Culture, Politics

Even College Educated Orthodox Jews Reject Theory of Evolution

Is the Flat Earth Society just another way to say minyan?
Alexander Nussbaum writes in Skeptic Magazine that,

The sample of 176 Orthodox Jewish students surveyed showed almost complete denial of evolution and other central tenets of modern science (such as the age of the universe); the survey also revealed that these students received their scientific beliefs not from their college science courses, but from rabbinical authorities, or from Orthodox Jewish scientists, who in turn propagate the anti-science views of rabbinical authorities. Perhaps the most surprising result of the survey was that the Orthodox Jewish students who were science majors were even less accepting of mainstream science than those who were not science majors.

Read the startling stats here!
The good news? Well, only 22 of 173 answered that the Sun revolves around the Earth.
Nussbaum expects this paltry number to grow over the years.
Nussbaum writes, “According to a recent poll, our education system continues to fail our Orthodox students who go to college.”
Or is instead it that the Orthodox educational system is succeeding?
Perhaps the leaders of Orthodox Judaism have assessed that there is no future for Orthodox Jewry nor (by their standards) for Judaism without all but a categorical denial of science in regards to both strict creationism and theories of human history.
Are they correct?  Sure, they may lose some of their most precocious to the secular world, but won’t they retain more of the masses?
Orthodox Jews are fast earning a reputation as one of the most intellectually reactionary groups in the Western world.  Perhaps it is well deserved.
Hat tip: Mis-nagid

20 thoughts on “Even College Educated Orthodox Jews Reject Theory of Evolution

  1. Sorry … not convinced … nor am I convinced of anything that is survey based until I get the following answers:
    1. What Orthodox community do they live in?
    2. What majors do they have? How many of them have taken a biology class? I have a BA and almost finished an MA and I only took 2 science class (one in the Physics of Music and one in Environmental Science) in university. Of course I wasn’t a bio major. So if bio majors thought this it would be different. So, in fact, the issue is more their high school science education and not college anyway. but that goes back to the first question: What Orthodox community do they live in?
    3. How geographically dispersed? How much in NY vs. the rest of the country.
    4. What is the sample? Frum from birth? Baalei Teshuvot? Ma?
    Mind you — I do think there is too much of an insularity and lack of intellectual openness to outside ideas or critical thinking approach within much of the Orthodox community so I don’t mean to discount the results of this survey as lies but rather point out that any scientific research and ESPECIALLY that based on survey data must be carefully scrutinized in its methodology and research design.

  2. Thta is one of the WEAKEST studies i have ever read. He makes too many unsubstantiated presumptions (e.g b/c the sample was between 12-3 the students were allowed to attend college full time). His sample was obviously not scientific and refered to a small group at 1 particular University. There is NO generalizabilty tohis study. His questions were likewise biased. While he ackowledges that Modern Orthodoxxy has, at least at times allowed for alternative explanations, he gives NO indication that he allowed for those possibilites in the questions he asked, and it appears he gave most students two possibile choices to choose from as opposed to the standard 7 one would expect in a Likert scale.
    So, in essence, the author is a person who ridicules Orthodox Jews for rejecting what he believes are Scinetific proofs, But in order to reach that conclusion, he rejects the scientifc method. I believe he is worse than the people he describes. At least they are trying to be honest.

  3. I was prepared to accept the results of the survey – because they would make sense based on my limited knowledge of what American YU people think – but the article is based on a faulty survey, puts all the orthodox together in a melting pot and created a hodge-podge of idiotic ideas that were probably fit for a protestant 18th century intellectual:
    “By definition Jews who accept evolution are not Orthodox
    Also, it does not really help to deride the deeply held beliefs of the subects of your study. So Orthodox Jews have menstrual taboos. so what? Other people don’t sleep with members of the same sex or family members. So as much as I would like to lament the sorry state of American Modern Orthodoxy (?), this article, which quotes the same crackpot Ortho. “scientists” (Branover, Aviezer, etc. – who are BTW not the same at all, but crackpots all the same), does not do the job. It is, plain and simple, a fake.

