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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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Judaism and Evolution.

The series of steps by which all existing beings have been developed by gradual modification term generally applied to the theory concerning the origin of species and the descent of man connected with the names of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer, and defended and amplified by Ernst Haeckel and Thomas Huxley, though to a certain degree anticipated by Goethe, Lamarck, Kant, and even Heraclitus. According to this hypothesis all animal and vegetable life may be traced to one very low form of life, a minute cell, itself possibly produced by inorganic matter. This development, according to Darwin, is due to the struggle for existence, and to the transmission through natural (and sexual) selection of those qualities which enable the possessors to carry on the struggle, in which only the fittest survive. Herbert Spencer and others have applied the theory of evolution to every domain of human endeavor— civilization, religion, language, society, ethics, art, etc., tracing the line of development from the homo geneous to the heterogeneous, though recrudescences of and lapses into older forms and types (degeneration, atavism) are by no means excluded. The relation of the teachings of Judaism to this theory is not necessarily one of hostility and dissent.

Evolution not only does not preclude creation, but necessarily implies it. Nor are purpose and design (teleology) eliminated from the process. Natural selection in strict construction is teleological. Mechanical design alone is precluded. In its stead the hypothesis of evolution operates with a teleology that is, both in intensity and in extent, much more adequate to the higher conceptions of God. Mechanical teleology is anthropomorphic. Jewish theism, not being anthropomorphic, does not defend mechanical teleology.

The development of life from inorganic matter, the rise of consciousness from preceding unconscious life, the origin of mind, of conscience, are not accounted for by the theory of evolution and as at the beginning of the chain, so at these links it fails. Jewish theism, while admitting that on the whole the theory throws light on the methods pursued in the gradual rise and unfolding of life, is justified in contending that it does not eliminate the divine element and plan and purpose from the process. Evolution gives answer to the how , never to the what , and only inadequately to the why . Belief in miracles, in catastrophical interruptions of the continuity of nature's processes, indeed, is not compatible with the acceptance of the doctrine of evolution. The Jewish (Talmudical) view of Miracles , as a condition involved in the original design of nature, however, is not inherently irreconcilable with the hypothesis of evolution, while modern (Reform) Jewish theology is not concerned to defend the belief in miracles based on literal constructions of Biblical passages.

Judaism, having never taught the doctrine of the Fall of Man , is not obliged to reject the evolutional theory on the ground that it conflicts with the dogma which demands the assumption of man's original perfection, and which thus inverts the process and sequence posited by the evolutionists.

Evolution of Religion.
The theory of evolution has also been applied to the history of religion. Following the positivists, the writers on this subject from the point of view of the evolutionary school have argued that some species of animism (ancestor-worship) was the lowest form of religion, which, developing and differentiating successively into gross and then refined fetishism (totemism), nature-worship, polytheism, tribal henotheism, and national monolatry, finally flowered into universal ethical monotheism. The history of Israel's religion has also been traced from this point of view, according to which it exhibits vestiges of antecedent animism and totemism, but appears in its earlier historic forms as tribal henotheism of a largely stellar and lunar (agricultural) cast it then grew, under the influences of environment and historical experiences (national consolidation and Canaanitish contamination), into national monolatry (Yhwhism ), which gradually, under Assyro-Babylonian influences, deepened and clarified into prophetic or universal ethical monotheism, again to be contracted into sacerdotal and legalistic Judaism. This theory of the rise and development of religion in general and of that of Israel in particular conflicts with (1) the assumption of an original monotheism and the subsequent lapse of man into idolatry, which, however, is a phase of the doctrine of the Fall of Man and with (2) the conception of revelation as an arbitrary, local, temporal, and mechanical process of communicating divine truth to man, or to Israel.

The view, however, which looks upon revelation as a continuous, growing, and deepening process, through which divine truth unfolds itself and thus leads man to an ever fuller realization of the divine purposes of human life and the higher moral law of human existence, and Israel to an ever more vital appreciation of its relations to the divine and its destiny and duty in the economy of things and purposes human, is not inherently antagonistic to the evolutional interpretation of the rhythm of religious life.

Evolution and Monotheism.
(1) Evolution confirms religion as a necessary outcome and a concomitant of the development of human life. Thus evolution negatives the theories of the rationalists that regard religion as a benevolent or as a malevolent invention. (2) Evolution does not deny the part played by the great men (prophets) in this process of developing religious consciousness and views. (3) The rise and activity of these great men evolution can not account for. (4) In the history of Israel's religion, evolution has not explained and can not explain how, from original (Kenite) Yhwhism , void of all moral content and all original, "holiness" (= "taboo" ["ḳ odesh"]) ascribed to the Deity, could have sprung the ethical monotheism of the Prophets and the idea of moral holiness ("ḳ adosh"). The power of origination vested in genius (prophecy) is thus not eliminated as the main factor from the factors involved in the religious evolution of Israel. Babylonian influences (Delitzsch, "Babel und Bibel") did not, among the Babylonians themselves, develop the higher monotheism. It is thus beyond the range of possibility that what failed of development among its own originators should have evolved into monotheism among the Israelites, unless Israel had a peculiar and distinctive genius for monotheism. This power of originating monotheistic ideals and transmuting other ideals into monotheistic concepts, a power which the Prophets had in a high degree, and which the nation also, as a whole, gradually displayed in the development of its national genius, is the one factor for which evolution can not account. This factor may be rightly denominated "revelation." (5) The evolution theory overthrows Renan's dictum that monotheism is "the minimum of religion." None of the essential contentions of Judaism is vitally affected by the propositions of the evolution school. The philosophy of the Reform wing within Judaism, regarding Judaism as a growth, not a fixed quantity or a rigid law, and as still in the process of developing (tradition being its vital element), has even found corroboration in the theory of evolution.K. E. G. H.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Evolution'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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