Israeli schools reported to avoid teaching evolution

Oy gewalt! The Times of Israel (click on screenshot below), which I take to be a fairly reliable source about what’s going on in that country, reported at the end of August that the national Education Ministry is pushing teachers to deep-six the teaching of evolution in favor of other stuff. Click on the screenshot to see the article:

From the article:

Most students in Israeli schools do not learn about evolution, and the Education Ministry is quietly encouraging teachers to focus on other topics in biology, according to a Wednesday report.

Several teachers who spoke to Channel 10 said the Education Ministry prefers they teach as little about evolution as possible. The educators said they received no training on the topic and received hints from the ministry that it was better to focus on other subjects.

Biology classes in kindergarten and elementary school do not mention Charles Darwin’s theory that all life evolved from common ancestors, and in middle school it is only alluded to as part of general discussions, the TV report said.

Four years ago, the high school curriculum was revised, the report said. Previously there had been one unit on evolution in the matriculation exams. In the new curriculum, the religiously sensitive theory of common descent has been omitted, and replaced with classes on species survival and genetic modifications and adaptations based on environmental factors. [JAC: These “modifications” and the like are often ways to avoid mentioning the e-word.]

The news report cited three biology teachers who said they simply do not teach evolution in their classrooms.

. . . The Education Ministry defended its curriculum.

“Learning the principles of adaptation to the environment is compulsory in middle school,” it told Channel 10. “The theory of evolution itself is taught as an optional class in high schools.”

Optional? Optional? Why is that? It’s high school, and it should be mandatory!

The reason, of course, is that these schools are catering to religious Jews, whose acceptance of evolution is inversely proportional to their religiosity. The government may deny that, but I can’t see any other reasons. The school system is not supposed to dumb down its curriculum to avoid offending the religious.

The article continues:

A 2016 Pew Report found that just over half of Israeli Jews believe in evolution (53%), but huge disparities were found between religious groups on the subject. Just 3% of ultra-Orthodox Jews, 11% of Modern Orthodox, and 35% of traditional Jews believe in evolution. Among the secular, 83% believe humans and other living things have evolved over time, and those with a university education subscribed to the belief more readily – 72%– than those that didn’t – 50%. Some 80% of Russian-speaking Jews believe in evolution.

A majority of Ashkenazi Jews believe in evolution (66%), while only 39% of Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews do. But more Israeli Jews than Arabs believe in evolution (37% of Israeli Arabs).

Natural History Museum: Tear down that curtain!

As I’ve reported before, evolution isn’t mentioned in the Natural History Museum in Tel Aviv, which is even built to look like Noah’s Ark (!), and the Natural History Museum in Jerusalem covers up the evolution exhibits with a curtain when Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) schoolchildren come to visit.  Here are  two photos from my earlier post, showing how the human evolution exhibit is put under wraps to avoid offending ultra-Orthodox Jews. This is the visual equivalent of censoring books (photos from the Times of Israel):

Despite my having written to both museums (who responded), and the Times of Israel having written about my criticism, the Museums are continuing their censorship of evolution. Now, it seems, the government of Israel itself is playing along. This is especially embarrassing to a secular Jew like me, but it shows that no religion is immune from being offended by the scientific truth.

h/t: Ant


  1. Posted October 30, 2018 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Israel is a theocracy. This is what you get in theocracies. All of those yammering for the U.S> to be declared a “Christian Nation,” are ignoring (or probably quite ignorant) of what the consequences are. There are many theocracies and have been even more. The results are readily available in history … if you look for them.

    • Posted October 30, 2018 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      Not a theocracy (yet), but a democracy without protection from infringements driven by religious political parties. Israel never got around to fully writing up a constitution (blame Ben-Gurion), and what is written (the nine Basic Laws) do not contain anything that could be interpreted as separation of church and state.

    • BJ
      Posted October 30, 2018 at 9:57 am | Permalink

      Definition of theocracy from Oxford: “a system of government in which priests rule in the name of God or a god.” Israel is a country with a state religion. So is the United Kingdom.

