Monday, March 14, 2005

On Evolution, Gallileo and Lilliput

Why does it always seem like religious disputes arise
over the smallest and most unimportant details?

Take this whole controversy over Rabbi Slifkin and his
books. As I understand it, the reason why his works
were banned was because he postulated that animals may
have evolved from earlier creatures and that the
universe may be more than 5765 years old.

But is it really so important? It's not like Rabbi
Slifkin is saying that God doesn't exist. It's not
like he's saying that Creation wasn't a Divine event.
If you asked him, I'm sure he'd say that yes,
creatures evolved, but did not do so randomly, but
under the plan and guidance of the Almighty.

In short, is it really so important whether God pulled
a chicken out of the "dust of the earth" or from an
ancient reptilian ancestor?

The point of Beraishis (Genesis), and the point of
Yiddishkeit in general, is that God created the
universe and all the wonders that exist therein. It
really doesn't make that much of a difference whether
He did it with a Big Bang or if He did it by waving
some magic wand. It's missing the point entirely.

The whole dispute and debate reminds me of Jonathan
Swift's Gullviers Travels. In the book, Gulliver
visits the land of Lilliput. The Lilliputians are
engaged in a terrible war with their neighbor
Blefescu. And what was the war over? It was over
whether eggs should be opened on the narrow end or the
wide end.

Of course, Swift had some organized religions in mind
when he wrote Gulliver's Travels. :)

At least I can take comfort in the fact that Judaism
alone isn't subject to this irrational madness. After
all, Gallileo was persecuted by the Church simply for
expressing preference for the Copernican model of the
Solar System. Nowhere did Gallileo state that God
didn't exist or that the Christian Messiah wasn't his
son. All he did was observe the evidence that he had
and concluded that the model of the Solar System as
postulated by Copernicus was correct. And for that,
he went through all his troubles.

So, did animals evolve from lesser animals? Have
there been millions of years since the Big Bang, or
only 5765 years since the Creation of the World?
Truth to tell, it probably doesn't matter all that
much. The point of Beraishis is that there is a
Creator and Someone who guides the world in Creation.
Anything else is niggling over small details and
missing the forest for the trees.

The Wolf

4 comments:

Enigma4U said...

"So, did animals evolve from lesser animals? Have
there been millions of years since the Big Bang, or
only 5765 years since the Creation of the World?
Truth to tell, it probably doesn't matter all that
much. The point of Beraishis is that there is a
Creator and Someone who guides the world in Creation.
Anything else is niggling over small details and
missing the forest for the trees."

Wolf, of course it matters. In fact, this is ALL that matters. And that explains why our rabbis banned Slifkin and his books. Acknowledging that the world is older than the Torah says it is, or having doubts about the story of creation as told in the Torah, could be detrimental to faith. Do we take the story of Bereishis as God's gospel and believe in a fairy tale, or do we go with evolution, which is backed by scientific evidence? This definitely *does* matter, because Orthodox Judaism requires such an inordinate amount of ritualistic attention to our behavior, dress, conduct, even in the privacy of one's home, delving into every aspect of daily living. If one has doubts about the story of creation, surely this should lead to further analysis of the credibility of the Torah and its laws.

BrooklynWolf said...

Thank you for your reply, Enigma.

Granted, that this matter is of supreme importance, but you've missed one small detail from my post... namely that I accept that there is a Creator. Naturally, if one is going to deny that there is a Creator, then there is nothing much else to discuss - the Torah is the work of men and the mitzvos are an arbitrary set of rules imposesd on us by our fellow man.

My arguement wasn't that Genesis is an outright falsehood, but that rather it can (and perhaps must) be brought into line with modern, rational thinking. Man once believed that the sun revolved around the earth - until Copernicus this was more or less established fact, and some would cite Biblical support for such a position. The fact that we now no different doesn't mean that the Bible is false or that there is no Creator - it means simply that we now have a better understanding of the way God set the universe up. So, in the end, *providing that one accepts God to begin with* whether He brought full blown bears into the world or whether He had them evolve from lesser creatures is certainly an interesting debate, but really misses the point of Beraishis altogether.

The problem really comes into play when one views the Torah as literal, absolute, scientific fact. The Torah is many things, but a science text is not one of them.

The Wolf

Enigma4U said...

Wolf,

You seem to think that the creation story in Genesis must be allegorical in nature, and is not to be taken at face value. If you believe that the Torah is divine, or at least divinely-inspired, how do you explain why God chose to tell us about creation in a way that conflicts with what we already know about evolution and the universe? Why include statements that clearly contradict with what we know about nature, astronomy, biology, anatomy? I would love to know how you reconcile the story of Noach and the deluge? How does a thinking person believe this fairy tale in the context of what we know today.

BrooklynWolf said...

Again, Enigma, thank you for your thoughtful reply.

I believe (and I'll freely admit, without empirical evidence) that where Beraishis and modern science conflict, it's only because we have an imperfect understand of one or both of them. The Torah seems to say that the world is 5765 years old while modern cosmology says that the universe is 15 billion years old? Then we are obviously understanding modern cosmology wrong, or we are understanding Beraishis wrong. Both cannot be true (setting aside Dr. Schroder's book).

Likewise, if the Torah tells us that a flood destroyed all life and modern geology tells us that a worldwide flood could not have occured as laid out in Beraishis, then we simply have a misunderstanding of one or the other, or possibly both. In the end, if the question is unresolved in my lifetime, that's fine too - I already know that I'm not going to get all the answers in life that I seek. I fully believe (again, freely admitted without empirical evidence) that one day there will be a discovery (whether in science or in Torah [provided that independent thought in Torah is not strangled -- but that's another argument for another day) that will reconcile the two.

IOW, I don't think that one must (indeed, I don't think one can) interpret Beraishis completely 100% literally - especially in light of scientific discoveries. I believe that the Torah can be interpreted on multiple levels and does not have to be 100% literally true to have valid meaning to us as Jews, even in today's world.

The Wolf