How Does The World Work?

These ruminations were inspired by a recent David Klinghoffer blog post.

I assume that you accept evolution. (With Dennis Prager, I believe that God created evolution.)

I notice that the more I use evolution to explain the world, the less I think about God. The more I study natural reasons for reality, the less I reach for supernatural reasons.

I believe in God and Orthodox Judaism, but I notice a shift in my thinking about how the world works the past two years from studying evolution. When one type of moss wipes out another type of moss in a pond, that’s how the world works.

When one sub-species wipes out another in a particular place, that’s how the world works. You don’t find two subspecies in the same place in nature.

It’s easy to extrapolate from these facts to people, but humans have capabilities that other sub-species do not, and there have been multi-racial, multi-religious empires that worked.

It’s natural for people to die young of type one diabetes but we now have medicine such as insulin that allows these people to live almost a normal life. So what is natural is not necessarily good.

If I were to think morally, I would find slavery abhorrent. If I think realistically, I assume that stronger groups wipe out and enslave weaker groups.

Most of the intellectual leaders of the Alt-Right are not religious. They are not monotheists. Evolution shapes their worldview.

I am wondering if I am becoming morally desensitized by studying evolution. Slavery used to upset me. It seemed horrible. Now it seems like a fact of life, like group struggle over scarce resources.

Most of the time I prefer to ask — how does the world work? I try to avoid emotion and moral judgment. I prefer to look at people as another form of animal and accountable to many of the same principles that organize the animals. This way I stay calm and I am able to see the different perspectives of various warring groups.

But this is very different from coming at the world from a Torah point of view.

I feel like I can bounce back and forth between the two perspectives. The one perspective is realistic and naturalistic. The other comes from God.

For analyzing reality, I prefer the naturalistic POV. I can easily avoid getting emotionally caught up. First, I try to see what is real and true and natural. Second, I try to apply the moral system I learn from Torah.

Goy Philosopher emails me:

This is very interesting! I do accept evolution, I think. Micro-evolution for sure, though I’m not so sure about macro-evolution. Looking at people as animals is possible, and can be illuminating; it can also be illuminating to look at animals (and other things) as people.

But I don’t really know how to think of slavery as _not_ something abhorrent and just a ‘fact of life’. Much of life seems abhorrent. Predation, for example. Or death, if there’s nothing more than this. (Early death, at least.) It seems we’re placed in a world where ‘the way the world works’ is bound to be horrifying to a moral intelligent being.

I find it hard to understand how God could have created evolution, assuming God is both omnipotent and morally perfect. Evolution depends essentially on mostly random events, and (therefore) it has no teleology. Why would God have used an essentially random non-teleological process to bring about human life, or whatever it is that the process is supposed to accomplish? Also it’s a process that depends essentially on massive amounts of evil — animal suffering, for example — that would be unnecessary (I assume) for an omnipotent creator who wanted to bring about the results of evolution. But a morally perfect being wouldn’t allow gratuitous evil. So I suspect that if macro-evolution really did happen in the way we’re told, either God doesn’t exist or God doesn’t have the properties traditionally ascribed to Him. What do you think? How would you reconcile God’s existence and evolution?

Luke: I believe God plays a role in human history and yet human suffering is off the charts and has always been so. I don’t think there is any extra challenge in reconciling belief in the God of the Bible with macro evolution going back billions of years.

There are a few special problems with macro-evolution (I think). Presumably God allows or causes macro-evolution for some reason. It’s a pretty nasty process so He must have some reason for it. But whatever the reason might be, it seems that an omnipotent morally perfect being would bring about his goal in some other way. The last 6000 years of human history aren’t quite so problematic, because so much of the suffering involved in the history can be chalked up to free human choices (and since God arguably couldn’t bring about human freedom without allowing the possibility we’d do evil with it). But millions of years of macro-evolution seems to be mainly a matter of massive suffering that would be gratuitous if God existed. Of course it can always be claimed we just can’t know the good reasons that He had for allowing it.

But what about the randomness problem? I can imagine that God would allow randomness to some degree within micro-evolution. But in macro-evolution, getting from algae to people (or whatever) on the basis of random processes would seem like a very irrational and — at best — highly unreliable and inefficient process for bringing about the life forms we have now, including humans. In Judaism, at least, humans are very special; God created us and wanted us to exist. But then why would such a being use a largely random ‘method’ in order to do that — a method that could never be more than likely to bring about the intended result? Wouldn’t God necessarily have some faster, more effective and reliable method? These aren’t rhetorical questions, by the way. I just honestly find it hard to understand.

Luke: I don’t see what’s more random about evolution over the past billion years compared to human history over the past 10,000 years. How is that evolution more nasty than human history the past 10,000 years? Much perhaps most of human suffering over the past 10,000 years was inherent to life. Just look at the world around us right now. It’s hard to see the hand of God in it.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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