We tend to think that opposition within the Abrahamic religions to the teaching of evolution and sex education in schools is driven by Christians and Muslims, and that the Jewish religion is more flexible in its ability to interpret its scriptures and thus has no problems with either.
My first realization that this was not true was when I was hired over a decade ago to evaluate to the science curriculum at the Jewish day schools in the Cleveland area and suggest ways that it could be improved. In order to learn what they did, I visited the various schools and talked to the science teachers and administrators and looked at the textbooks and curriculum they used.
The schools run by the Reform branch of Judaism seemed to have few major problems with those topics and seemed to take an attitude similar to what one finds in liberal Christian circles. But the Orthodox schools, and to a lesser extent the Conservative ones, were conflicted. In addition to the problem of high turnover because many of their teachers were part-timers who left when they got better paying jobs or their spouses moved, the schools had serious problems with the ‘controversial’ nature of some of the science material.
The teachers told me that when it was time to teach evolution, they would not do it themselves but would call in the resident rabbi so that he could teach a ‘kosher version’ (my phrase, not theirs) of the material that did not contravene rabbinical doctrine. What I found most startling was looking at the science textbooks and finding that they had some pages stapled together. When I asked why, the head of one school told me that she personally had to go through all the science textbooks and do this in order to hide pages that dealt with controversial material so that students would not see images or content that was objectionable. To her credit, she seemed kind of embarrassed at having to admit this.
It turns out that this is a problem in the Israeli education system as well. I had not realized that in that country, evolution was not required to be taught in schools but was an optional subject. That policy has changed just recently but it will be taught in an ambivalent way, using language that will be familiar to those in the US who went through the evolution wars with its “It’s only a theory!” and “Teach the controversy!” nonsense.
You might think that up until now, all of Israel’s public high school students studied evolution, and that its study had only been only optional for younger students – but that isn’t true.
Evolution was an optional part of high school the biology curriculum and, just like with middle school students, most high school students were never taught it.
But now all that will apparently change.
Professor Nava Ben-Zvi,, the chairwoman of the professional advisory committee – which has several Zionist Orthodox members – expressed both the need to teach evolution while at the same couching that need in way that presents evolution almost as an unproved theory rather than the empirically-based fact-supported science that it actually is – an indication of how prominent Dark Ages religion and Dark Ages science still is in a country that ironically was founded largely by secular Jews who had rejected that religion and its superstitions. [My italics-MS]
So Israeli science education policies in these areas seem to be actually more regressive than what we have in US public schools.
It is not possible to have a god-based religion that does not have problems with at least some aspects of science, which reflects the fundamental incompatibility between science and religion. This is because at some level, god-based religions have to believe in the existence of the supernatural and this is anathema to science because you just cannot reconcile science with the existence of supernatural forces. The only way to avoid open conflict is for religions to abandon doctrines that obviously conflict with science but religions are only willing to go so far in doing so. After that they pretend that the deeper and irreconcilable conflicts do not exist.