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Teaching evolution in Jewish Schools.



He stretches out over the north over the empty place, and the earth upon nothing. Job 26:7

The present controversy about the teaching of evolution in the public schools is mired in confusion and misinformation. Deliberately or not, the issue has become obscured by a confusion of different meanings of "evolution" and of the status of evolutionism among the secularists. As Michael Ruse (1) has pointed out, evolutionism is a secular religion rather than a science. Much of the confusion in the evolution/education debate stems from the attempt by the propagandists of evolutionism to confound the belief in evolutionism with scientific data demonstrating components of an evolutionary process. The two are really unrelated, yet the latter is offered as a "proof" of the former.

The typical definitions of evolution given in high-school biology textbooks are rather bland. For example, here is one by Curtis and Barnes: (2)

Evolution can be precisely defined as any change in the frequency of alleles within a gene pool from one generation to the next.

Then there is what is called the fact of evolution. Nearly all evolutionists agree with what Stephen J. Gould (3) has said:
      It is a fact that all living forms come from previous living
   forms. Therefore, all present forms of life arose from ancestral
   forms that were different. Birds arose from nonbirds and humans
   from nonhumans. ... humans evolved from ape-like ancestors....

This is called a fact even though the evidence is flimsy and there is not even an adequate theory to lead from the data to the fact.

As W. R. Thompson, F.R.S., Director of the Commonwealth Institute of Biological Control, Ottawa (4) has noted,
      Evolution, if it has occurred, can in a rather loose sense be
   called a historical process; and therefore to show that it has
   occurred historical evidence is required. History in the strict
   sense is dependent on human testimony. ... The only evidence
   available is that provided by the fossils. [But] even if we can
   demonstrate the chronological succession of certain organisms, this
   is not proof of descent.

There is another high school biology textbook introduced in the 60s--actually there were three books published by Houghton-Mifflin and prepared under the auspices of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS). The books were meant to serve as texts for three tracks of high-school biology courses. The most advanced of the three was known as "the blue book," and its subtitle was "From Molecules to Man." Its thesis is that all living organisms, including man, developed by natural processes from inert molecules. It's a giant step from the evolution that is just a change in allele frequency to the molecules-to-man type of evolution.

A typical textbook statement about the origin of life is the following:
      From the jumbled mixture of molecules in the organic soup that
   formed in Earth's oceans, the highly organized structures of RNA
   and DNA must somehow have evolved. Scientists do not know how these
   vital information-carriers formed, but there are several
   interesting hypotheses. (5)

Then, in spite of not knowing how (or even if) the information was generated, they jump to the unwarranted statement:

Between 1.4 and 1.6 billion years ago, the first eukaryotic cells evolved, fully adapted to an aerobic world. (6)

Evolutionists use examples of the changes in allele frequency to conclude the evolution of molecules-to-man. One of the most frequently used examples is that of Darwin's finches. The argument runs like this:

1. Current theory holds that the finches on the Galapagos Islands evolved by random mutations and natural selection to the 13 species found by Darwin.

2. Even today, we see that species of finches can change in response to environmental changes.

Darwin's hypothesis was speculation, and today's theory remains speculation. We don't know how the thirteen species of finches arose on the Galapagos Islands--that is a matter of history, which we cannot observe and about which we can only speculate.

The changes that we see occurring today are another matter. They are good evidence of evolution, but for neo-Darwinian theory they are too good. Why? Because they occur too rapidly to be explained by random mutations and natural selection. The time is too short for the right mutations to have occurred and it is also too short for natural selection to have occurred.

There is no evidence that a new species of finch could evolve at all by random mutations and natural selection because we don't know if there exists a series of point mutations leading from a primitive species to a present one such that each mutation offers a selective advantage. But even if such a series did exist, we also know that such mutations are extremely rare. In a calculation I have made in my book Not By Chance, (7) it is evident that even several million years would not be enough to afford a reasonable probability of such an event. I have also described there an observation of a very rapid change in finch morphology and behavior.

It took a maximum of seventeen years for a uniform population of finches to diverge into flocks of different shape and size of bills filling a variety of niches on a group of Pacific islands. (8, 9) The bill shapes, jaw muscles, and behavior of each type are adapted to their chosen niche. However these changes could have occurred, they could not, in seventeen years or less, have occurred through random mutations and natural selection. Although this kind of observation is used to support molecules-to-man, it cannot lend such support without us having some knowledge of how those changes occurred. This experiment makes one skeptical about Darwin's story of the finches he found on the Galapagos Islands.

