Monday, December 25, 2006

Creation, Evolution and Providence

I was asked how to reconcile R. Natan Slifkin's positions in his book The Challenge of Creation with that of the rishonim regarding divine providence. As mentioned in an earlier post (and b"n more will be written on this subject), the view of most, if not all, rishonim is that God's direct providence (hashgachah peratis) does not apply to all people at all times. If that is the case, the question goes, how could anyone propose the idea of guided evolution? If God's providence does not apply to everyone all the time, how could He have directed evolution?

The answer, I believe, can be found in Moreh Nevukhim 3:17. The Rambam states that, in his view, God's providence does not attach to individual animals but it does direct entire species of animals. Thus, whether or not a particular animal evolved (or whatever) is irrelevant because the species as a whole eventually evolved.

This is stated explicitly by R. Aryeh Kaplan in his Handbook of Jewish Thought, vol. 2 19:7 (emphasis added):

God certainly does not guide the destiny of individual animals the same as He guides man's. He therefore does not extend the same protection to beasts as He does to man. It is only entire species of animals that have a destiny decreed by God, who guides their evolution, maintains their numbers, or decress their extinction. In general, God has established nature in such a manner that every species is sustained. Regarding this the Psalmist sang, "He provides animals with their food, [sustaining] the young ravens when they cry out" (Psalms 147:9).
The questioner then became confused. He suggested that since R. Slifkin states that in retrospect the Purim miracle is seen to be a case of hidden divine providence (pp. 255-256, 292-293), this is similar to saying that in retrospect evolution must also be seen to be a case of hidden divine providence. If so, why does R. Slifkin opposed the Intelligent Design movement? I refuse to answer this question because it is easily available to anyone willing to read chapter 21 of The Challenge of Creation. The same goes for his approach to the Purim miracle. It's all very clear in the book. Don't be lazy.

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