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soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Jewish Thought (6/12)
Section - Question 12.3: Does modern science (e.g., "big bang" theory, evolution, the age of the world) contradict traditional readings of

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Top Document: soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Jewish Thought (6/12)
Previous Document: Question 12.2: Can one doubt G-d's existence and still be a good Jew?
Next Document: Question 12.4: Does modern science contradict liberal readings of the Torah?
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         the Torah?

                                  Answer:
   
   Probably, but science is getting better all the time and one can
   expect agreement eventually...
   
   Seriously, there are numerous neo-traditional readings that put new
   interpretations on various commentaries and are allegedly compatible
   with Orthodoxy.
   
   Judaism has a long tradition of not interpreting the creation narative
   of Genesis 1 literally. Rambam [Maimonides], for example, warns at the
   beginning of his [5]Mishneh Torah that the literal reading of the
   opening of Bereshis [Genesis] is for the masses. [The non-literal
   reading he had in mind was
   metaphysical, not scientific. See [6]The Guide for the Perplexed.]
   Both literalism and non-literalism have a long history, yielding a
   variety of resolutions of the problem of creation and science. Here
   are some solutions:
     * Rejection of scientific data. Since, as one opinion in the Talmud
       has it, Adam was created as a fully mature man of 20, and trees
       were created fully grown, it is clear that this opinion would hold
       that the universe as a whole was formed with a history consistant
       with a natural, scientific, progression. This opinion has three
       dificulties: (1) It implies that G-d created dinosaur bones and
       light from stars further away than 5758 light-years (for otherwise
       how could the light be reaching us yet) for no reason other than
       to provide evidence against creation. (2) What would stop a
       similar argument that the world is 5 minutes old, and all our
       memories, books, and so on have been faked to imply a history. (3)
       How can one ascribe a time to creation? It can't be on the
       Creator's clock, since G-d exists outside of time. Therefore, when
       we speak of "when" creation happened, we mean the begining of the
       universe's timeline. So then how could we talk about G-d creating
       the universe at some point in the middle of the line, allowing
       history to go in both directions -- past and future -- from that
       point? Actually, the former is resolvable if one can provide
       another motive for G-d "planting" dinosaur bones. Perhaps because
       the effects of any event carry through in time. For example, had
       G-d not created light that was as if it already left the stars,
       the earth's sky would be nearly black. Perhaps there is no way to
       have teva today without the illusion that the laws of nature
       always held.
     * Conflict resolution. Invoking relativity or whatnot to show that
       15 billion years can be 5758 years in another frame of reference.
       Perhaps relavity justifies the differences between frames of
       reference. The "birds" of day 5 are actually dinosaurs, which are
       most similar bilogically to birds of any thing living today.
       Creation of the sun on day 4 is actually about the sky clearing to
       the point the sun could be seen on earth, etc... A number of books
       have been printed out in the past few years promoting this kind of
       position.
     * Multiple creation times. This is the approach of the Tiferes
       Yisrael (R' Meir Simchah of Dvinsk, 19th cent). He cites an
       opinion of the tannaim (mishnaic period rabbis) that Hashem
       created worlds and destroyed them before this one. Dinosaur bones
       and starlight are legacies of these earlier worlds. In Gen 1:1,
       G-d creates ex nihilo (matter from nothing). Then, before verse 2,
       these other worlds (in this opinion, epochs) rose and fell. Then,
       there was "chaos and emptiness" from which our world emerged. The
       universe as a whole, even the planet, can therefor be older than
       5758 years. Since current theory is that the world started as a
       singularity -- in other words, not within the purvey of science,
       it is all a matter of faith if the ex nihilo was with the intent
       of the Creator or not. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan quotes R' Yitzchak of
       Akko (a student of the Ramban, late medieval) who concludes from
       the Zohar that the first creation was 15.8 billion years ago --
       the age astronomers and physicists seem to be converging on, given
       multiple ways of measuring the age. The Netziv (R' Naftali Zvi
       Yehudah Berlin), in his commentary on chumash, argues against the
       idea that these earlier worlds left physical evidence. It doesn't
       fit the precise translation of the quote, that G-d "created worlds
       umachrivam -- and destroyed them". Instead, the Netziv points to a
       medrash in which it is explained that the fall of morality in
       humanity in the days before the flood reflected itself in nature.
       Even animals interbread, leading to the monstrosities that
       archeologists find.
     * Rejection of a literal read of the Torah. This is much easier,
       halachically, than it sounds, as there is a long tradition,
       including the Rambam and the Vilna Gaon, teaching that Genesis 1&2
       actually convey deeper truths via metaphor. The gemara, after all,
       limits the number of students (to 2) that one may teach the
       secrets of the Act of Creation -- so clearly we can't just take
       the text at face value. Another commonly sited proof for
       non-literalness is that the word "day" precedes the creation of
       the sun. Therefor, it can't be used, at least in this narative, to
       mean our 24 hour period. 4a-The Maharal (1st intro to Gevuros
       Hashem) teaches that creation is so alien to human experience that
       we don't have a comparison to it. Therefore prophecy, which is
       transmitted by visions, can not describe it. (The World to Come is
       similarly explained. This is why it only appears in Tanach as
       "your days will be prolonged". Continued existance we can
       understand. The rest of the details, no.) However, creation is
       also so alien that we can not understand it by extrapolation,
       either.
       
   There are some Orthodox Jews who believe that Creation occurred over
   5700 years ago and that it took precisely six days. However, today
   many Orthodox Jews believe that it is an open question as to how long
   each of those "days" and "years" were, relative to today's time
   intervals (considering that time itself is one of G-d's creations).
   One can find an array of Orthodox views on the age of the universe,
   the age of the earth, and views on evolution, in "Challenge: Torah
   Views on Science and Its Problems" edited by Aryeh Carmell and Cyril
   Domb, and in Gerald Schroeder's "Genesis and the Big Bang". These
   works attempt to reconcile traditional Jewish texts with modern
   scientific findings concerning evolution, the age of the earth and the
   age of the Universe. Prominent Orthodox rabbis who affirm the veracity
   of scientific findings in these areas include Aryeh Kaplan, Israel
   Lipschitz, Sholom Mordechai Schwadron (the MaHaRSHaM), Zvi H. Chajes,
   and Abraham Isaac Kook.
   
   Remember, the current scientific perspective is simply our best
   understanding of what G-d did. Two hundred years ago, that best
   understanding was different than it is today, and two hundred years
   from now, it will be different again. In effect, we believe in the
   Torah, and we use science as the current "best bet" (but certainly
   don't take it as seriously as we take the Torah).
   
   A rabbi in the Los Angeles area mused that perhaps the year count is
   based on the end of creation, when mankind had achieved intelligence.
   Certainly all of man's recorded history fits within the almost six
   thousand years. The time before "year 1" can be considered before the
   system was in multiuser mode :-).
   
   What about Dinosaurs, you ask. Well, there are midrashic sources that
   certainly hint at the possibility of dinosaurs (or, at least, of some
   critters that were parts of earlier "creations," in the tradition that
   G-d created Universes before our own).
   
   You should also consult [7]the section in the general part of the
   Reading Lists on Science and Judaism. There you will find books that
   explore the relationship of Judaism and science.

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Top Document: soc.culture.jewish FAQ: Jewish Thought (6/12)
Previous Document: Question 12.2: Can one doubt G-d's existence and still be a good Jew?
Next Document: Question 12.4: Does modern science contradict liberal readings of the Torah?

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