      Even in the less strict sense of the word, it’s still not a theocracy. A theocracy (like Iran or Saudi Arabia) would impose its religion on citizens who don’t share it and likely persecute them in some way. Not teaching evolution happens all around the US in local school districts, but those districts are not “theocracies.”

      This is a concession to the orthodox special interests, as they’re a strong and growing part of the current coalition.

      • Posted October 31, 2018 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

        “A theocracy … would impose its religion on citizens …”

        As it seems Brazil will …


        • Posted October 31, 2018 at 1:02 pm | Permalink

          “Bolsonaro signaled his intention to promote Christian theocracy for Brazil, declaring:

          God above everything. There is no such thing as this secular state. The state is Christian and the minority will have to change, if they can. The minorities will have to adapt to the position of the majority.”



    • Brujo Feo
      Posted October 30, 2018 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      Actually, Steve, I think that most of the Dominionists know *exactly* “what the consequences are.”

    • Posted October 30, 2018 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

      I must also take issue with your (highly rhetorical) use of the word theocracy. Had you said ‘theocratic tendencies’ it would have been less objectionable, but as it stands your usage dilutes the potency of the term, as well as misrepresenting the nature of Israeli democracy and society.

      Unfortunately I must also object to the odd implication that Christian fanatics in the US would be horrified by the supposed extremity of ‘Israeli theocracy’. I find it more likely they would think it doesn’t go far enough. Israeli-Arabs serve in the government and military; Israeli secret services regularly prevent Christian loons from the US from blowing up the Al-Aqsa mosque.

      In general, non-Israelis who wish to oppose the right wing loons within that country would be more successful if they looked for resonance with like-minded opponents in Israel, rather than writing the entire off.

  2. Mike
    Posted October 30, 2018 at 8:47 am | Permalink

    The World is getting dumber. Damned Religion.

  3. CAS
    Posted October 30, 2018 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    Incredibly stupid and sad. By 2017, almost 150 people of Jewish heritage had received Nobel prizes in science and medicine. That’s significantly more than 1/4 of all prizes awarded from a group making up a few tenths of a percent of the world population. It seems that ignorant, noisy fundamentalists also have an out sized voice in Israel. Catering to religious wackos is more important than educating children?

    • BJ
      Posted October 30, 2018 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      “By 2017, almost 150 people of Jewish heritage had received Nobel prizes in science and medicine.”

      I would guess that almost all of them were Ashkenazi Jews. Multiple studies on the subject have shown Ashkenazi Jews to have the highest average IQ of any ethnic group in the world. In addition, about 80% of the world’s Jews are Ashkenazi.

      • mikeyc
        Posted October 30, 2018 at 10:56 am | Permalink

        It’s “Physiology or Medicine” and from my quick googling, 42% of ALL Nobels awarded have been to Ashkenazi Jews. Since 46 of the 54 Jews (out of 109 Nobels in total) who’ve won the prize in “Physiology or Medicine” were Azhkenazi, you were pretty spot on with your estimate.

      • rickflick
        Posted October 30, 2018 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        Intelligence, then, must be an evolutionary adaptation to conditions in Europe over centuries. It would make sense for the Ashkenazi to believe evolution to be true.

        • mikeyc
          Posted October 30, 2018 at 11:10 am | Permalink

          That doesn’t follow. It is more likely that insular breeding coupled with strong cultural forces are the reason, not “evolutionary adaptation”.

          • rickflick
            Posted October 30, 2018 at 11:31 am | Permalink

            Certainly insular breeding would promote the concentration of genes for intelligence in a population. But cultural forces, I would think, would not necessarily cause a large increase in intellectual capacity. Culture would make expressions of achievement obvious – such as Nobel Prizes. Ashkenazi Jews have a 12 point IQ advantage which means the number of Jews at the high (genius) end of the curve are disproportionately significant.

