Monday, July 24, 2006

The Wolfish Theory Of Creation

Inspired by R. Aryeh Kaplan and R. Natan Slifkin.

Please keep in mind that this is simply my pet theory of creation. It has no special standing and please feel free to critique it and point out any flaws/errors that you may find.

As we all know, much ink has been spilled and many electrons disturbed over the perceived conflicts between the current scientific understanding of the origin of the universe and the literal Torah account of God's creation. What I propose is a reconciliation of those two accounts while maintaining a fairly close literal reading of chapter 1 of Beraishis (Genesis) and while adhering (as much as possible) to current scientific understanding. In no way do I claim that all differences will be reconciled.

My theory of creation rests on Chaos Theory. In short, chaos theory (also known as the butterfly effect) states that small changes at the start of any given system can have enormous differences in the end-state of that system. The theory was later popularized by the Ray Bradbury story "A Sound Of Thunder."

Another aspect of chaos theory is that events that are seemingly random can, in fact, be deterministic. A deterministic result is a result, which, fed the same input, will always produce the same result. For example, a function that doubles a number is deterministic, because when fed any given value, will always produce the same result. If you fed the function "2," it will always return "4" no matter how many times you run it. A non-deterministic function, on the other hand, may return a different value every time. For example, a function that multiplies a number by a random number is non-deterministic, since it will produce different results each time it is run.

There are actions that we perform in our everyday lives that seem random, but, in fact, are deterministic. Take the roll of a die, for example. The result of the roll is seemingly random and (assuming the die is balanced and weighted equally on all sides) will, over the long haul, have each side come up about 1/6 of the time. Which side will come up on the next roll, however, usually seems random.

In reality, however, the result isn't random at all. The result of a die roll is really a function of how the die is held, the arc with which it is thrown, the surface it lands on, the spin put on it while it is thrown, air resistance, any intervening objects that it might hit on the way and probably a few other factors that I missed. The point is that if you could successfully account for all these factors, you could predict the result of every throw of the dice. Using the same method, you could determine the result of a flipped coin or the next throw of the Roulette wheel. These actions, while seemingly random, are, in fact, deterministic if one knows all the variables that surround the particular action.

However, it is important to note that any slight change in any of the factors going into the function can have dramatic effects on the result. A change in how I hold the dice before they are thrown can change the result from snake-eyes to boxcars.

So, to get to our point...

In the beginning God created the universe. As the next verse tells us, the "earth" was void and without form (tohu va'vohu). The universe, left alone at that point right after the Big Bang, would have produced nothing. Perhaps simple elements such as hydrogen and helium might never have formed. But on that first day (and you can translate day as a literal 24-hour period if you like... or you can use some other time period if you prefer) God made a quantum change in some or all of the matter in the universe -- and light became possible. It may not have existed at that time. Perhaps God only made a small change at the beginning of creation which may have made light possible later on down the road, via the butterfly effect.

The later days of creation follow a similar pattern. On the third day, God made a minute change to some of the matter of the universe which allowed for the eventual appearance of dry land on earth. Perhaps, without that change, the Earth might have been a planet resembling Water World. That doesn't mean that the dry land appeared on the actual third day of creation (in all likelihood, there was no earth yet for there to be dry land on), but it was God's actions on that day that allowed for the eventual appearance of dry land... and plants.

On the fourth day, God set in motion the chain of events that would result in stars, galaxies and the formation of the solar system. Had He stopped then, perhaps we would have had a dead earth; much as the other planets in the solar system which support no life. God changed that on the fifth day with more small changes, which allowed for aquatic life to form. On the sixth day, God set in motion the sequence of events that would result in terrestrial life and man. And on the seventh day, God changed nothing, and in commemoration of God's ceasing of creative activity, we cease creative activity each week.

With this theory, you can probably have the best of both worlds. You can translate "yom" to mean a 24-hour day - when God made His changes are (to us) irrelevant. You can have evolution, cosmology and geology as well. The world appears to be billions of years old because it *is* billions of years old. More complex life forms evolve from more primitive life forms because they *did*. But in the end, God created them all in six days (and you can even say literal days) because He alone could account for all the variables that would be required to achieve the desired result. He alone could determine how the change of spin on one electron in the primordial chaos could allow for wonderful panoply of life that we see around us. And He alone could do so in six days and then "sit back" as the results unfolded over billions of years.

