rebbe in his book, “Derech Mitzvotecha.” The Tzemach Tzedek relates that the Ba'al Shem Tov had a vision and, after that experience, wrote a letter describing an event as though it had already happened even though at the time of the vision it had not yet happened. The Tzemach Tzedek explains that when a tzadik, living here in the World of Action, has a vision, he ascends in his consciousness for a rega (a moment, "eye-wink") to the World of Formation. A rega is a measure of time described in the Torah which is approximately 1/23 of a second. The Tzemech Tzedek explains that a rega in the World of Formation corresponds to 15 years in the World of Action, which we inhabit, a ratio of about 1:1010. This would mean that an event that lasts 1 day in the World Formation would last 1010 days in the world of Action. If we further take into account the quantum leap in the extent of yeshut between the worlds of Creation and Formation then clearly one day up there is equivalent to billions of years down here!
And so, we may say that the Torah description of the 6 days of creation belongs literally to the higher created worlds, whereas a scientist making measurements related to the age of the observable physical universe relates exclusively to the consciousness of the World of Action. The perceptions of time emerging from the text of Genesis and from scientific measurements will relate to each other by ratios qualitative similar to those described above. There is therefore no qualitative contradiction between the age of the universe inferred from Genesis and that measured by scientific means, the two perceptions of time represent different states of consciousness defined by the worlds in which they originate.
Koach hamedame, the power of imagination. Koach hamedame is an important trait of the soul. It arises from the sefirah of binah, which has two levels (partzufim), the higher binah and tevunah. The simple differentiation between the two is that the higher binah corresponds to the soul's ability to grasp ("to catch," litfos) a lightening flash of wisdom (chochmah), whereas tevunah corresponds to the soul's ability to integrate ("to absorb," liklot) the new understanding. Tevunah in turn has two levels, tevunah aleph and tevunah beit or higher and lower tevunah. Chassidic philosophy explains that koach hamedame originates in the in the most external dimension of the lower tevunah.
The confusion of the Jewish people in the desert when Moses did not return from the mountain on the 40th day as he had promised (Exodus 32:1) is given by our sages as the archetypical example of misguided koach hamedame. The source of confusion was a miscalculation in the counting of the 40 days. Rashi explains that the Satan used the confusion of the Jewish people to misguide them, by showing them an image in the sky that they interpreted as Moses being dead. The mistaken belief that Moses had died led the people to seek another leader and to build the golden calf, the greatest collective sin in Jewish history.
Koach hamedame can function in either an unrectified or a rectified state. Rabbi Nachman of Breslev equates the unrectified state of koach hamedame with the yetzer hara, the evil inclination. When someone starts a business fully convinced that it is certain to succeed and the business fails, or if someone incorrectly believes that his or her best friend is lying when in fact the other person is telling the truth, they are being misguided by an unrectified koach hamedame.
On the other hand, a rectified koach hamedame is the source of creativity and, in its higher expression, of prophesy. The rectification of the koach hamedame is a central aspect of our spiritual work. Tevunah is identified in Chassidut with the archetypal soul of Rebecca, the second matriarch, the wife of Isaac. Guided by a rectified koach hamedame, and following the deep level of understanding experienced in her heart, she is the one to decide which of her two sons is truly worthy of receiving the blessing of his father..
Tevunah arouses love and fear in the heart (it is the spiritual/mental life-force of love and fear). The arousal of love and fear (awe) of the Creator is the most potent tool for the rectification of the koach hamedame.
Koach hamedame in biology: The creative faculties of koach hamedame find a high level of expression in the empirical nature of biology. Elegant, high resolution experiments require a high level of creativity, and interpretation of experimental results has, at its core, a requirement for integration that was described above as typical of tevunah.
What about an unrectified koach hamedame? Research in biological evolution is particularly vulnerable to a collective consciousness driven by an unrectified koach hamedame. One problem area is the experimental verification of hypotheses. Many of the invoked evolutionary processes are assumed to take very long periods of time, thus precluding experimental testing. Consider, for example, the question of the origin of life on earth. Large research programs are currently investing vast human and financial resources in the study of possible ways in which living creatures might have evolved from random chemical reactions in conditions presumed typical of early geological times in the planet. At the time of this writing, the two competing scientific theories for the origin of life on earth are “a hot, volcanic origin” (autocatalytic carbon dioxide fixation within a hot volcanic flow in the presence of metal catalysts), and the classical “pre-biotic soup theory” in cold oceans.
