In the Beginning - an unscientific poll
Here is a transcribed (by the rabbi) drasha delivered on Shabbat Bereshit about ten years ago in Kingsway Jewish Center by Rabbi Milton Polin (since retired and living in Israel), former President of the Rabbinical Council of America:
The Science of Creation -- A Jewish View
Rabbi Milton H. Polin
After seeing Cecil B. DeMille’s "The Ten Commandments," a young man noted, "Seeing that movie gave me new faith in God." I told him, "Read "the Book;" it's even better." This Shabbat, as we begin to read "the Book" anew, we can find new insights.
For example, one current controversy in American education is whether to teach science according to the Biblical account of Creation or Darwinian theory. Ostensibly, our yeshivot are immune to this controversy since the Torah's cosmology must, by definition, be absolutely true. Yet, taking the story of Creation literally, as the Creationists do, does an injustice both to the wisdom of our Rabbis and to science as it ought to be taught.
Rabbinic literature contains several statements that give a far more sophisticated view of Creation than the Creationists believe. Hopefully, our yeshivot include this information in their teaching of science and do not leave our young people with the view that the God's Torah does not meet the challenges of contemporary science.
Chazal were not closed to "scientific findings." For example, how does the sun "circle the earth?" According to the Talmud, our Sages changed their mind. "The Sages of Israel maintain: the sun travels beneath the sky by day and above the sky by night; while the wise men of the nations of the world maintain: it travels beneath the sky by day and below the earth at night. Said Rabbi: And their view is preferable to ours…" (Pesachim 94b). It is remarkable that our Rabbis were willing to accept the opinion of the non-Jewish scholars when they recognized that it was closer to the truth.
Another example: Which came first, fish or fowl? The Rabbis explained why the requirements of shechitah differ from cattle to fowl to fish. The gemara (Chulin 27b) brings the following claim: Cattle were created out of the dry earth and are rendered fit by cutting both organs; fish were created out of the water and are rendered fit without any ritual slaughtering; birds were created out of the alluvial mud and are therefore rendered fit by the cutting of one organ. R. Samuel of Cappadocia said: You can prove this from
the fact that birds have scales on their legs like the scales of fishes."
Finally--and these are but a few examples --R. Yehudah, commenting on, "and man became a living being" (Bereishit 2:7), tells us, "This teaches that He [God] provided him [man] with a tail, like an animal, but subsequently removed it from him for the sake of his dignity." (Bereshit Rabbah 14,10)
Does this mean that the Torah and/or our Rabbis support Darwin's Theory of Evolution? Not at all. It simply means that our Rabbis were aware of scientific clues in the Torah that explain how God created the world. Similarly, Traditional Jews need not fear scientific investigation, but should search for answers to its questions.
So, too, our yeshivot must address such issues as the age of the universe and the existence of dinosaurs, issues which will and do trouble our children. There is no reason to teach children that Creation began only 5761 years ago or that dinosaurs never existed, ideas that they will reject as they grow older.
As the knowledge of science unfolds, new questions will always arise, but ultimately there cannot be unreconcilable conflicts between true science and the Torah since God created the universe and wrote the Torah. For this reason we must study science to understand the universe and thereby contribute to our knowledge of Torah. Likewise, we must study the Torah and the rabbinic commentaries not only as a record of the authentic tradition and the knowledge of past generations but also for the insights they contain on scientific questions.