Archive for November, 2012

Excerpt from the Introduction to Genesis and Genes

November 25, 2012

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.

Excerpt from the Foreword to Genesis and Genes

November 20, 2012

Genesis and Genes (Feldheim, 2013) is now available in selected bookstores in Israel. 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 first. 

From the Foreword by Rabbi Dr. Dovid Gottlieb: 

In the early 1960s Stanley Milgram, a psychologist at Yale University, conducted one of the most famous series of experiments in the history of psychology. Students were paid a small sum to participate in what they understood would be “a study of memory and learning”. A white-coated experimenter assigned to pairs of volunteers the role of teacher and learner. The learner was told he had to memorise lists of word pairs; if he could not recall them, the teacher was asked to give the learner, who was strapped into a chair, a small electric shock. With each incorrect answer, the voltage rose, and the teacher was forced to watch as the learner progressed from small grunts of discomfort to screams of agony. 

What the teacher did not know was that there was actually no current running between his control box and the learner‘s chair, and that the learner was in fact an actor who was only pretending to get painful shocks. The real focus of the experiment was not the victim, but the teacher turning the dial. How would he cope with administering pain to a defenceless human being? Despite their reservations, most of the subjects continued to follow the orders of the experimenter and inflict progressively greater shocks on the learner. Indeed, as Milgram noted, “… a substantial proportion continue to the last shock on the generator.” This happened even when they could hear the cries of the learner, and even when that person pleaded to be released. Over the years, the Milgram experiment has been replicated around the world with similar outcomes. [1] 

References: 

[1] See http://knol.google.com/k/obedience-to-authority#. Retrieved 23rd July 2011. Milgram reported his results in his 1974 book Obedience to Authority.