Monday, June 09, 2014


This letter appeared in The Jerusalem Post, June 6, 2014:
I was gratified that the Israeli Ministry of Education has finally taken the decision to teach evolution at the middle school level ("Middle schools in Israel to begin teaching Darwin's theory," June 1) .  To those who doubt the basis of evolution I would point out that evolution is not a theory, it is a fact.  In other words, species have evolved and changed over long periods of time.  What is theory is how this process has occurred. 
Some might think that God was responsible for this process, a theory called "creationism."  Darwin's theory of "the survival of the fittest" and "adaptation by means of natural selection," that he published in "On the Origin of Species" in 1859, is as far as we know correct, except that Darwin could not know how this process occurred fundamentally, because he did not know about genetics. 
The work of Gregor Mendel that established genetics was not presented until 1865 and the work of Friederich Miescher who discovered what was to later to be known as DNA did not occur until 1869.  Now, much later, the subsequent findings of genetics and molecular biology fully support what we know about how evolution has occurred.
It is only ignorance that leads people to still deny evolution.  We must ensure that in this modern world our children are not brought up ignorant of one of the most important issues of our times, namely how man and animals have evolved. 
Jack Cohen
Retired Professor of Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
It is interesting to note that Gregor Mendel was a monk and Charles Darwin was a devout Christian, who spent many hours agonizing over how his findings would influence Christian belief.  I must admit that those religious opponents of the teaching of evolution, both in England (such as Bishop Wilberforce in the Huxley debates) and in the USA (such as William Jennings Brian in the Scopes trial) were right to fear the impact of secular education, it has undermined unquestioning belief in religions.  Apart from this there is the impact of other events, such as the Holocaust, that led to the valid question, "where was God while innocent Jews were being massacred?"  But, we must never forget that the basis of secular belief is built on a firm foundation of facts and conclusions that were hard fought for and attained at great price.   
I would like to emphasize that the term "natural selection" introduced by Darwin implies that the selection of new species was "natural", i.e. not directed, as is human selection of domesticated animals and plants or divine selection either by an imagined "intelligent designer" or by a God.  There is a well-known philosophical rule known as "Occam's razor" or "Occam's rule," that says that if there are two possible explanations for a problem, then one is required to take the simplest explanation.  As applied to evolution this means that we are required to take the explanation of "natural selection" rather than presume selection by an unknown external force. 

Note: My lecture on "DNA:a history of the discovery of the structure and function of the genetic substance" is now available on-line on my website at www.jackcohenart/Lectures.html


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