            • mikeyc
              Posted October 30, 2018 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

              I don’t think a few centuries of human interbreeding is enough generations for adaptation to explain the disproportion. The most parsimonious explanation is intrabreeding population (so alleles associated with intelligence and other things like Tay-Sachs persist) with strong cultural forces in play – intelligence is not solely genetic. The environment one develops in places an enormous role.

              I don’t think claim adaptation is a better explanation.

      • Giancarlo
        Posted October 30, 2018 at 11:30 am | Permalink

        There are some interesting hypotheses (not sure how controversial) about how this appeared among the Ashkenazim – the Jews living north of the Alps and Pyrenees – who came to (or were forced to) occupy a specific social niche (sales, trade, finance) that selected for individuals with high verbal and mathematical skills. This, along with low inward gene flow from other ethnic groups, led not only to greater intelligence but possibly also to some of the characteristic Ashkenazi genetic diseases such as the sphingolipid storage diseases (Gaucher, Tay-Sachs and others.)

      • Jon Gallant
        Posted October 30, 2018 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

        One could argue for a “spandrel” explanation along Gould/Lewontin lines, i.e. accidental result of selection for something else. In this case, I suggest that Nobel Prize-level ability in scientific and medical research could be an indirect consequence of selection for resistance to gefilte fish. In my own case, I could never resist a little gefilte fish, and my work never reach a Nobel level.

        • Posted October 30, 2018 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

          I can resist gefilte, but never a good knish.

      • Posted October 30, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        I am surprised and intrigued by the turn of this conversation. Next stop: eugenics!

        • mikeyc
          Posted October 30, 2018 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

          Woah. What?

          • Posted October 30, 2018 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

            Oh, they were just talking about how a population may have increased the frequency of alleles for intelligence by their breeding patterns. I just made a lighthearted quip.

        • Michael Waterhouse
          Posted October 30, 2018 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

          Oh oh!. Danger danger, approaching forbidden topic, abort truths, abort truths.

        • Michael Waterhouse
          Posted October 30, 2018 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

          Oh oh!. Danger danger, approaching forbidden topic, abort truths, abort truths.

          • Giancarlo
            Posted October 30, 2018 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

            It won’t be called eugenics, but I have no doubt it’s coming down the pike in its new, re-branded market based formulation.

  4. BJ
    Posted October 30, 2018 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, just like Republicans in the US, the cucrent administration in Israel is one that will readily make big concessions to their ultra-religious special interests to maintain power. Religion does it again!

    • eric
      Posted October 30, 2018 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

      IOW the main problem of a representative democracy is it’s representative?
      I’m jesting with you, but to make a point. Hey, at least the Israeli government is bowing to a special interest group that actually reflects a significant portion of their population – vice the US, where the “special interests” that get political action sometimes consist of large money donors who represent practically nobody beyond themselves or a corporate board.

    • Curtis
      Posted October 30, 2018 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Israel problem is exacerbated its version of proportional representation that allows lots of tiny parties to have representative. The largest party in the Knesset has only 25% of the representatives.

      The ruling coalition is made of 3 secular parties and 3 orthodox religious parties. Even though the three religious parties have only 20% of the votes, they get their say when it comes to anything involving religion.

  5. Posted October 30, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    It used to be said that Orthodox Jews, particularly in the US, had a more sophisticated view than Protestant evangelicals, and could accommodate evolution in their theology. That used to be true 100 years ago. But no longer — I have seen on several occasions Haredi (“black-hat”) men pushing creationism, using arguments straight from Answers in Genesis, with no attempt to put their own spin on it. An acquaintance of ours has also asked me to help him with the arguments with his Orthodox son-in-law, as his daughter moved to Israel and married this guy. The father and son-in-law end up arguing, most often, about evolution.

    • Posted October 31, 2018 at 11:39 am | Permalink

      A Lubavitcher rabbi was invited to speak about his beliefs and the sect as part of the sociology of religion course I did as an undergraduate (Winter 1998, McGill.) He provided an excellent (in my view) example of religious syncretism when he answered my question about evolution by citing American Christian creationists.

