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Darwinian Evolution and Creation. Not Two, But One

Rabbi Nassan sustains that the Torah is the blueprint of the Universe, Like an Architect who follows blueprint drawings to build, G-d wrote first the Torah and then followed it to create the Universe. That being the case implies that everything that ever existed and will ever exist ought to be found in those drawings.  Evolution and the biblical narrative of creation are commonly seen as conflicting views about how life appeared and evolved on Earth.  Is it Evolution or Creation?  For religious scientists embracing evolution creates a conflict, whereas for atheist scientists creation is irrelevant. It is said the Torah can be read in 70 different ways, and that the text should be reinterpreted in each generation.  One possible reading of the Torah is one with scientists’ lenses. This reading does not intend to compete or be exclusive of mystical, spiritual, moral, creationist, or other readings. On the contrary, it seeks to cover the gap between two world views that seem to be at odds and highlight points of contact between them (Torah and Evolution) that lead to integration and mutual complementation.

In the book, “The Lonely Man of Faith”, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik talks about the two stories of creation told in Bereshit (Genesis).  Creation 1,  (Bereshit  1:1-3:2) the story of the 7 days of creation of the natural world and  Creation 2 ( Bereshit 2:4-3:24) the story of the garden of Eden.  In each one a  different Adam is created , each of them representing two different types of man,  but also, says Rabbi Soloveitchik, two aspects of our internal psyche.

Adam I,  the Adam of creation I, is,  according to Rabbi Soloveitchik , the man of science and technology,  commanded to fill and master the earth. He is the modern man of work who uses technology to fulfill that commandment. Whereas Adam II in the Garden of Eden story, is the man of faith commanded to till and tend G_d’s garden.

The women that accompany  each of these Adams are also different. In creation I Woman is created at the same time and  in equal standing to man. “And G_d created man in His image, in the image of G_d He created him; male and female He created them.” Whereas in creation 2 , woman is created as a helper to man out of his rib  and after Adam had already been created . “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.”

In general, until recently, monotheistic religious life has been organized with males playing a more preponderant role than women. Contrasting with this , in today’s secular  daily life women attain career development and positions of power  at the pair of men.   It should not be surprising that  religious spiritual life has been organized  following the guidelines provided in scripture.  What it is surprising  is that  modern secular  society organization reflects  the  nature of the man and woman of creation 1, the Adam of science and technology, in a text written thousands  of years ago.

At  the center  of the tension between science and religion are the theory  of evolution and the concept of creation. Religious people tend to think of the origin  of biological species  in terms of  creation, whereas scientist  do so in terms of evolution.

If  one makes abstraction  of the timeline differences between the 7 days biblical narrative  and the million years timeline  of  science, for which there have been suggested   forms of  compatibilization, It is possible  to find  Evolution recounted  in the first story of  creation.

The order of appearance  of the different forms of life parallels science findings.  First photosynthetic  organism that produced oxygen allowing for the emergence of aerobic (oxygen based) respiration.  Then sea creatures and birds ( the later having, according to evolution, a common origin with reptiles).  With life appearing first in water and later in land. Then land  beasts and mammals and finally man.  (Bereshit 1:11 to 1:31), In evolutionary terms man and today existing animals share common ancestors, but the order in which life emerged follows the biblical narrative: water first , then  land

It is not only the order in which the different types of life emerged but the language used in the text. Evolution sustains that the origin of species  involves the interplay between mutation and natural selection. Random mutation drives the emergence of phenotypic  variability  among the genetic pool of a population while  environmental changes   impose a selective pressure  that favor the survival of fittest individuals carrying the right mutations, whom then transmit those mutations to their progeny. The accumulation of  genetic changes  and emergence of reproductive barriers  eventually leads to the separation of populations into two or more groups that can no longer  interbread generating two  different species. Thus under Darwins’s theory of evolution,  environmental selective  pressures are the driving force that shape the emergence of new species.

If one carefully reads the language used  in the story of creation, the narrative is compatible with  the theory of evolution:

And G_d said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation: seed-bearing plants, fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.” And it was so. The earth brought forth vegetation: seed-bearing plants of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And G_d saw that this was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

G_d said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and birds that fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky. G_d created the great sea monsters, and all the living creatures of every kind that creep, which the waters brought forth in swarms, and all the winged birds of every kind. And G_d saw that this was good. G_d blessed them, saying, “Be fertile and increase, fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, a fifth day.

G_d said, “Let the earth bring forth every kind of living creature: cattle, creeping things, and wild beasts of every kind.” And it was so. G_d made wild beasts of every kind and cattle of every kind, and all kinds of creeping things of the earth. And G_d saw that this was good.

And G_d said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. They shall rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the cattle, the whole earth, and all the creeping things that creep on earth.” And G_d created man in His image, in the image of G_d He created him; male and female He created them.

G_d does not create directly plants , sea creatures, birds and land animals , He commands the earth to bring forth vegetation of every kind, he commands the waters to bring  living creatures of every-kind, and he commands the earth to bring forth living creatures of every kind. G_d  commands and the earth and the waters do the job. The command involves  the generation of biodiversity , creatures of every kind. The command to the earth and the waters can be interpreted as an order to the earth and waters environmental conditions and their associated selective pressures to drive the generation of biodiversity.  This language spells evolution. 