Part of this was inspired by something I read from R. Aryeh Kaplan. In his book Facets and Faces, he discusses miracles and how God likes to work within nature rather than disrupting the natural order of things. In his work, he takes the example of a ball. A ball is composed of an incredible number of molecules, all moving in a chaotic jumble. Usually, the result of this chaos is that the movements of all the molecules cancel out and external forces are allowed to act upon the ball. Thus, when you let go of the ball, it falls - because the motion of the individual molecules cancel each other out and gravity is allowed to act upon the ball. However, questions R. Kaplan, what if all the molecules in the ball suddenly moved upwards together? The result is that the ball would move upwards (assuming that it had the force to overcome gravity, of course). The chances of all of the molecules of the ball suddenly moving in any one direction are astronomical - you could probably wait billions and billions of years before it might happen naturally. But if it did happen, it would certainly seem miraculous.

He then goes on to talk about Krias Yam Suf (the Parting of the Sea). Of course, water, like the ball in our previous example, behaves in expected ways because the movement of the molecules of water will cancel each other out, allowing gravity (or other forces) to act upon them. However, what if, during the week of creation, God "planned" for the molecules of water in the Sea to suddenly "jump up" and form walls and passageways. Certainly such a thing happening by itself would be highly improbable - to the point where the odds against it couldn't be described using our nomenclature. But God, on the other hand, could have "fixed" the odds during creation, so that at the precise moment that the Jews would need to go through, the molecules would be in the proper state to cause the highly, highly, highly improbable to happen. It probably wouldn't even take much - change a few hydrogen molecules at some point during creation and let the result unfold when needed millions of years later.

It was when contemplating this "theory" of his that I thought that the same could apply to creation itself. What if God, at the outset, during the first week after the Big Bang, manipulated events so that the end result is what we see now. What must seem to us to be random events (the placement of the earth in the solar system, the placement of the solar system within the galaxy, the formation of life and the myriad of species on the planet) are all deterministic for God, who has the ability to compute all the variables necessary for the universe to turn out the way it did.

So, that's my theory. I can't vouch that it's correct. I certainly can't claim that it is a scientific theory as, short of direct Revelation, it is cannot be tested and is unfalsifiable. I can’t vouch that it will shtim with every Rishon and Acharon (in fact, I can guarantee that it won’t). But it’s still a pretty good one, IMHO. Of course, if you don't like my theory, there is always 42.

What do you think? I'd love to hear...

The Wolf

14 comments:

J said...

the obvious problem to me is almost nothing in Genesis is in the correct order (i.e. like the earth appearing before the sun and stars).

It's kind of hard to take anything there literally even in light of a non-literal understanding of time. There are just so many more more problems.

Orthoprax said...

Wolf,

"The point is that if you could successfully account for all these factors, you could predict the result of every throw of the dice."

Except Heisenberg gets all uncertain on us.

Quantum physics indicates that the universe isn't actually run by determined mechanisms and hence little changes at one point in time do not guarantee a specific result in the future.

In any case though, God could potentially by 'guiding' the quantum indeterminancy the entire way down from the Big Bang to today.

Larry Lennhoff said...

First a minor quibble - The Butterfly effect was first called by that name in 1972 whereas the Bradbury story was written in 1952.

Your argument seems to be a standard 'God of the gaps' argument. But I think the gaps it seeks to hide in have already been filled - modern cosmology believes all the natural constants were set by a few seconds after the big bang. I'm not sure what precisely could have been tweaked one day after the bang to create light, etc.

My personal theory is that Hashem is omnipotent, and hence is fully able to use the literary tools of allegory and metaphor. Accordingly I look to Bereshis not for details in how to build a universe, but rather for moral and theological lessons. I suspect that there are some deep lessons in Hashem's decision to write a metaphorical story about creation that is not also literally correct.

Enigma4U said...

Trying to fit the story told in Genesis into what science has already determined is a painful, masochistic excercise, because the data simply doesn’t fit current knowledge. Let's see some of the problems you will run into:

Look at Pasuk 5, where “the evening and the morning” are called “the first day.” The immediate problem we have with this reading is that the sun is not created by God until Pasuk 16, when the events of the fourth day are described. Our 24-hour day is based on the earth’s revolution on its axis relative to the sun. This should be our first clue that the narrative in Genesis is not meant to be taken as a scientific explanation. An “evening” and a “morning” – even a “day” – makes no sense without the sun.