I suggested in my book that one way these rapid changes might have occurred is through environmental cues acting upon a built-in capacity for change in the organism. The organism has to have the capability to respond to an environmental cue. In this way, populations can change very rapidly to adapt to new environmental conditions. Environmental cues are manifested in what is normally called stress. We know that stress causes the release of hormones that can trigger various responses in selective organs, tissues, and cells. These responses can be manifest in a change of phenotype during development, and if the hormones act on the genome, they can make heritable genetic changes as well.

The evolution of cichlid fish has been the subject of much study. Some cichlid fishes have been reported to develop a crushing pharyngeal dentition when their diet includes snails, but a simple piercing dentition when it does not. (10) The biochemical signals that effect this have not yet been deciphered. A gene, bmp4, has been found in other cichlid fishes, however, that when overexpressed results in morphological changes in the jaws. (11) Moreover, the authors have demonstrated that bmp4 has the potential to alter the jaw structure that mimics adaptive variation among fish species. We can see here more than a hint of how evolution can be driven by the environment through nonrandom genetic changes, be they mutations or genetic rearrangements.

There are now a great many other examples of rapid evolution that do not fit into the neo-Darwinian theory. I have already mentioned the controlled experiment that showed a rapid evolution of the finches in a space of no more than seventeen years.

An example of even faster evolutionary change is an experiment on guppies. (12, 13) Guppies adapt differently in the presence of different predators. Guppies living with cichlid fish are smaller and mature earlier than those living with killifish. Guppies were taken from an environment containing cichlids and placed with killifish. The guppy population quickly changed to adapt to the new environment. The full change in the guppy population was observed as soon as the first samples were drawn, which was after only two years. Moreover, the changes have been shown to be heritable and are therefore of genetic origin. (14) The presence of the predator seems to be the environmental cue that induced genetic changes in a large proportion of the population.

Another striking example of rapid evolution is the blackcap, which is a migratory bird found in northern Europe. Blackcaps breeding in continental Europe have historically wintered in Africa. They would fly south to Africa from their breeding grounds in Germany and other parts of the continent. This migratory ability has been shown to be genetically based and is heritable. Birds raised in an aviary without their parents show an innate ability to make the flight in the right direction. After improvement of bird-feeding resources in the British Isles, some of the birds changed their migratory route to winter in Britain instead of Africa. The new path is also genetically based, and, remarkably enough, it developed in only about twenty-five years! (15, 16) Random point mutations and natural selection cannot account for this rapid and complex evolutionary change. For an explanation we have to invoke nonrandom genetic rearrangements with a built-in capability for the new migration route.



This kind of evolution may well be based on the built-in capability of an organism to express an adaptive response to an environmental cue, but this kind of capability cannot drive the molecules-to-man type of evolution. One cannot conclude molecules-to-man from these observations.

An argument commonly proffered for teaching evolution in high schools and universities is that evolution is important because it impacts our lives in important ways--for example, in medicine and biotechnology. The argument implies that the molecules-to-man evolution has this impact. In fact, the molecules-to-man evolution is entirely irrelevant and is of no practical importance in either medicine or biotechnology.

A favorite example of evolution important to medicine is the ability of bacteria to develop resistance to antibiotics. As I have pointed out in my book, the evolution of antibiotic resistance is irrelevant to molecules-to-man evolution. Bacteria often become resistant to antibiotics by the horizontal transfer of a battery of genes from a bacterium that is already resistant. There is no way that such transfers, no matter over how many millions of years they are repeated, can account for molecules-to-man. Molecules-to-man requires that mutations create something new. The genes for resistance already exist in the biosphere, and horizontal transfer does not create anything new. Horizontal transfer does not create new genes. Sometimes, however, resistance is gained by a point mutation. But such a mutation leads to resistance only because it degrades a site within the bacterium to which the antibiotic molecule attaches. Such degradation, as well, no matter over how many millions of years it is repeated, cannot produce molecules-to-man.

