Mordecai Kaplan: Accepting Darwinism

The founder of Reconstructionist Judaism takes a pragmatic approach.

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Kaplan insists that "man is not merely affected by evolutionary change; he participates in the process" (The Meaning of God). While Kaplan's understanding of Judaism demands progress toward some vision of a messianic future, his commitment to pragmatism and pluralism demands that the future be open-ended. Although there is a direction for humanity and the cosmos, there is no unique destiny. Both the path to the future and the particulars of that future are yet undetermined. They depend on human freedom and chance. 

"Progress cannot mean for us today a definitive approach to a static final goal. But there is still a sense in which we can speak of progress. It lies in the perception that evolution has direction. Movements that conform to this direction are progressive; those that obstruct it are reactionary.

Although that progress is not always in a straight line, the course of human history shows that the human race is moving in the direction of enhanced personality and enhanced sociality." (The Meaning of God)

Kaplan distances divine creation and creativity from the biblical account in Genesis. Kaplan, who accepted the tenets of biblical criticism early in his education, explicitly applies the method of functional demythologization to the creation narrative and concludes: "The main purpose of the opening chapter of the Torah is not to give an account of creation but to teach that the world, as God created it, is a fit place for man to achieve his godlikeness, or salvation." (Kaplan, Greater Judaism in the Making)

The creation story is neither about physics nor about metaphysics, but "soterics." Because God created the world "very good," humans can achieve salvation in it.

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Shai Cherry

Shai Cherry, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Jewish Thought at Vanderbilt University.