A similar problem arises in Psukim 11 and 12, where plants appear. Again, we have not reached the point in the creation narrative where the sun has been created, yet we have plants growing. This is fairly elementary: photosynthesis is a critical factor in plant growth, but obviously, the author of Genesis was not aware of the need for the sun to be created first. So you may say that God can do anything, and chose this order for creation. But why do that? The only reason to do that is because the position was taken beforehand that Genesis must contain a scientific description of the creation of the universe.

Chapter 2 presents us with more problems, specifically, two conflicting creation accounts. First, Man is the obvious focal point of this creation narrative, appearing in Pasuk 7 after an explanation that no plants were on the earth because there was “no man to till the ground”. Now what does that mean? Will plants only appear if Man is there to tend to them? Do plants really require Man to plant the seeds and water the ground in order to live? The weeds in my yard say, “No.” There is a problem with this statement as it is written if Genesis is to be taken as a scientific text.

Reading on, Man is created (Pasuk 7), God places him in a “garden” (Pasuk 8), and makes trees come out of the ground in the garden (Pasuk 9). The obvious reading in Psukim 5 through 9 is that Man needed to be created before plants – a clear problem when we try to reconcile it with the discussion in Chapter 1, where plants were created before Man. Yes, God could have made some “new” trees appear in this “garden”, and the narrative might only have been referencing them in this creation act. But why force this reading on the text? Why not read it simply as it is written?

Next, we are told in Pasuk 18 that God sees Man alone and wants to make a “helper comparable to him”. So, immediately after this (Pasuk 19), God forms beasts and birds – in a nutshell, the animal kingdom. Again, we have a problem when we attempt to reconcile this with Genesis 1, where animals are created before Man (1:21-25 versus 1:26).

Finally, God sees that the animal kingdom doesn’t sufficiently solve the problem of man’s loneliness, and creates Woman. This creates yet another difficulty when we try to reconcile Genesis 1 and 2, since chapter one clearly shows that man and woman were created in the same act (1:27).

And then there are the obvious questions that arise upon further reading. The story of a global flood is difficult to swallow, unless you think that God took the time to erase all geological evidence of its occurence. Similarly, the story of the instantaneous development of languages doesn't bear out to what we know about how languages actually developed. And we're only about 4 chapters into Genesis.
The questions are too numerous, and the answers too convoluted.

When believers attempt to twist
the Genesis story to fit with science, the end result is that it moves their camp just a little closer to being irrelevant in today’s world.

It's difficult to admit, I know, but Genesis is no better at explaining the universe than any of the ancient creation stories told by other cultures.

BrooklynWolf said...

Thank you, everyone, for your comments so far.

J,
the obvious problem to me is almost nothing in Genesis is in the correct order (i.e. like the earth appearing before the sun and stars).

The beauty of this theory is that it doesn't matter - the Earth may not have appeared before the sun and stars -- just that the *potential* for it's creation occured first.

Orthoprax,
Except Heisenberg gets all uncertain on us.

I did forget to take Heisenberg into account when giving my example. But, of course, the uncertainy principle should not stop God from determing the position and direction of any particular particle.

Lenny,
First a minor quibble - The Butterfly effect was first called by that name in 1972 whereas the Bradbury story was written in 1952.

Fair enough. However, the error on my part does not really affect the theory presented.

Your argument seems to be a standard 'God of the gaps' argument.

I wasn't even aware of such an argument... I'll have to research this.

modern cosmology believes all the natural constants were set by a few seconds after the big bang. I'm not sure what precisely could have been tweaked one day after the bang to create light, etc.

Well, HKBH could have said "yehi ohr" in the first second after the Big Bang.

My personal theory is that Hashem is omnipotent, and hence is fully able to use the literary tools of allegory and metaphor.

I agree with you that Beraishis doesn't have to be read literally and could be metaphor. But if it can be made to fit, why not?

Enigma,
Using the terms "day," "night," "morning," etc. without the presence of the sun/moon is not as big a difficulty as you might think. Beraishis uses "future terms" in sevral places. The first that comes to mind is during the War of the Kings when the area known as "S'dai HaAmaleiki" is used -- even though Amalek didn't, as yet, exist.