What is being ignored is that the chemical reactions under analysis represent a tiny fraction of the number of steps that would be required to produce a living organism from a random process. The reason that well trained, intelligent scientists work comfortably in such nearly absurd conditions, is that the entire process is presumed to have lasted billions of years, leading to the rationale that a very large number of unknown processes could somehow generate a living organism.
The vanishing probability of such outcome has been discussed extensively and will not be elaborated further in the present article. What is important to note is that the passionate, emotional defense of the model explaining the appearance of life on earth as the outcome of a random process is typical of thinking driven by an unrectified koach hamedame. Equally important, this analysis tells us that the rectification of the koach hamedame in the collective consciousness of the scientific community should in turn result in rectified scientific models that are certain to revolutionize our understanding of life on Earth.
Torah-Science methodology: Some Torah sages think that all scientific knowledge originates from a consciousness driven by an unrectified koach hamedame and it is therefore corrupt. They further believe that the Torah is the blueprint of the universe and therefore includes in it all the rectified scientific knowledge. This school of thought believes that a Torah scholar or a Yeshiva student should not waste any time studying science. On the other end of the spectrum, some scientists believe that religion teaches us about moral values but it is irrelevant to our understanding of the universe.
On the other hand, important leaders of the Jewish people, such as Maimonides, the Maharal of Prague, and the Alter Rebbe (and more recently Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first chief Rabbi of modern Eretz Yisrael) understood and taught that the essence of scientific inquiry is to explain the natural laws that govern a Divinely created universe, and thereby to fulfill the commandment to know the Creator from studying His creation, as well as the commandments to love and fear Him and to sanctify His Name by Jewish, God-fearing scientists being at the forefront of scientific discovery.
Efforts to unify Torah and science have intensified in the last few decades, particularly in studies of Kabbalah and science. The secret of these advances is the understanding that Kabbalah unravels the inner wisdom of the Torah in such a way that makes it possible to uncover precise parallels between Torah and science. For example, the Kabbalistic model of Creation developed by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the Arizal, explains the origin of the universe as an initial contraction (tzimtzum) followed by the projection of a line (kav) of Divine radiation into the apparent vacuum created by the tzimtzum and then the manifestation of 10 sefirot in the original partzuf of Adam Kadmon. There are wondrous parallels between this Kabbalistic model of creation and the current understanding of the origin of the universe developed by contemporary physics, with corresponding key points in each model being readily identifiable.
At the core of scientific knowledge is the scientific method, a systematic building of models of the universe based in observations, their verification by rigorous experiments and the development of theories that explain and integrate these observations.
At the core of Kabbalah is Divine wisdom. Kabbalah is described as the inner wisdom or soul of the Torah. The power of Kabbalah is that it provides a correspondence (the Hebrew root of the word Kabbalah translates as “parallelism”) between the revealed knowledge of the Torah, and the hidden characteristics of the Creator, an infinite and ultimately unknowable Being.
Kabbalah is uniquely suited to unify Torah and science because of its structural precision, which yields highly informative models of God’s attributes and their relation to the universe. Kabbalah is also unique in its wondrous internal consistency. Karl Popper (1902-1994), one of the most respected philosophers of science, specified internal consistency as the first requirement for a valid scientific theory. The layman’s version of the internal consistency requirement is that “if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and sounds like a duck, it is a duck.” Stated differently, if the theory of relativity postulates that no object in the universe can move at speeds exceeding the speed of light, and such an object would be found, the theory would lack internal consistency.
Internal consistency is a key attribute of Kabbalah because Kabbalah helps us understand Torah concepts that defy common sense and often contradict our ordinary perception of reality. Because of the apparent contradiction between many Torah concepts and ordinary reality, secular people often look at religion as superstition. For similar reasons, some religious Jews relate to many Torah concepts as metaphors or allegories. In contrast, Kabbalah teaches that the entire Torah is of Divine origin and true.
Consider, for instance the concept of the soul. Secular science claims that the body and its underlying physical and biochemical reality is the total phenomenon of human existence, and that there is no soul, no purpose and no afterlife. Revealed Torah knowledge teaches us that humans have a body and a soul, that the soul is eternal, and that according of the merits of each person, the soul will have a destiny in the World to Come. In addition, Kabbalah and Chassidic philosophy offer a comprehensive, detailed picture of the properties of the soul. Thus, we are taught that our soul has a Divine spark that is an actual part of God. Furthermore, Chassidic philosophy makes a revolutionary claim. Whereas Maimonides in his monumental work claims that we cannot know God, Chassidic philosophy teaches that, because God is an absolute unity, when one grasps any aspect of God’s essence, one is grasping God himself. Since our soul is an intrinsic part of God, true knowledge of our soul provides us with true knowledge about God. (And just as we cannot know the very essence of God so we cannot know the very essence of the soul.) Kabbalah further teaches us about the structure of the soul and its functional properties in great detail, in what is akin to the anatomy and physiology of the body. Of key importance for our discussion here is that the Kabbalistic teachings about the soul do not read as legend or stories, it embodies a rigorous, internally consistent description that parallels the scientific discourse from a methodological standpoint.
