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Pardes Levavot

Pardes Levavot, “Orchard of Hearts,” was formed in the spirit of creating conscious holy community. Our name expresses the spiritual blossoming of each individual heart within an inspiring and nurturing orchard.

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Hi everyone:

In case you may be interested, I have a column on evolution and religion in the Perspective section of the Denver Post. Quoting Albert Einstein, Stephen Jay Gould and other notable scientists, I refute the idea, which has gained currency in recent weeks, that religion and evolution are somehow incompatible. Here's a link to the story:, or read it below.

If you have opinions on the subject, write a letter to the editor. And certainly make your views known to your elected representatives, including the members of your school board. Extremists on the right are seeking to undermine science with a thinly veiled religious-political agenda, while extremists on the other side of the spectrum are undermining religion by claiming that it gives the "wrong" answers about our origins - as if the realms of wisdom of religion and science are one and the same.

Tom Yulsman


Science and Religion Face Off

The Two Really Aren't Incompatible

By Tom Yulsman

Is evolution compatible with religion?

With controversies raging over the teaching of intelligent design in the classroom, people on opposite sides of the debate seem to agree on one thing: The answer is "no." They frame the issue in black-and- white terms, leaving no room for nuance and ambiguity. In doing so, they implacably pit religion and science against each other, harming both.

On one side of the debate stand proponents of intelligent design, most notably at the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute in Seattle. They say they do not reject evolution outright, just the idea that complex biological structures can evolve by natural selection alone, without intervention by an intelligent designer. And they claim that their theory is not a religious concept because it says nothing about the nature of the designer.

These are soothing words intended to obscure the real agenda of intelligent design's proponents: the destruction of modern evolutionary biology in pursuit of a religious agenda. There is nothing nuanced about this.

That agenda was laid out in detail in a paper published in 1999 by the Center for Science and Culture. Called the "The Wedge Strategy," the document is a political plan to replace what it calls the "scientific materialism" of modern evolutionary biology with a "broadly theistic" worldview. The strategy paper establishes a black- and-white dichotomy between materialism, which it says has "infected virtually every area of our culture," and what it describes as "one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built," namely that human beings are created in the image of God.

The document describes a litany of horrors resulting from this infection, including the erosion of "objective moral standards," the undermining of "personal responsibility" and "a virulent strain of utopianism." Intelligent design promises to replace this destructive materialist worldview, as exemplified by evolutionary biology, "with a science consonant with Christian and theistic convictions."

One conclusion that can be drawn is that the "science" pursued by the institute is motivated not by a desire to seek empirical truth about nature but by a pre-determined Christian agenda. The most influential proponents of this concept say in their own mission statement that the science of evolutionary biology is not consonant with Christian convictions.

And what's so interesting is that polemicists on the opposite end of the political spectrum agree.

As columnist Jacob Weisberg wrote in the online magazine Slate, "That evolution erodes religious belief seems almost too obvious to require argument." Claiming that evolution "destroyed the faith of Darwin himself" (a gross oversimplification), Weisberg goes on to say that "the acceptance of evolution diminishes religious belief in aggregate for a simple reason: It provides a better answer to the question of how we got here than religion does. Not a different answer, a better answer: more plausible, more logical, and supported by an enormous body of evidence."

In other words, religion and science are mutually exclusive. If you are in any way religious, you have chosen the wrong answer to "how we got here."

We should reject this simplistic notion, as did creationism's most implacable foe, the late paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. He described science and religion as "nonoverlapping magisteria." Conflict between the two should not exist, he wrote, "because each subject has a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority - and these magisteria do not overlap."

But we don't need Gould to tell us that science and religion can be compatible. To borrow a turn of phrase from Weisberg: That millions of Christians and Jews, including many scientists, believe both in God and traditional evolutionary biology, seems almost too obvious to require argument. And they seem to suffer neither from the utopian fantasies and moral degradation predicted by the proponents of intelligent design, nor from the diminution of their spiritual feelings and belief in God alleged by Weisberg.

Owen Gingerich is one of many prominent scientists who holds his religious beliefs in harmony with his science. A Christian and a research professor of astronomy and the history of science at Harvard, he told this to National Public Radio: "I believe in intelligent design, lower case 'I' and 'D.' And I do have a problem with intelligent design, capital 'I' and capital 'D,' because it's being sold as a political movement, as if somehow it's an alternative to Darwinian evolution."

Concerning his religious belief, Gingerich says, "When we talk about the concept of God, it is such an infinity it's not really possible for us to wrap ourselves around it and come to terms with precisely what we mean. It's not a father figure sitting up there with the big 'on' button and pushing it and the big bang happens."

Gingerich also believes that science and religion are separate - that they give different answers about existence. Science is like looking at music written out on a page. "If you see it on the page, you can analyze all of the notes in great detail, but you won't hear the melody, you won't understand its aesthetic appeal," he says. "Without a capital 'I' and a capital 'D,' I am saying that I believe there is purpose and meaning in the universe, that it's not all just a macabre mechanical joke."

People who insist that religion ultimately is incompatible with evolution seem to have a laughingly na´ve view of what belief in God must entail: Not Gingerich's God but a bearded white guy sitting atop a cloud and throwing thunderbolts at us. It goes without saying that the Bible anthropomorphizes God. But as my own faith, Judaism, teaches, anthropomorphic descriptions of God are mere metaphors for something beyond real knowing in literal human terms. Spiritual feeling for many religious people is motivated in part by the realization that everything in this amazing cosmos rests on simple, elegant laws stemming from a singular, ultimately ineffable source.

Some argue that science has forced God to retreat into this spiritually meaningless abstraction. In making the argument, they confirm a deep naivete about religion. Since long before big bang cosmology, pious Jews have fervently made this so-called "abstraction" part of Judaism's central prayer, which recognizes that everything in the universe is a harmonious manifestation of an infinite "One."

Stephen Hawking once wrote that probing the most fundamental mathematical order of nature was like "glimpsing the mind of God." And it was Einstein who said, "I believe in Spinoza's God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and actions of human beings." No Bearded One for him. But the abstraction did not diminish Einstein's reverence. He described it as "cosmic religious feeling" and said it was motivated by a "spirit manifest in the laws of the universe - a spirit vastly superior to that of man."

Another example of a scientist with a spiritual side to his worldview is Joel Primack, a cosmologist who codeveloped the "cold dark matter" theory. He writes of a "sacred dimension to science." And he once described the faint ripples observed in the afterglow of the big bang, which still permeates the universe 14 billion years later, as the "handwriting of God." These ripples - subtle variations in what's known as the cosmic microwave background radiation - are theorized to have given rise to all of the structure seen in today's universe (with a little help from some cold dark matter).

"When we interpret the ripples in the cosmic background radiation, we are reading God's journal of the first days," Primack writes.

A huge gulf separates Primack's view from that of an alarmingly large percentage of Americans, who believe the Earth is a mere 6,000 years old, and that human beings and dinosaurs coexisted. But even more alarming are intelligent design's proponents, who cleverly disguise their religious, anti-science agenda in scientific costume.

For them, as well as some of their antagonists, science and religion must, by definition, be at war. The danger here is that by denying the possibility of peaceful coexistence between science and religious feeling, these extremists may set back both the cause of enlightenment, and the search for meaning in life.

Tom Yulsman is co-director of the Center for Environmental Journalism at the University of Colorado at Boulder.