I've been reading The Camel, The Hare & The Hyrax on my subway commute for a few days now. I've actually finished it once through and am in the middle of a second reading.
While on the subway, I make a point of not hiding what I am reading. While I don't deliberately flaunt the book, I dont read with the cover faced downwards either.
I've been noticing some of the reactions that I get when I read this book. Some people either don't notice, don't care, or may not be aware of the controversy. Others have given me "dirty looks."
Last night, someone broke the ice.
As I was standing on the platform in Manhattan, waiting for my train ride home, a young man approched me and said (in a friendly tone) "I don't know if you're aware or not, but that book's been put into cherem."
"Yes," I replied, "I'm aware of the controversy surrounding it."
We actually got into a friendly discussion on the matter of Torah, science, evolution, biology and astronomy (and Rabbi Slifkin). He wasn't the hard-liner I took him for at first, but rather seemed willing to entertain the idea that science might be correct. I actually enjoyed our conversation so much, I missed my stop and had to take a train back in the other direction.
One thing that he said kind of struck me, in that (without having those words) it was the attitude that I had taken for years. The attitude was that of cognative dissonance; the idea that one could two sets of contradicting beliefs, and give them both validity. When I was younger I could blithly read a sefer which posited a literal 6-day/24-hour view of Creation exactly 5765 years ago and then turn around and read a book on astronomy on stellar formation, a process which takes much longer than 5700+ years; and simply ignore the contradictions between the two worlds. It's much like the famous story about the rabbi who hears two litigants arguing in front of him; after the first one makes his case, the rabbi says "You're right." Then after the second one makes his case, the rabbi says to him "You're right too." The rabbi's wife hears this, goes over to him and says "they presented two contradictory cases! How could they both be right?" The rabbi turns to his wife and says "You're also right!"
That was the attitude that I had for quite a few years (even if I didn't have the words "cognative dissonance" to describe it). Once he mentioned it, though, I remembered other occassions where this sort of thing was "officially" accpeted. While the Catholic church denied the Copernican model of the solar system, one could "unofficially" use it if one wanted to know where to find Mars in the sky on any particular night.
I can't pinpoint when it was that I began to slip out of this cognative dissonance, but it was at least a few years ago. It was at that point that I began to better understand the idea that Berashis does not have to be taken completely literally - especially in light of the fact that the most Chareidi person takes other parts of tanach non-literally as well. But once I began to slip out of my cognative dissonance, then I began to better appreciate the miracle that is Creation.
While discussing science vs. Torah (which is a particularly bad way to frame it) with my fellow traveller, I presented my view on the matter. If you're going to accept Torah min ha-Shamayim, and once you get past the silly idea that science is nothing more than a conspiracy to deny God's existence, then what do you have left? The only possibility that you are left with is that science and the Torah *must* reconcile with each other. If a (the Torah) = b (the truth) and c (science) = b (the Truth), then a must equal c - there is no other option. I know that there are those reading this blog who don't accept the first premise (of Torah min-haShamayim). If so, that's fine - I'm perfectly aware that there is no evidence for it and accept the matter on faith and I don't really ask anyone to accept anything on faith. But if you do believe in Torah min-haShamayim, and you're not chasing conspiracy theories about scientists - then the only option to accept is that there is a way to make a reading of Berashis (even if not a 100% literal reading) mesh with scientific findings.