The wondrous internal consistency of the wisdom of Kabbalah makes it possible to navigate the vast body of Torah knowledge with unique precision. For Torah science studies, Kabbalah makes it possible to identify parallel concepts in Torah and in science, and to move, in both directions, from one body of knowledge to the other.
The concept of species in the Torah and in science: In 1988, a group of scientists in Michigan started a tantalizing experiment (Science 284: 2108-2110, 1999). They cultured 12 genetically identical populations of Escherichia coli (a bacterium commonly found in the intestine) in small tubes filled with sugary broth. At 24 hour-intervals, they took a small number of bacteria from each tube and transferred to a fresh one. The bacteria grew exponentially (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, etc) with a generation time of 3.5 hours, so that at the beginning of each cycle a small number the bacteria encountered a very nutrition-rich medium which was used up after a few hours; for the remainder of the cycle they lived in nutrient-poor conditions. The investigators continued these experiments for 11 years, representing 24,000 generations of the bacterium. This is equivalent to 500,000 years in the lifespan of humans; according to the scientific theory of evolution, Homo sapiens evolved from his ancestors in about that time interval.
At the end of the 11-year period, the investigators took out from a freezer a sample of bacteria identical to the one used to start the experiment and compared them to those cultured throughout the 11-year period. The results showed that many biochemical and genetic changes had occurred over the time span of the experiment. Some of the changes were common to all populations, other occurred only in a few cases. A most important result of this experiment however is what did not happen: despite the many changes observed, and an elapsed time span that, in life cycle equivalents, would had sufficed for the postulated full human evolution from their putative ancestors, there was no speciation in the E. coli experiment.
A similar situation is observed with regard to the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster. About 1500 species of Drosophila have been described in the wild, and D. melanogaster has been grown in laboratories for decades. With a generation time of 9-14 days, hundreds of different strains and genetic mutants have been isolated and characterized around the world, but not a single new species has been unambiguously demonstrated. Like in the case of the dog, described earlier, the vast genetic and phenotypic plasticity found in living organisms can be effectively manipulated either by the environment or by human intervention, leading to genetically-determined adaptations described as microevolution. On the other hand, the speciation process remains mysterious and out of reach.
What is so unique about a species? Let us re-visit the biological concept of species. Ernst Mayr (1904-2005), a noted ornithologist and evolutionary biologist wrote (Philosophy of Science 63: 262-277, 1996)
“Some recent authors have dealt with the concept of species as if it were merely an arbitrary, man-made concept….However, the concept of biological species is not like such concepts. The term 'species' refers to a concrete phenomenon of nature…The biological meaning of species is thus quite apparent: The segregation of the total genetic variability of nature into discrete packages, so called species, which are separated from each other by reproductive barriers, prevents the production of too great a number of disharmonious incompatible gene combinations." So what Mayr is saying is that 'species' is a natural phenomenon. If this is the case, we should find the concept of species in the Torah.
What does the Torah say about species? Genesis 1:11 reads “And God said: Let the Earth put forth grass, herb yielding seed and fruit tree bearing fruit, after its kind [lemino]." Lemino means “after its type” or “of the same species.” This teaches us that God created the trees and the herbs and the animals and the human “after its kind,” by establishing minim (types) to be perpetuated.
The Torah further teaches that for every created min there is a force that represents it in the spiritual realm: “And for all created organisms He set a ruling force above, to impel it to its task, as the sages taught: you will find not a blade of grass below which does not have a spiritual being above that bids it: Grow!” This is its mazal (Breishit Rabba 10:6). So from the Torah viewpoint each organism and each min has a physical and a spiritual reality, a body and a soul-root. Kabbalah further teaches that every element of creation, including the inanimate, has a Divine spark in it. In addition, the "guardian angel" (mazal) of every living creature that compels it to grow, gives it “will.” Driven by its will, every creature longs to ascend in the evolutionary scale, it possesses a “will to evolve.”
