The Origin and Evolution of Species in Tanach

Posted by on May 14, 2024

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life (short title: On the Origin of Species) was Charles Darwin’s scientific work (1809-1882) with which he intended to prove that species had not been separately created after their kinds, and that natural selection had been the main driver of evolution of the species. “On the Origin of Species” is also known as “evolution of the species” which is a theory that postulates that the various types of plants, animals, and humans have their origin in a preexisting form of life (ameba) and that the distinguishable differences that are observed today are due to mutations in successive generations.

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, 1860.

On the Origin of Species. “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one”. Charles Darwin, (1860).

According to the theory of evolution of species, a sequence of events involved in the development of taxonomic groups of organisms. Charles Darwin was an English natural scientist who formulated the theory of evolution by natural selection (1860). The theory of evolution is one of the fundamental keystones of modern biological theory. We should note here that it is a theory, i.e., this is a supposition of ideas intended to explain observed phenomenon based on general principles independent of the phenomenon to be explained. This theory is also known as, or “Darwin’s theory of evolution”.

There are well-known objections to Darwin’s theory of evolution. Darwin did not find intermediate forms between closely related species, even though his theory implies such forms must have existed. Darwin himself asked the question: “Why, if species have descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms?” The second objection is similar: the absence or rarity of transitional varieties in time. Darwin admitted that “innumerable transitional forms must have existed”, yet he wondered: “Why do we not find them embedded in countless numbers in the crust of the earth?” In other words, these objections and others in that nature can be summarized into one: the missing links between the intermediate forms of life. To these well-known objections, we saw fit to add our own: If evolution is a scientific fact, even though according to Darwin’s admission he failed to present such facts, why then do we not see a continual progression of evolution of the species today? Why do we not see new Neanderthal men in the African savanna or in the Amazon jungle? Instead, what we do see are fully developed human beings, even though they are socially primitive. To Darwin’s credit, however, it must be said that from the 1860 second edition onwards Darwin changed his view on the matter of evolution, stating: “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one”. Darwin, Charles (1860), On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

Does evolution of the species have a place in Genesis? Is what science observing in variant with what Scripture states, namely, the Creator created each form of life according to its kind? In the issue of evolution of species, there is a common mistake made when it is asserted that Scripture and science are in diametrically opposing viewpoints. But is it so? Let this not be a cause of surprise to the reader to learn what in fact the Hebrew Scripture says about the evolution of species. And this is the object of our study: to present to the reader often overlooked passages in Genesis 1. This will be further explained in the interpretation of the verses that show the origin and evolution of species. We will show in the following that this question is far from being merely polemical and will provide a more complex answer. For indeed, how many are aware that the Creator also imparted power to His creation so that through this power new species would be brought forth into existence? Because at certain stages of the creation process, He let biological life be developed (evolved) itself according to its kind. It all began with Genesis 1, to which we now turn.

The origin of life

What does it look like before even Genesis 1:1 begins. Why did the Eternal create the world? And what is the purpose of life we observe today, and why are we here? Reality is not all that is seen. In the beginning, there was only the Eternal existing in singularity: the quality of the Eternal being one of a kind. No one and nothing else existed, and nothing else could exist without compromising the singularity. In order to create the world, however, the Creator “withdrew” to make space for creation to exist. According to this concept of contraction, before creation the Infinite One filled all of existence. In order for creation of the finite world to occur, He made space for creation by “withdrawing” or “contracting” His infinite presence. This withdrawal created a void, which resulted in a “place” (spacetime) for the finite world to come into existence. This “withdrawal” also created a virtual veil of separation between Him and His creation in order to allow the universe to exist. Otherwise, nothing can exist in His Presence.

Elohim created “Beginning” as the very concept of spacetime. Even the concept of infinity of time is a created concept. The Eternal is absolute as the Name He chose for Himself means “He who exists continually”. Everything in the visible and invisible world is conditional upon His will, and therefore it does not and cannot exist outside of Him. He spoke and founded the earth with wisdom and established the heavens with understanding (Pro 3:19). In the beginning, the Eternal Elohim created the heavens and the earth. The Scripture, however, tells us very little about the creation of the heavens, focusing almost entirely on the creation of the earth and on the lives of the people who inhabit it, as it is said: “The heavens belong to the Eternal, but the earth He gave to man” (Psa 115:16).