In the current debate over the teaching of evolution in the public schools, the evolutionists make the intimidating arguments that without the study of evolution, a student will be handicapped in the fields of science or medicine. In fact, Michael Dini, an associate professor at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, insists that his students not only learn about evolution, but that they believe in the molecules-to-man scenario. His web site contained the following admonition to his students and potential students. "If you set up an appointment to discuss the writing of a letter of recommendation, I will ask you: 'How do you think the human species originated?' If you cannot truthfully and forthrightly affirm a scientific answer to this question, then you should not seek my recommendation for admittance to further education in the biomedical sciences." (21)

What that poor misguided individual did not appreciate was that the origin of the human species is irrelevant to the biomedical sciences. The concept of molecules-to-man evolution has made zero contribution to medical science. Although there has been much speculation about the natural origin of humans and much written about the possible medical consequences of such speculation, both the origin of humans as well as the medically related speculations that stem from this remain unsubstantiated. While some of these speculations lead to health benefits, at least as many of them have led to the opposite.

Some common examples of alleged areas of the biological, medical, and agricultural sciences to which the understanding of evolution contributes are the following:

* Attempting to combat the ability of pathogens to become resistant to antibiotics.

* The emergence of a "superweed"--a mustard plant was found to have acquired resistance to a powerful weed killer. The plant was found in a field that had been used to grow genetically modified (GM) plants and it may have picked up a bacterial gene that made it resistant. This bacterial gene encodes a protein that chemically alters and detoxifies the herbicide.

* The threat that the virus for avian flu may evolve into a strain that may cause a pandemic. It may pick up genes for resistance from a virus that already has those genes.

* Reasons to ban the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock because it could lead to highly resistant strains of pathogens. Antibiotics kill off the nonresistant strains, allowing the rare resistant individuals to multiply and become dominant.

* Development of vaccines by hosting the pathogenic virus in nonhuman hosts so that it evolves to be a less virulent strain.

* The invasion of new territory by a foreign species of pest. The new pest may drive out a less harmful native species by having a higher selective coefficient.

Note that in none of these examples is an understanding of the phenomenon related to the molecules-to-man type of evolution required to deal with the problem. None of these examples of evolution can be extended to achieve molecules-to-man evolution.

Teaching Evolution

Evolution in the sense of shifting allele frequencies in a population is a well-studied and valid scientific discipline. Evolution in the sense of molecules-to-man, however, is, as we have seen, purely speculative. The examples proffered to demonstrate evolution are unrelated to molecules-to-man. Although they demonstrate the population-allele-shifting type of evolution, they shed no light on, nor contribute any insight into, molecules-to-man.

If I were asked my opinion on teaching evolution in the public schools, I would answer that I would recommend that the subject of origins not be taught as a scientific subject. The population-allele-shifting evolution, which has a sound scientific basis, should be taught, including the evolution of antibiotic resistance, insecticide resistance, the spread of genetic diseases, and the like. These subjects have a good scientific basis and there is also no conflict between them and the Torah view.

Origins, however, are not well grounded in science, and I would recommend the subject be excluded from the curriculum. I know there are many religious scientists, Jewish and Christian alike, who have made their peace with molecules-to-man evolution by reinterpreting the random events as being only apparently random, but actually divinely guided. The secular world, of course, smirks at this approach, because their world view is primarily materialistic and atheistic. I don't want to engage in a theological discussion of the compatibility of molecules-to-man evolution and Torah. My objection to including origins in the science curriculum is that it is not science. It is purely speculative and lacks a scientific basis and should not, as it is today, be taught as a fact. Speculative theories in physics, for example, are not taught, and even if they are mentioned, they are not presented as facts. But no one has asked for my opinion on the teaching of biology in the public schools.

In Jewish schools, the subject of origins should be introduced in biology courses simply to acquaint the students with the conventional culture. They ought to know what the world thinks, even though it is wrong. But they should be taught that it is wrong and why it is wrong scientifically. Emphasis, however, should be on the population-allele-shifting type of evolution, for which there is evidence. The molecules-to-man type of evolution should be taught as a cultural topic, because a large proportion of the scientific community believes it. Although the real place for the subject should be in the humanities, for practical reasons I would agree to have it taught in the biology class. It should be taught to make the students aware of the majority view, but they should be given a critical exposition to have them understand the speculative nature of abiogenesis and common descent.

I have enough faith in the self-correcting nature of science that I believe that the idea of molecules-to-man evolution will eventually be relegated to the scrap heap. But that may take another generation, or even longer. Meanwhile our students have to complete their studies successfully and particularly those who major in the life sciences have to be completely aware of the current thinking in biology, even if it is wrong.

Lee M. Spetner, PhD

Presented at the Sixth Miami International Conference on Torah and Science, 13-15 December 2005


(1) Michael Ruse, The Evolution-Creation Struggle (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005).