The concept of “after its kind” appears again in the Torah:
- In the instructions that Noah receives when commanded to build the ark. (Breishit 7:14): “They, and every beast after its kind, and every domestic animal after its kind, and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth after its kind, and every fowl after its kind”. This indicates that Noah was commanded to take into the Ark representatives of existing species.
- In the Laws of Kashrut (Vayikra 9:1-11:47): “The eagle, and the bearded vulture and the black vulture. The kite, and the buzzard after its kind. Every raven after its kind. The owl, the kestrel, and the gull; and the sparrow hawk after its kind. The little owl, the fish fowl, and the great owl. The barn owl, the jackdaw, and the gier eagle. The stork, the heron after her kind; the hoopoe, and the bat”. This indicates that there are species of animals that Jews are permitted or forbidden to eat.
- In the prohibition of Kelaim (Leviticus 19:19): “Keep My decrees: Do not crossbreed your livestock with other species. Do not plant your field with different species of seeds. Do not wear garments that contain a forbidden mixture of fabrics (sha'atnez)”
There are three forbidden mixtures mentioned in this verse:
"Mixture of animals" (kel'ai behemah). This teaches that we may not crossbreed two species of animals.
“In these forbidden ways of mingling with two species there is the power to form something new and on that account they are forbidden: because the power of that mingling rises up so strongly that it temporarily nullifies the force of the spiritual being appointed over the two species”
"Mixtures of seeds" (kel'ai zeraim). This indicates that one should not crossbreed two species of plants.
"Mixtures of fabrics" (kel'ai begadim). This indicates that we may not sew together or join wool and linen together and then wear them.
It is in the prohibition of kelaim that the Torah concept of species is specially clear. “Whenever God created anything in His world whether plants or animals, He created for each one a power and a star with an angel overseeing it. Therefore each species has its own qualities. If a person mixes species, he is confusing the form that God set for the particular thing.”
Thus, the Torah view of a species is a channel of Divine energy that God created at the beginning of Creation, with a specific function and purpose. The fate of each species is guarded by a spiritual force that provides it with vital energy. Furthermore, God created clear-cut halachic rules that protect each species, commands it to multiply and forbids it to interbreed with other species.
When scientists classify biological species, they are actually defining these Divine channels of energy in the language of science. This implies that when Ernest Mayr was studying many individual birds and “seeing” their relationship as a species, he was actually seeing a unique Divine creation. Furthermore, the Torah’s stern prohibition against tampering with existing species echoes Mayr’s explanation of the functional reason for species mentioned earlier: “….prevents the production of too great a number of disharmonious incompatible gene combinations”
Envision a patch of land with some vegetation. A rabbi comes and meditates on the trees and the herbs, and he meditates on the third day of creation, when God created the trees and the herbs, and he meditates on the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge, and he meditates on the blessings to be said on the fruits of the trees. And a scientist comes and looks at the trees and the herbs and he studies them and he finds that two of the three trees found in that patch of land belong to the same species and the other is from a different species. He also studies the herbs and he finds that there are 15 different species of herbs in that patch of land. So, with the rabbi and the scientist unifying their consciousness, they can talk about 17 different channels of Divine energy in these plants, all with their guardian spirit and their purpose in creation.
A rectified theory of evolution: Science “divorced” religion more than 300 years ago in a courageous effort to separate itself from superstition and to lay the foundations of the scientific method. Today, science and technology are a dominant force of Western civilization. At the same time “Nature abhors a vacuum,” and the absence of God in the scientific discourse has generated serious anomalies. Ninety two percent of Americans say they believe in God, and 52% say they do not believe in the scientific theory of evolution. Is the time ripe to invite God back into the world of science?
The unifying power of Kabbalah has been described above, and the subject of evolution is optimally suited for a unification of Torah and science. We learn from the Torah that the concept of evolution, understood as the unfolding of Creation, permeates the Divine plan underlying the destiny of the universe. The Torah teaches that God created Adam Kadmon, the four Worlds and the 10 sefirot, and populated the universe with the inanimate, plants, animals and human beings. God created all living creatures in channels of energy called minim in Hebrew and named “species” by science. The Divine origin of the species is the reason that scientists have been unable to find evidence for appearance of new species postulated by the scientific theory of evolution. On the other hand, the unfolding of the universe, described as an interplay between mutations and natural selection by science, is an integral part of the Divine plan. In the Torah, natural selection is described as Divine Providence and mutations as free choice. In the same manner than we envisioned earlier a rabbi and a scientist unifying their consciousness to describe the patch of land with the trees and the herbs, scientists and religious scholars have a golden opportunity to unify their consciousness in a holistic description of a rectified theory of evolution, and the universe.
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