Sources familiar with the affair said Avital was fired over past statements he had made, in which he questioned evolution and the global warming theory.
Avital, who was named chief scientist in December 2009, said Darwinism should be analyzed critically along with biblical creationism.
"If textbooks state explicitly that human beings' origins are to be found with monkeys, I would want students to pursue and grapple with other opinions. There are many people who don't believe the evolutionary account is correct," he said.
Honestly, I think there is not much difference between firing a religious man for not conforming to mainstream scientific views and imprisoning Copernicus – a scientist who would not conform to mainstream religious views. Moreover, according to the above-quoted excerpt, Dr. Avital’s “sin” was simply his advocating intellectual honesty. All he said was that students should “grapple with other opinions.” Silencing such voices of “heresy” is far easier and more convenient than actually listening to and analyzing that which other intelligent people may be thinking.
Having said that, I believe that religious thinkers - as well as secular ones - should do their best to study the idea of evolution in depth, for I am certain that there is much benefit to be gained by doing so. As I will later show, accepting or rejecting Darwinism can have serious philosophical and practical ramifications.
Ever since the theory of evolution was introduced, it was very difficult for most Jewish thinkers to accept as we will see in Rav Kook’s explanation. But I can think of a simple explanation that can account for many people’s hesitation to get anywhere near the subject: Some scientists deliberately do not differentiate between theory and fact and between facts and their possible interpretations. The fact that for so many people evolution is synonymous with sacrilege is to be blamed on those who try to use the theory to promote their atheistic belief. Most religious responses to this were not thought through deeply, rather were instinctive and natural response to being attacked.
Despite all of the above, the matter should be dealt with boldly, which is exactly what Rav Kook did.
On June 13, 1905, Rav Kook wrote a letter discussing his views on evolution (Igrot Ha’re’aya 1:91). Among other things, he wrote the following:
… even if it became clear to us that the world has developed by way of the evolution of species – still there is no discrepancy [with the Torah]. We count the years in accordance to the simple meaning of the verses of the Torah, which is more relevant to us than any historical knowledge - which has little to do with us. And surely the Torah is ambiguous in regards to creation, and it has spoken with hints and analogies, for everyone knows that the story of creation is included in the secrets of the Torah… And the most important lesson is that which assists us in the knowledge of God and in leading a truly moral life…
Rav Kook moves past what some would view as a major theological problem with ease by stating that the fact that we now count 5772 years since creation is in accordance with the simple reading of the verses but does not necessarily reflect historical and scientific facts. The Torah is first and foremost a book that was given to us by God for us to improve ourselves and the entire world morally. The Torah describes many stories and details which are all true, but there is no reason to assume that this truth always reflects physical realities.
Later in the letter Rav Kook explains that God makes sure that humans are capable of coping with new ideas before he allows those ideas to be revealed. The example he gives is that if thousands of years ago people had known that the world was round, they would have constantly been afraid of falling off the globe (!) and thus would be much less productive. Scientific revelations are rationed by the Almighty so that they will benefit humankind and do no harm.
Yet Rav Kook seems to take a somewhat half-hearted approach by writing expressions such as “even if it became clear”. At this point he is not advocating the idea rather asserting that it does not conflict with Jewish belief. That changed between 1905 and the time he wrote the passages that were published in Orot Ha’kodesh.
In the chapter Hit’alut Ha’olam in the second part of Orot Ha’kodesh Rav Kook writes the following:
The theory of evolution which is now conquering the world is in accordance with the secrets of kabbalah much more than all other philosophical teachings. Development, which takes a track that leads to elevation, is what provides the basis for optimism in the world. For how can we be in despair when we see that everything progresses and is elevated?
Not only can we reconcile the theory of evolution with the Torah, but Darwinism as a theory expresses kabbalistic ideas in the physical world. As it harmoniously blends with the knowledge of the secrets of the Torah by way of mirroring that which occurs in the celestial spheres, evolution is a theory that Rav Kook cherishes and believes should be taught by the scholars of the generation:
Thus this era demands that we spread the idea, the greater, broader and further ideal concept. It is impossible for the lowly structure of faith to be sustained after it has suffered such degradation upon degradation and has wrapped itself with very thick sackcloth.
What had caused Rav Kook to change his attitude from merely viewing evolution as a possibly acceptable theory to full recognition of its spiritual potential? How did his grasp of the matter evolve?
Rav Yoel Bin-Nun of Alon Shvut told me that it is clear that the passages from Orot Ha’kodesh were written after World War I when Rav Kook believed that the world was making progress (as he wrote in some chapters Orot). After the war, Rav Kook saw history flow in harmony with the profound notions of esoteric Jewish teachings and with the theory of evolution that was ever so popular. He saw the “spiritual aesthetics” of kabbalah, history and science all fit together as in a perfect painting.
The main difference between Rav Kook’s outlook and some modern scientists is regarding God’s intervention at some point during the process. There is no question that according to Rav Kook God did install a neshama in man. This is no more puzzling than Him doing so with a clod of dirt. Thus the moral implications that may result from the belief that man is simply a sophisticated ape are obviously not supported by Rav Kook.
But to me, the most important issue that Rav Kook related to regarding this issue is the following:
[The problem is] that it is spiritually hard for people to accept this idea because they have become accustomed to thinking in terms of instant changes and to skipping crucial steps
People think that just because God can snap his anthropomorphic fingers and create whatever He wants, that is surely what He did with creation. People can’t imagine the only truly omnipotent being creating anything through a chain reaction that might take billions of years. But because everything about God is so mysterious and beyond us, why shouldn’t we add His scientific ways to the list?
I find it not surprising that it is Rav Kook and his followers who believe that issues such as the ingathering of the exiles, rebuilding of the Beit Hamikdash and the final redemption can all be milestones within extensive processes as opposed to instantaneous miraculous occurrences. The more I hear people say things such as “when Mashiach comes and we’ll all be in Eretz Yisrael” the more I feel that Rav Kook’s opinion on evolution should be heard.
 My translation - AM.
 This could possibly be attributed to that which I have mentioned earlier, namely the personal interests that some scientists have in promoting the theory.
 Published in 1938 after Rav Kook’s death in 1933.
 As stated later in the passage in a part that I have not translated.
 I believe Rav Kook means that the lack of complexity of thought is a degradation to Jewish thought.
 Rambam in Hilchot Melachim chapter 11 writes that Mashiach will bring all Jews to Israel. This does not mean we cannot start the process and merely let him complete it.