  4. I’m writing right now a summary (final exam) on what are formal criteria of a causal argument. (Based on an article by John Gerring in Journal of Theoretical Politics in 2003) and several criteria are missing in the “study.” Notably: plenitude (sample size – 1 school isn’t enough), comparability (can we compare all Orthodox or even all modern Orthodox with the students of one New York university [which may be a “frummer” school like CUNY vs. NYU, for example]), independence — are their other variables besides Orthodoxy that may explain this. What do Orthodox Jews at other schools and with other backgrounds think? What do non-Orthodox or non-Jewish students think about evolution? How do the Jews compare to Christians, for example?), representativeness — are the cases representative of the population. Clearly they are not because, as I mentioned before, a handful of students at one NY college is not representative of all Orthodox or even all modern Orthodox folk. Variation — not sure but I don’t think we see variation here, transparancy — why is this the case? Why is his argument true? I didn’t read the whole argument so I’m not sure but I’m doubtful and replicability — it may be theoretically possible to replicate the study and obtain the same results but they woulnd’t be valid without fixing some of the other problems. So, based on Gerring’s unified theory of causation, we see problems in AT LEAST 4 of the 7 criteria of good research design. Sorry — the study fails.
    Mind you — this does not mean that a better conducted study wouldn’t give us similiar results. It is quite possible that a better designed study would show horrendous scientific ignorance on the part of the worlwide? American? Orthodox community. But we won’t know unless a new study is conducted (which should include comparison of non-Orthodox populations (Jews and non-Jews) to further assess its reliability.

  5. Disturbing article linked in a Jew School post http://jewschool.com/?p=10880. The article in question is from a periodical known as “Skeptic” (as if that has any credibility). Read the article and see how a person who purported to represent science, rejects the scientific method to prove that Jews reject science.
    http://www.skeptic.com/the_magazine/featured_articles/v12n03_orthodox_judaism_and_evolution.php
    Here is my response:
    “Orthodox Judaism and Evolution” is one of the WEAKEST studies I have ever read. The author foregoes all objectivity in pursuit of specific unflattering results that fit the preconceived notions of his publishers.
    There are numerous methodological problems with this “study.” The author makes too many unsubstantiated presumptions. A perfect example is the assumptions he makes about his sample. He claims that because the data were collected between 12-3 P.M, the students questioned must represent the more modern students who were allowed to attend college full time. Perhaps Yeshiva students came to college for lunch, either for class or to use the Library? Perhaps his unsubstantiated assertion that Yeshiva students only attend college at night is incorrect?
    His sample was obviously not scientific and referred to a small group of self identified students at 1 particular University, evidentially taken all on one day. One could reasonable claim, for example, that his sample was taken on a Tuesday, and therefore only represented Tuesday/ Thursday students. The same study on a Monday that queried only Monday/ Wednesday/ Friday students could have yielded drastically different results. One can also claim that if the author went to ANY other University he would have gotten a completely different result, etc. Given his methodology, there is NO generalizability to his study at all.
    Even more disturbing, The author’s questions were biased and could produce nothing but skewed results. While he acknowledges that Modern Orthodoxy has, at least at times, allowed for alternative explanations for the age of the Universe and other such questions, he gives NO indication that he allowed for those possibilities in the questions HE asked. It appears that he gave the students two possible choices, each of which represented an extreme, as opposed to the standard 7 choices one would expect in a Likert scale. (A fair study would have allowed students to choose at least 4-5 options between the extremes).
    This is the equivalent of asking “Is killing always right or is killing always wrong” and then berating those who answered killing is always wrong in a journal article for their irrational support of genocidal regimes that can kill with impunity because the pacifism of the respondents precludes the ability to respond militarily.
    An unbiased study would either provide those two extremes (always right, always wrong), as well as 5 other possibilities, such as killing is wrong when it is done for no reason, killing is right when it is done for no reason, killing is wrong when done to save innocent lives, killing is right when done to save innocent lives, etc. OR, alternatively,would ask numerous questions that statistically establish the nuanced positions of the respondents. Fair questions would ask if the respondent agrees or disagrees and to what extent they agree or disagree to multiple questions that define the question at hand more specifically.
    So, in essence, the author is a person who ridicules Orthodox Jews for rejecting what he believes are scientific proofs, but in order to reach his conclusion, he rejects the very science he is trying to defend. This is advocacy, not academics. I believe he is worse than the people he describes. At least they were trying to be honest.

  6. This study should not be used to extrapolate to the larger Orthodox Jewish community given the small sample size and the fact that they all went to only 1 school… BUT.. let’s be honest… Even if the study was 10X as large I doubt the results would be significantly different….

  7. Yes, they are bothersome to me – I have a mission (shared by many non-Ortho Jews in their own, sincerely held way) to be a “light to the nations”.
    Part of that most definitely means showing/modeling that Torah morality does not require no-nothing, willful ignorance of science, art , or other fields of human inquiry and expression. In fact, in embraces such inquiry – and completes them by supplying the moral yardstick that science, art ,and other modes of discourse are lacking.
    Attempts by people – Jewish or Gentile – to discredit Judaism intellectually are a direct attempt to block/undermine my personal and national message as I understand it.

