Thursday, October 15, 2009

Bereishis—Creationism Ex Nihilo

I’ve said before that the Torah sometimes isn’t as “frum” as it is made out to be.

Despite the importunations of the Gemara to not delve too deeply into ma’ashe bereishis [like ma’aseh merkava], I [again] will go out on a limb and proffer the following corollary/analog to my above statement: The Torah is not as creationist as it is made out to be.

This means:

*the sheshes yemei bereishis don’t add up to 144 hours;
*the whole of creation is NOT 5770 years old;
*there may have been “humans” before Adam HaRishon [though not with a neshama];
*evolution is emphatically not in conflict with ikkarei emuna;

The topic has been beaten to death, and all the evidence has been in print [and elsewhere] for a while. Authors such as Aryeh Kaplan, Nathan Aviezer, Gerald Schroeder and Nosson Slifkin have dealt with the topic expertly—and anyone with any modicum of intellectual honesty would be forced to admit that the ban on Slifkin was motivated by edu-political, rather than truly hashkafic, concerns.

Considering the overwhelming evidence, one might even wonder if one who actually believes in the sheshes yemei bereishis following the “creationist” credo might be flirting with what Yeshayahu Leibowitz considered “bibliolatry.” [I, personally, won’t go that far. Or did I just?...]

Instead, the “bibliolatrous” focus deflects from what the bigger fear is: if we have to explain ma’aseh bereishis in a more complicated [i.e. scientific] way, it will call everything else into question. That has been a problem—for people who believe in the “Bible”, as opposed to Torah. The “three stooges”—Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens have mostly focused their attacks on Christianity [as did their “spiritual” forefather, Bertrand Russell], though no one should assume that any of them are sympathetic to Judaism [Hitchens’ evisceration of Chanuka at the end of his most recent tome being a case in point. I respond to Hitchens’ assertions re Chanuka in my upcoming piece on Vayeshev]. We should, however, ultimately remember that the religious right's battles are NOT ours.

Partly in response to the “three stooges”, there’s the “Evolution of G-d” which I haven’t read, but if you read the reviews [particularly Jerry Coyne in the New Republic[1]], it seems as if the book is about the scientific equivalent of the Bible codes [already mathematically debunked by Prof. Barry Simon [2], who definitely has no religious ax to grind.] We do ourselves no favors—and really do not uphold our credibility—when we “force” science to conform to religion [defense of the Torah Codes being paradigmatic: “the Torah is true, so the codes have to be”.] This is nearly as bad as if we express any sympathy for the viewpoints of those who think that creationist museums in Kentucky or Arkansas are representative of the true point of reconciliation between science and religion.

Let’s be clear: I believe in G-d--THE One G-d--and that He is the creator of all things [there can only be One.] I also believe there’s an evolutionary process and He’s behind all of it [if that description is incomplete, fine; that alone doesn’t make me a kofer]. However, I believe that any defense of “creationism” against a perceived conspiracy of science—whether motivated by politics or actual belief—is not Judaism’s most salient option. When G-d Himself says “lulei osi azvu ve’torasi shamaru”, He’s making a point about priorities, almost as if to say: it’s not helping even if you think it is.


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