Readers Write: Jews Say 'Feh' to Darwin

As regular AlterNet readers are well aware, few topics have the power to spleen readers like Bush, racism or religion. Mariah Blake's recent story on a debate within Florida's Orthodox Jewish community over intelligent design, Jews Say 'Feh' to Darwin, was certainly no exception, drawing over 200 comments, many of which were thoughtful, witty and wise. Others, not so much.

Because of the article's focus, and the tendency for any discussion of ID and evolution to devolve into the same old debate over which more accurately describes "reality," this Readers Write will focus on the issues directly raised in the article.

We've seen debate begin with the first line of a story, but seldom with the title, which several readers took issue with (conveniently, I happen to be the editor responsible). Alan Sharavsky, who kvells before kvetching, notes: "In your zeal to [be] brief and clever, your headline was completely misleading. Jews in general DO NOT endorse Intelligent Design. Orthodox Jews may, and perhaps not all of them"

Calling it "irresponsible journalism," ruthmarcia writes: "It is important to know that ONLY 5 PERCENT of American Jews consider themselves 'Orthodox' -- with an undetermined number of this 5 percent adhering to 'Intelligent Design.'"

gary_7vn responds at least as well as I could've: "At no point did my reading of the article lead me to conclude that 'all Jews' had abandoned evolutionary theory, and it was also pretty clear that even within the Orthodox community, ID is a very contentious theory. I think they did get it right, a headline is a headline, not the whole story."

AlterNet's own Josh Holland chimes in with a little headline writing 101: "Editors are looking for titles that attract your attention as a reader. How closely they reflect the substance of the article varies, but that's always going to be job #2."

"Which is not to dismiss your comment. It's just that this piece has a lot of traffic and a lot of discussion, so the headline was a good one as far as its purpose goes."

jfreed, writing "as a Jew," has mixed feelings about the fact that the ID debate is touching Judaism at all: "I'm kind of ashamed to hear about fellow Jews who support intelligent design On the other hand, I am relieved that the Orthodox community is debating the issue, rather than pushing one particular viewpoint. Debate (read: disagreement) over religious and ethical principles is a cornerstone of Judaism."

Arolem responds: "As a Jew, you might remember that we're not a centralized, single-voiced religious body. Rather than accept the headline's false premise that these few men represent all Jews, why not simply speak up for the overwhelming majority of us who do NOT support the teaching of ID in schools, public or Jewish?"

"As a Jew, I'm ashamed that you're ashamed."

Doubtom writes: "Most of the Jews I know are atheists, which might be the logical outcome of any group that dares to question all aspects of religion." Noting that religious bodies must constantly revise doctrine to suit the vicissitudes of contemporary culture, he writes: "Such elasticity in doctrine while very convenient for con men, should compel catholics to question the remainder of this doctrine, until finally, on some bright dawn, the revelation is completed; that all religions are pure bullshit, control devices of clever as well as pretentious con men. On that wonderful day, we can crawl out of our cave of ignorance and face reality."

TagsNOLA responds (albeit to an earlier iteration of that same argument): "Your question, 'Who knows were we might be today but for the stultifying effect off religion???' implies that it is religion that has been the root of all evil. Indeed, much evil has come from that quarter. But removal of the influence of organized religion did not make for particularly free or progressive societies in the USSR under Stalin, in the PRC under Mao or in DPRK under Kim Il Sung & Kim Jong Il. Notwithstanding removal of religion's 'stultifying effects' under these regimes, 'ignorance,' along with other evils, managed nevertheless to 'proliferate.'"

Bigteam feels that ID's appeal is as a palliative to man's existential dilemma: "Mr. Sholom Lipskar personifies the appeal of ID to the masses with his statement: 'If it's accidental, then what's the point? But if there's design, we're here for a reason'. In other words, the absurdity of our existence (viz. Sartre, Camus, et al.) is too unbearable for the masses, they need something which provides or entails purpose, hence the appeal of ID."

EncinoM responds: "Your post hangs on the notation that Satre, Camus and existentialists of their ilk are correct in their outlook on life. Yet philosophy (where I believe ID should be taught) is full of great thinkers who have found the existence of a higher power, Socrates, Plato, Descartes, Isaac Newton. How bleak of an existence it would be if all we are is all we will ever be. Belief in a higher power gives, not just [to] the uneducated masses, hope that the struggles of this life were not all for naught and that injustices will be righted."

karyse has lost faith: "Nuts! And I now have lost my last faith in Jews as well. I have always been impressed that Judaism produced so many great thinkers who could put aside the god thing in order to study the world as it is."

Arolem asks why: "'Jews' didn't argue for ID; a few Jewish leaders at one conference from one organization of synagogues argued for it. A number from the same organization argued against it So tell me, Karyse, what did your 'faith in Jews' consist of? That we'd all think and behave one way?"

patsy6 takes exception to the tone of anti-religious rhetoric and comments: "Some of these posts just prove that the anti-religious portion of the left wing can be just as intolerant as those 'religious wackos' in the right wing, sometimes more so. Pardon the expression, but let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Look in the mirror, anti-religious left wingers. You won't find much tolerance there. I am a left-wing person of faith. Faith is just that, faith. It is not science. Intelligent Design is based on faith and should not be taught in public school science classes."

kittynboi speaks to the root of many people's antagonism, writing: "I'm intolerant of religion and glad to be so. Being gay, it's a requirement to survive."

DFrost, an Orthodox Jew, jumps in with some firsthand knowledge: "I'm an Orthodox Jew, and I don't have any problem with the notion that God created the world." He then makes two points:

  • First, ID isn't science (and thus shouldn't be taught as such). Whether or not God created the world isn't a scientific question; the mechanism and system of creation is. Since God, by definition, is not a natural force, one can't really get very far by trying to be scientific about the Deity."
  • Second, for Orthodox Jews, this is not a debate about what will be taught in public schools. As a general rule of thumb, Orthodox Jews send our kids to religious day schools, so, while there was obviously no agreement reached (and there won't be) among the Orthodox Jews in the article (much less the rest of us) as to ID, what's being taught in public schools isn't even on the table for this crowd.

If the point of good journalism is to stimulate discussion and broaden the debate, the comments on Feh more than adequately answer that question. As for the debates between ID and Darwin, spirituality and science, and on the existence of G-d in general, best of luck.

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