I was at R. Natan Slifkin's lecture by YU last night. Overall, he gave a very good presentation on Intelligent Design and why he feels it is counter to traditional Jewish teachings.
One of the things that was presented is a subject that has been brought up in the past in his lectures, and indeed, must be brought up when having discussions concerning the origin of the world as it relates to the Torah. That subject is the allegorization of certain episodes in the Torah - in this case, specifically, the first few chapters of B'raishis (Genesis). For those of us who accept the validity of scientific study, then the account of Creation in B'raishis cannot be read 100% literally and must have been, at least to some degree allogorized.
However, I wonder how far we can carry this ability to allogorize Scripture. For example, there is evidence to suggest that a global flood, as described in Parshas Noach did not occur. So, one could also allogorize the story of Noach.
But at what point to do we stop allogorizing Scripture? Or, to put it another way, whether the unvierse was created in seven days or billions of years has no appreciable effect on the way I live my life. I still keep the same mitzvos and traditions regardless of how long it took to create the universe. Likewise, whether or not the story of Noach is literally true might make a small difference on whether or not I would say a Bracha on a rainbow. Beyond that, there is little in Noach that relates to my everyday life. So, I don't have a great difficulty in allogirzing Noach either.
But what happpens when we progress beyond that? If we were to uncover evidence that the Avos did not exist (and yes, I appreciate the fact that lack of evidence is not evidence of lack) then can we "toss them away" as well? It's one thing to say that the people who were the primary audience for the Torah, the people at Sinai, did not have an adequate background in cosmology and physics to understand a 100% literal account of creation (I'm not certain that we do today), but can we say the same thing about the lives of the Avos?
Furthermore, what about the Exodus itself? It's one thing to say that the people who left Egypt couldn't understand a modern cosmological account of Creation, but can you say that they wouldn't understand the concept of the Exodus? Of course not, because they lived through it. But yet, there may be evidence that the Exodus could not have happened literally as described. So what do we do? Allogorize the Exodus? But for what purpose would you allogorize the Exodus to the people who went through it? And, of course, if you come to the conclusion that the Exodus didn't happen and that the whole thing is allogorical, why celebrate Pesach? Why go through the whole ritual (not to mention the trouble of destroying all of one's chometz) if the Exodus didn't happen? Without the symbolism of the events behind them, the matzah, marror and korban pesach lose all meaning.
The question that I suppose I am asking is, what is the limit to which we will allogorize Tanach? Do we stop at Creation? Noah? The Tower of Babel? At what point can we point to a Chumash and say "from here on in, it's pretty much factual?" Or can we allogorize the whole thing away?
Now, before anyone starts thinking that I've gone completely off the derech, let me state that I'm not stating that we should just chalk the Chumash up as a myth (or even as a myth with valid lessons). I do beleive that the Exodus occured and I do believe that the Avos existed and lived their lives more or less as told (although I'm not so certain about the Go-Go dancers in Joseph's prison scene :) ). But nonetheless, the question does need to be asked. From which point onward (if there is such a thing) can we say "before was prehistory and myth and from here onward is history?"