Again, we have not reached the point in the creation narrative where the sun has been created, yet we have plants growing

You seem to have missed the point. I wasn't proposing that plants actually grew on Day 3, but rather that God created the potential for plant growth (whenever it should occur) on Day 3. It's as if saying that a person planted an oak tree -- you don't really mean that he planted the tree that day, but the seed, which has the future potential for the seed.

Chapter 2 presents us with more problems

I know that the theory doesn't fit nearly as well with Chapter 2. But as I answered earlier, it doesn't have to be taken literally.

And then there are the obvious questions that arise upon further reading. The story of a global flood is difficult to swallow

I agree. I wasn't trying to reconcile all of Beraishis... just Chapter 1.

The Wolf

Larry Lennhoff said...

For more information, see G-d of the gaps on wikipedia.

P.S. Please try to use Larry and not Lenny. No insult taken, I just prefer being addressed by my first name, not a diminuitive of my last.

BrooklynWolf said...

P.S. Please try to use Larry and not Lenny

My apologies. I guess I didn't read it clearly and saw "Lenny." I honestly thought that was your first name.

The Wolf

Larry Lennhoff said...

It is a very common mistake. That is why I don't get upset by it, I just try to correct it.

Orthoprax said...

Wolf,

"But, of course, the uncertainy principle should not stop God from determing the position and direction of any particular particle."

That would rightly be called a miracle. The inability to accurately measure the particle is not because of a failure in the mechanism of measuring but because of the actual indeterminancy of the 'particle' in the real world.

You can't pin down a particle because the particle is literally not there. There is no 'particle.'

QM throws to hell all of the common knowledge we think we have about the world.

Most people don't bring QM into theological discussions since it really is difficult to think about in its counterintuitive nature, but the idea of God bringing order from chaos often seems fitting to me.

Mis-nagid said...

"In short, chaos theory [...] states that small changes at the start of any given system"

Wrong. Not "any given system." Chaotic systems. Only some systems are chaotic.

The rest of it is even worse. Drivel from someone who knows his science from movies and Torah from cheder.

BrooklynWolf said...

Larry,

I've looked at the Wikipedia article you linked to, but I don't see the connection. Can you elaborate on why this is a "God of the gaps" argument?

Mis-nagid,
Welcome back! I thought you had stopped reading my blog!

Of course, I should have known that you would "love" my theory. However, to point out, it should have been clear that I don't get my science from movies but from Douglas Adams books.

Seriously, however, perhaps my characterization of Chaos Theory was a bit off... but I suppose you could also term the state of Creation after the BB as chaotic.

In any event, I explicitly stated at the end of the post that this theory wouldn't pass scientific muster since it's not a scientific theory.

Nonetheless, would you care to elaborate further on why the Science and Torah are both bad? I'd like the opportunity to fine-tune the theory (or toss it entirely) with your further feedback.

The Wolf

Larry Lennhoff said...

It is a G-d of the gaps theory because you are assuming that by some unknown mechanism Hashem set up things in the first few 'days' so that the universe would evolve as it did much later.

As soon as the knowledge of physics reaches the point where we can show it is not possible for events during those 'days' to have that kind of effect, you'll have to come up with another explanation based on an area where then-contemporary science does not yet have an explanation.

In fact I think you'd have to do that already - as I said, I can't think of way within contemporary physics to achieve your goals in the timeframe you want. I think the science for those times are pretty well settled, but I am not a physicist - I could be wrong.

Rebeljew said...

This is essentially the view of chasidus on the subject of creation. Famously, there is a machlokes whether 1 Nissan or 1 Tishrei is the day that Adam was created. The conclusion is that 1 Nissan was the creation "in thought", 1 Tishrei "in action". I think you present an interesting practical presentation of this concept.

DYM said...

If God had built on all subsequent events
into the moment of Creation, does that
mean that we are talking about merely
a watchmaker God?

Or do we say that because God is outside of time, it does not make sense to say that God was present at creation, but was not actively involved afterwards?

There used to be a computer game that involved making simple molecules. The idea is that you would at first locate the building blocks (atoms) around the board, and then press Go. The atoms would then assemble themselves into mollecules using the game's preset algorithm. Your challenge as a player/creator was to arrange the mollecules in a fashion that would produce the needed arrangement.