  8. This past year the book that was read by all entering students at Yeshiva College for the book project, and was the basis of lectures during the academic year, was written by Steven Gould. Rabbi Slifkin’s books are best sellers at the YU seforim sale. I am skeptical about the article in “Skeptic.” The Orthodox community is much more diverse than the stereotype described.

  9. A highly offensive and inflammatory article.
    But that’s just my backwards archaic Orthodox opinion. Feel free to shoot it down with your high-falutin’ post-Enlightenment logic which us shtetl-folk have yet to grasp.
    Rachmana litzlan.

  10. I’m just going to qualify my previous comment by saying that I was xclusively attacking:
    a) the “Sun revolves around the Earth” low-blow;
    b) the underlying premise that to “not be failed” by an educational system means adopting all that which that educational system presents to you;
    and c) the overarching assumption that one must leave Torah beliefs — as defined by one’s tradition (as this, as was pointed out, varies even within individual sects of Orthodoxy) — in order to be part of “modern science”.
    The Skeptic article also — with his implied gasp embedded into his use of the exclamation point at the end of “94% Creationist..!” — seems to echo with the same underlying pompous question, “You have a Ph.D. now, you mean you still believe in Genesis?” (chas v’shalom)

  11. Y-Love,
    The issue is not believing in Genesis. The issue is believing literally in Genesis. Such as believing that “Day” meant a 24 hour day, even though there was no sun until the fourth day, etc.
    R. Yosef Blau,
    More attention indeed could (and perhaps should) have been given to YU generally and your fight specifically in terms of defending R. Slifkin and rejecting a New Earth dogma. However, the flagship institution of Modern Orthodoxy is hardly the mainstream view of the majority of NY metro Orthodox Jews, but particularly in terms of how secular education is viewed and valued even by those who do attend college — clearly on the Left.

  12. The sample is not representative. this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a segment of NY Orthodox Jews that believe this stuff but it’s a segment made up of a specific subgroup of Orthodox Jews and not representative.
    Again, the issue is that its bad scholarship. Not that no one in the Orthodox world (or other Jewish or non-Jewish world) don’t believe this but simply really bad scholarship that paints a false picture as it is not representative of the group it claims to study.

  13. Also, what % of americans believe in these things as well? I’d love to see a study that compared attitudes…

  14. Another matter is his shoddy citations. The first footnoted bit says “the Conservative and Reform movements are not even considered Judaism by Orthodox Jews.” Which, okay, is mostly true. But the footnote doesn’t document this claim, it refers to a population statistic.
    Later it cites Iggeroth Moshe. The footnote doesn’t tell us where in the 8-volume work the piece he cites can be found so that we can fact check his ass. But he does helpfully mention that a “Iggerot” means letters.
    When he references the unfortunate brouhaha about R. Herschel Schachter’s infamous monkey/ parrot remark, he incorrectly calls him a “Yeshiva University Dean” and also fails to note that, however insensitive the remark may have been, “îòùä ÷åó” is a technical term which has nothing to do with a monkey per se, but an act that requires no knowledge or intention, something that can be done automated. I am not surprised that Nussbaum wouldn’t be familiar with that, and I suppose its reasonable for him to have drawn the conclusion he did. But that doesn’t make it correct and partly calls into question how much rigor this piece was written with.
    Finally, he only acknowledges the existence of a modern Orthodoxy which values something called Torah and paranassah and conflates all sorts of Orthodox groups, including even those aligned with a publication called ‘Bais Moshiach’ with all other Orthodox Jews. That’s being tone deaf.
    If his conclusions are correct its because he shot an arrow and painted a target around it. The study and the piece of garbage.

  15. Macroevolution is fake science.
    Speciation is neither observable nor testable, and therefore is fake science.

  16. See? This is the problem with the whole debate. People like this skeptic charachter give the just attacks against orthodox theology and cosmology a bad name becuase they are more interested in attacking than exaplaining.
    It is clear – unless you are a dogmatic fool – that evolution happened and that the universe is not 5000 etc years old. This is the same science that builds us bridges and airplanes – not something the orthodox happen to deny (if they were to deny it it would be a different story).
    So why do they go to great lengths to prove Genesis true? Becuase they don’t, really. Only the silly ones do – the others find ways to live with the contradictions.

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