      • Posted November 1, 2018 at 7:12 am | Permalink

        He was not being a syncretist but was saying that the Christian creationists were syncretists? Or he was being a syncretist by citing their views, approving of them? (Your phrase “provided an excellent example” is ambiguous).

        • Posted November 2, 2018 at 11:30 am | Permalink

          Ah, yes, so it is.

          I meant he cited their views, approving them. (Henry Morris, I believe, was mentioned.)

  6. Posted October 30, 2018 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    I taught in a North London orthodox Jewish faith school for four years (amny years ago). There were many Israelis there, and many more who wished to emmigrate. The teaching of evolution was very much against the school ethos. It was (partly) answering students who wanted to know why I believed in evolution that sparked my career-long interest in the subject. That, and realizing that Stephen Jay Gould had been fibbing to me in my youth. But, thats another story.

    • dabertini
      Posted October 30, 2018 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

      Were those schools similar to ours in Ontario, where most of the day the students study the torah and then after hours spend studying academics? I have a couple of friends who taught science in one of these schools and they found it agonizing. Science texts were censored and they were forbidden to talk about evolution and sex ed. The students spent way too many hours in school. How is this not abusive?

      • Posted October 30, 2018 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

        Yep. That was my experience. I taught maths and psychology, and (at the time) I wasnt particuarly interested in evolution. Not only were science texts censored (physics or geography when the universe is 6000 years old?) there was no internet (only a heavily proscribed “intranet”) and a rabbi wanted to run a magnet over dodgy bits of videos I might show in class. That was when I started to look more deeply into what nonsense they were peddling. I hear that Islamic schools, and some christian ones, are much the same.

  7. Posted October 30, 2018 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    Despite the bad news, I’m glad to see the casual reference to the idea of ‘mentioning’ evolution in Kindergartens. The importance of simply stating this to kids incidentally as a fact is easily forgotten.

    Children and adults are only shocked by evolution if everything they previously heard was that God made them and priests know everything.

  8. Posted October 30, 2018 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    Looks like the screenshot links to a .png, not the ToI article, which can be found here.

  9. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 30, 2018 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    “Among the secular, 83% believe humans and other living things have evolved over time, and those with a university education subscribed to the belief more readily – 72% – than those that didn’t – 50%.”

    I’m having trouble understanding how those percentages stack up.


    • Posted October 31, 2018 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

      Because they’re two different cuts.

      1. Secular v. religious – 83% v. not stated [¿40%?]
      2. Uni edu v. not – 72% v. 50%

      For a population average of (say) ¿60%?


  10. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted October 30, 2018 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Not about Israel but – there was a protest rally outside the New Zealand Parliament yesterday by a few hundred Christians, objecting to the omission of Jesus from the opening prayer (God and the Queen are still in it). The Speaker of the House changed it last year to be more ‘inclusive’.

    Most people (including MP’s that were interviewed) don’t seem to think it’s any big deal.

    Though NZ doesn’t have any First Amendment, most NZers think religion and politics should be kept separate; anyone attempting to campaign on religious grounds is usually guaranteed to lose votes.


  11. Diane G
    Posted October 31, 2018 at 12:30 am | Permalink


  12. Posted October 31, 2018 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    But it’s hard to teach biology without teaching evolution – at least, without crippling students understanding of the subject – because “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution” (Theodosius Dobzhansky, 1973).


  13. Posted November 1, 2018 at 3:58 am | Permalink

    I think it’s left for schools to make the decision.
    My own 5th grader has studied evolution in science class and it’s contrasted to the biblical story in bible class.
    Not that I am happy with high school graduates possibly never learning about evolution, but of the messy state and religion issues in Israel, this isn’t the one I find most disturbing.

  14. Posted November 10, 2018 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

    I with you on this Dr. Coyne.

  15. Posted November 11, 2018 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

    A sad development. I think that we atheists will eventually be out-bred by fundamentalists (of all religions), because the rate of “conversion” to atheism is not enough to balance the breeding advantage of fundies.

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