(2) Helena Curtis and N. Sue Barnes, Biology, 5th ed. (Worth Publishers, 1989) p. 974.

(3) Stephen J. Gould, "Evolution as Fact and Theory," Discover 2, no. 5 (1981) pp. 34-37.

(4) W. R. Thompson, Introduction to C. Darwin, Origin of Species (New York: Dutton, 1963).

(5) J.S. Levine and K. R. Miller, Biology: Discovering Life, 2nd ed. (D. C. Heath and Co., 1993) pp. 345-346.

(6) Ibid., pp. 347-348.

(7) L. M. Spetner, Not By Chance! (Brooklyn: Judaica Press, 1997).

(8) S. Conant, "Saving Endangered Species by Translocation," Bioscience, vol. 38 (1988) pp. 254-257.

(9) S.L. Pimm, "Rapid Morphological Change in an Introduced Bird," Trends in Evolution and Ecology, vol. 3 (1988) pp. 290-291.

(10) P. H. Greenwood, "Environmental Effects on the Pharyngeal Mill of a Cichlid Fish," Proceedings of the Linnean Society of London, vol. 176 (1965) pp. 1-10.

(11) R. Craig Albertson, J. Todd Streelman, Thomas D. Kocher, and Pamela C. Yelick, "Integration and Evolution of the Cichlid Mandible: The Molecular Basis of Alternate Feeding Strategies," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, vol. 102 (2005) pp. 16287-16292.

(12) D.A. Reznick, H. Bryga, and J. A. Endler, "Experimentally Induced Life-History Evolution in a Natural Population," Nature, vol. 346 (1990) pp. 357-359.

(13) D.A. Reznick, F. H. Shaw, F. H. Rodd, and R. G. Shaw, "Evaluation of the Rate of Evolution in Natural Populations of Guppies (Poecilia reticulata)" Science, vol. 275 (1997) pp. 1934-1937.

(14) D.A. Reznick, and H.A. Bryga, (1996) "Life-History Evolution in Guppies (Poecilia Retuculata: Poeciliidae) V. Genetic Basis of Parallelism in Life Histories," American Naturalist, vol. 147 (1996) pp. 339-359.

(15) P. Berthold, "Genetic Control of Migratory Behaviour of Birds," Trends in Ecology and Evolution, vol. 6 (1991) pp. 254-257.

(16) P. Berthold, A. J. Helbig, G. Mohr, and U. Querner, "Rapid Microevolution of Migratory Behaviour in a Wild Bird Species," Nature, vol. 360 (1992) pp. 668-670.

(17) N. H. Barton, J.S. Jones, and J. Mallet, "No Barriers to Speciation," Nature, vol. 336 (1988) pp. 13-14.

(18) J.L. Feder, C. A. Chilcote, and G. L. Bush, "Genetic Differentiation between Sympatric Host Races of the Apple Maggot Fly Rhagoletis Pomonella," Nature, vol. 336 (1988) pp. 61-64.

(19) B. A. McPheron, D. C. Smith, and S. H. Berlocher, "Genetic Differences between Rhagoletis Pomonella Host Races," Nature, vol. 336 (1988) pp. 64-66.

(20) D.C. Smith, "Heritable Divergence of Rhagoletis pomonella Host Races by Seasonal Asynchrony," Nature, vol. 336 (1988) pp. 66-67.

(21) Professor Dini's webpage in which this declaration appeared is no longer accessible.

Dr. Lee Spetner has a PhD in physics from MIT and was engaged in the development of military electronic systems for more than forty years. He was a member of the principal professional staff of The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory for twenty years and technical director of Eljim, Ltd. (later a subsidiary of Elbit, Ltd.) in Nes Tsiona, Israel for another twenty years. During this period he also taught graduate courses in statistical communication theory at The Johns Hopkins University and at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot. After leaving Elbit, Dr. Spetner retired to private consulting for a few years, and then to private research, including evolution and studies leading to a therapy for cancer. He published a book, Not by Chance! Shattering the Modern Theory of Evolution (Judaica Press, 1996, 1997, 1998). Dr. Spetner has published twenty-three articles in professional journals, including Nature, and has four patents to his name. His articles "The Evolutionary Doctrine" and "Information Theory Considerations of Organic Evolution" were published in B'Or Ha'Torah 2.
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Author:Spetner, Lee M.
Publication:B'Or Ha'Torah
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2007
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