Thursday, February 12, 2009

Darwin's Birthday: Is it Odd or is it God?

The following is an excerpt from a Rosh Hashanah sermon delivered in 2005, which touched upon the subject of evolution. I include it here because of its relevance on the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. To read the entire sermon, click here To listen to it, click here.

There has been a mighty fight lately over a new concept into the study of the origins of life and of the universe. It is called, “Intelligent Design,” and it has been positioned as a more sophisticated alternative to the old Creationism, which simply took Genesis literally, in taking on Darwin’s Natural Selection. Proponents of Intelligent Design are careful to couch the argument in secular terms and do not suggest the identity of the designer. I got one e-mail, in fact, suggesting that the designer was discovered to be “Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

One could consider this new theory a sneaky attempt by evengelicals to introduce religion into the evolution debate, and that’s true; but at least it is a big step forward from Creationism. No longer does the Catholic church take Psalm 19 literally, as it did when Galileo was brought to trial for challenging the notion of the sun racing across the skies like a bridegroom. “Intelligent Design” theory is telling us that at least some religious leaders are going beyond the literal and looking for deeper more poetic truths in the Bible. But it is noteworthy that in recent polls 50 percent of American Christians still say that the first chapter of Genesis should be taken literally. And, while most Jews have always championed evolution, a huge debate on this subject is shaking the Orthodox world, and one popular young rabbi, Nosson Slifkin, has had his books banned for his support of Darwin.

But the whole controversy begs an important question. What if evolution itself IS the intelligent design? What if the dinosaurs were divinely inspired? What if it was God’s desire that hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis happen in a random manner? What if God chooses Odd - sometimes?

When you met your spouse, if you have a spouse, was it odd or was it God? (Is it still?) I should say, was it odd – or was it your mother in law? And I can’t tell you how many people I marry met because of a conversation that occurred at a shiva. Life is funny that way. It so often seems pre-ordained. Things always seem to come full circle.

Some things that appear random happen because they are meant to be. We Jews have an expression for that: Beshert, based on a German word meaning “given.” We speak about meeting our life partner as meeting our “beshert” – a special gift from God, the one intended for us alone. In Genesis, Abraham’s servant Eliezer meets Rebecca at the well and when she offers to feed his camels, he determines that this is a sign that she is Isaac’s intended. The Talmud (Moed Katan 18b; Sotah 2a) goes on to say that God spends most of Her time arranging matches for people. (That was before God invented J-date. Lots of people I marry are finding mates there).

You can choose odd or God, in case after case, but the key is that, the only way you can come down on the side of atheism is if everything is and has forever been totally and completely random. Anything else, and the coin turns up “God,” even if it’s a capricious God, an inconsistent God, a playful God, a God who favors randomness, but one who cries at destructive floods because of the rules He set up. If even one event in your life, or in world history, seems to have had a deeper purpose behind it, than there is a God.

...A hurricane looks so beautiful from space. From a God’s eye view, it is gorgeous and filled with symmetry. But that same divine eye is filled with tears at the destruction and the randomness of it all. It is the randomness that God has chosen which yields the serendipity that we embrace.

We embrace it all:

The devastation and the miracles
The bombings and the Beshert
The dinosaurs and the flights to Chicago
The good and the bad, you and me
We embrace it all and we embrace one another.


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