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Judaism and Science: Evolution and Human Exceptionalism

Throughout human history, scholars of both religion and science theorized about the development of life, human society, and the cosmos. However, only in 1859 did Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of the Species propose a compelling unifying theory explaining biological life, its development over time, and its manifest diversity. Two aspects of Darwinism challenged in particular a religious worldview: one, do human beings still retain a special, privileged position in the great chain of being? And how do we reconcile the randomness assumed by evolution with the providential guiding hand of God assumed by religion? In this course, we will study the Jewish reception of Darwinism, its detractors and advocates from the late 19th century until today. We aim to understand how Judaism relates to seeming conflicts with science, as well as seek to answer the question: What makes us, as human beings and as Jews, truly special?