There is another interesting aspect between that which is brought forth by waters and earth and the way in which  G_d intervenes. In the case of life in water  there is a second statement following  the “G_d commanded” line  that says that  “G_d created” it  “וַיִּבְרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֔ים “  . For  life on land there is also a second statement that says “G_d made” it וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִים֩”.  Science sustains that  life , the first cell , originated in water  and the process of evolution  produced  biodiversity eventually generating species that could transition to land and inhabit it.  The verb   בְרָ֣א used for life in water  means create  as creating something out of nothing, whereas the  verb יַּ֣עַשׂ  means to make , as making  something out of something preexistent. thus the language marks another convergence between the scientific narrative  and the biblical narrative of the origins of life. Life originating,  being created, in water from non living components and then transitioning to land in new forms, formed out from preexisting life.

Unlike for sea and land animals,  for  plants there is no second  statement other than the one in which G_d  commands the earth to bring forth  all types of plants. In the  case of man there is no line saying G_d commanded the earth , it only says   G_d created. There is a transition from plants to sea, air  and land  animals  and then to man in which G_d seems to be increasingly involved.

Here are a couple of possible interpretations.

1) The major  part of biodiversity  responds not to pure random mutation but to the appearance of a  particular family of genes, Hox genes, that regulate  body segmentation. These type of genes, allowed the emergence of  biodiversity  based on a similar body plan, that is  seen in all type of animals, fish, arthropods, mammals, reptiles, etc.. To  the extent  of my knowledge segmentation genes are  not present  in plants.  Thus random mutation and natural selection operate as seemingly natural processes with the appearance of particular key genes at a particular moments in which the appearance of segmentation genes  was  advantageous for life to conquer new niches.

2)An alternative interpretation is that there is not a unique correct reading of the text. Instead  the Torah gives  through the successive  statements of G_d commanding the earth and seas  and then stating that G_d created or made,  freedom to chose the narrative that best fits ones  theology… pure creation, or evolution . The latter  would sustain that under G_d’s command  all mutation processes are random and accumulated  over millions of years  with  environmental selective pressures being the sculpturing force that drives the shape and form of biodiversity.  One could also question what the meaning of random is . Random  is  something that we can not predict  but  that does not mean that it is not under the command  of an omnipotent G_d,  despite the fact that  we can not  understand how  that control  is achieved.

3)Pure  creation would propose that  all life forms were created  in the way we know them , and that  fossil records and carbon dating and molecular clocks that make life look  like  a millions year old process  are  only a means for  G_d’s concealment. Life  being created anew as we know it  with the appearance of being old.

Conciousnes requires passing to Creation 2  ,

Of all things existing in the natural world, for all things described  in creation I , the story of Adam I  the man of science and technology; science may be able to  find an explanation based on Physicochemical/ biological   elements and laws except for one thing,  Consciousness. Conciusness is non-material     For that is necessary to jump from creation I,  to the story  of creation II, the story of Adam II, the story of the spiritual man, in which G_d blows  into his nostrils the breath of life, Conciousness, and man became a  conscious living being.

Evolutionary bridges to Torah.

There are a couple of intriguing evolutionary findings that become relevant in the context of the biblical narrative.

Evolution sustains that  traits  that were maintained  in the body under  selective pressures should present some adaptive advantage  for survival.

The  exception are vestigial traits  that  present no evident  adaptive advantage , but  were maintained in the body plan. Examples of these would be the wings  of an ostrich , that does not fly, or the appendix, for which no distinctive vital function has been identified yet, and which is removed surgically in the case of  appendicitis  without major  consequences.

According to Evolution,  If a trait is broadly conserved  across species it is because  it represents an important  adaptive advantage. There are however two widespread traits maintained across mammals, that present no evident selective advantage, one in females, the other in males. They are the hymen and the foreskin.

There is no clear  known selective advantage  for either of these traits. Both befuddle evolutionary biologists.   The foreskin is actually  surgically removed at birth in the US as a public health measure to prevent  sexual  transmitted   diseases later in life . Whereas the hymen  is lost  in the first intercourse experienced by a female without major biological consequences.

It happens to be that these two traits  are  of  central importance in the biblical narrative. Foreskin removal is the Brit, the sign of the Abrahamic covenant with G_d, being practiced  by jews and muslims; whereas the himen , and the bleeding produced in the first intercourse is an important sign of virginity  and the bride’s purity.

Is this just a coincidence?  You chose the answer. Whatever your choice, the findings bridge  Evolution  and Torah invites to continue reinterpreting the text in each generation in the light of new knowledge .

There are  various inputs one can use when analyzing the text, there are   intelectual inputs ,  as well as spiritual ones. Reading teh Torah and the story of creation with scientists lenses and finding convergence between the narratives  is intellectually fascinating. Hopefully it may  as well open  the  interest and sensitivity of readers , to explore it  in its other dimensions.

About the Author
Hernan is an Argentina-born scientist with a passion for Torah study. He holds a BS from the University of Buenos Aires, a MSc from the Weizmann Institute of Science, and a PhD from a combined program between the University of Buenos Aires and Harvard University. In the last years he taught at Yeshiva Ohr Ysrael in Boston and devoted time to the study of the influence of science and jewish sources
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