Genesis and Genes (Feldheim, 2013) is now available in selected bookstores in Israel and the UK. A shipment is making its way to the USA, and then to South Africa and elsewhere. In the meantime, I intend to post a number of sample passages. Here is the second.
South Africa is a beautiful country, and I am a keen hiker; this makes for a potent combination. I particularly enjoy the Magaliesberg region. The Magaliesberg mountain range lies about two hours northwest of Johannesburg. Geologists claim that it is one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world. On the way there, numerous tourism signboards proclaim that nearby is The Cradle of Humankind. This is the location of the world-famous Sterkfontein Caves, where numerous fascinating paleontological finds have been made. In 1936, students of Professor Raymond Dart from the University of the Witwatersrand (my alma mater) began systematic excavations at Sterkfontein. That same year, the caves yielded the remains of the first adult Australopithecine. Since then, some 500 hominid finds have been made at Sterkfontein, making it one of the most fecund sites for research in palaeontology.
Nearby is a museum complex called Maropeng. The name means Returning to the place of origin in Setswana, the main indigenous language in this area of South Africa. Maropeng is a temple to human evolution, using advanced interactive displays to inform visitors about staples of evolution such as the development of bipedalism, the conquest of fire, the evolution of the modern human jaw and diet, various Out-of-Africa scenarios for migrations of human beings in the ancient past, the manufacturing and use of stone tools, and the development of language.
Inevitably, driving through this area provokes certain questions and stimulates certain thoughts. Maropeng and Sterkfontein strongly promote the view that human beings are the end-product of an agonisingly-slow Darwinian process by which hominids evolved. What is the evidence for this contention? And what are the implications for Judaism? Many Jews have a hazy knowledge of the relevant scientific data. They know even less about what traditional Jewish sources have to say on the matter. They may sense vaguely that if Darwinian reductionism is right, we’re nothing more than meat on its path to putrefaction, hardly a Jewish notion. But clarity is obscured by the possibility that perhaps, somehow, God is involved in this process. Many people are therefore attracted to theistic evolution – a family of theories in which God engineers an evolutionary process of some kind. But clarity about the interaction between Judaism and evolution – whether hard-core or theistic – eludes them. Sometimes, as a result of exposure to evolutionary ideas, they end up forsaking Judaism altogether. In my capacity as an educator, I come across the resulting human debris.