In the Beginning, the Creator brought together all the primordial elements. He first created from nothing the element “light” merely by pronouncement: “Light, exist!” And light came into existence. He then summoned, created out of nothing, and reordered to give new forms of life; all done by His will and power until all work of creation was finished on Day Six. The primeval planet had been formless and void, and totally covered by water. After describing how planet Earth was made, the Creator goes on to explain in the next verses how He then made it habitable. But the first two verses of Genesis are not the beginning of Creation, even though the creation narrative begins with them. The actual work of Creation began with the words in verse 3: “Light, exist!, and light existed”. This primordial light materialized in matter from which the universe started to develop. The creation of light also served as the beginning of time by separating it from darkness, and by alternating them the first day was created. Then Elohim commanded into existence the second day by calling the expanse to come in the midst of the waters and separate the waters from the waters (Gen 1:6). And likewise, He commanded on the third day the waters to gather together into one place, and dry land appeared. And it was so (Gen 1:9).

But in what follows we discover something new in the creation narrative. So far it was the Creator who was calling into existence His creation. But when He said,

The earth shall bring forth grass, the plant that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth.” And it was so. (Gen 1:11),

He commanded the earth to continue the creation process, as it is said: “The earth shall bring forth grass … according to its kind”, and it was the earth that brought forth each vegetation according to its kind (verse 12). From the plain reading of the verse is evident that it was the earth through the delegated power by the Creator by which the creation process continued. We should note here that in all other instances prior to the third day, it was the Creator who directly commanded His creation into existence. For the meaning of this verse, we will depend on the opinion of Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, also known as Ramban. He was a leading Torah scholar of the Middle Ages who authored commentaries on Torah and the Talmud. Ramban explained “the earth shall bring forth grass” as meaning that the Creator imparted a force in the earth. He said,

He decreed that there be among the products of the earth a force which grows, and bears seed so that the species should exist forever. It is possible that the name “earth” mentioned in the first verse already contains a hint that a force which causes things to grow should spring up from the earth, and it was from this force that the foundations of all vegetations according to their kinds emanated. From them sprang the grass and trees in the garden of Eden, and from them came those in the world.

Ramban then goes on to wonder why Scripture did not mention the creation of fruitless trees but concerned itself only with the creation of fruit-trees. Perhaps, he said, the barren trees at first bore fruit, but after the sin of Adam and Chavah, the curse came upon the ground for their sake and the barren trees came into existence. But it is possible, he continues, that the explanation of the verse is as follows: “Let the earth bring forth growing things, and herbs which yield seed and trees which bear fruit”.

Another example of delegating power to His creation is found in verse 20 of the narrative, wherein Elohim said,

The waters shall swarm with school of living creatures, and birds shall fly above the earth on the face of the expanse of the heavens. (Gen 1:20)

And concerning the sixth day He said,

The earth shall bring forth the living creatures after its kind: livestock and creeping creatures and beasts of the earth according to its kind. And it was so. (Gen 1:24)

Thus, on the third, the fifth, and the sixth days, the Torah states that Elohim did not directly create life on these days but imparted in His creation the unique properties to bring forth forms of life. And the earth brought forth each vegetation and animal according to its kind, and so did the water.

This concept is further explained by Ramban, who provided a clear explanation of the verse in its simplicity. He said that the Eternal created all things from absolute non-existence. However, everything that exists under the sun or above was not made from non-existence in the beginning. Instead, He brought forth from total and absolute nothingness a substance, the primary matter, devoid of corporeality but having a power of potency, fit to assume form and to proceed from potentiality into reality. After having created the primary matter, He did not create anything but formed and made things with it, and from this primary matter, He brought everything into existence and put them into a finished condition. Thus, the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them consist of one substance. The Eternal created them from nothing; they alone were created, and everything else was made from them. This primary matter, from which all came to be, is called in Hebrew tohu. Therefore, the first two verses of Creation are saying thus: In the beginning, Elohim created the heavens and the earth from nothing. The earth, when created, was tohu (without form) and then it became bohu (undistinguishable), and in these there were “darkness” (תֹהוּ tohu וָבֹהוּ vavohu, an undistinguished, uniform mass, the “primordial soup”).

Therefore, when the Torah states that “the earth shall bring forth grass”, “the waters shall swarm”, and “the earth shall bring forth the living creatures according to its kind”, it adopts a concise approach to testify to the evolution of species on the third, the fifth, and the sixth days of Creation, respectively. While it is important to be aware of what the Torah really says, the simple meaning of the words is primary to our understanding.
Having now completed our exposition, if we take a survey of the substance of the matter of evolution of species in Creation, we should conclude that everything that exists in the natural world was not made from non-existence in the beginning but having been imparted a power of potency into it (which science may call DNA) assumed form and come into existence. Thus, the Creator did not create the natural world from nothing but formed and made things and put them into a finished condition. But the creation of the first humans, the grandeur of life, the Eternal created them by having originally breathed the living force of life.

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