Argument by Design ver. 4.0

Ver 1.0:Medrash Temurah:

“G-d created” (Gen. 1:1): A hereic came to Rabbi Aqiva and asked, “Who made the universe?”. Rabbi Aqiva answered, “Haqadosh barukh Hu“. The heretic said, “Prove it to me.” Rabbi Aqiva said, “Come to me tomorrow”.
When the heretic returned, Rabbi Aqiva asked, “What is that you are wearing?”
“A garment”, the unbeliever replied.
“Who made it?”
“A weaver.”
“Prove it to me.”
“What do you mean? How can I prove it to you? Here is the garment, how can you not know that a weaver made it?”
Rabbi Akiva said, “And here is the world; how can you not know that Haqadosh barukh Hu made it?”
After the hereitc left, Rabbi Aqiva’s students asked him, “But what is the proof?” He said, “Even as a house proclaims its builder,a garment its weaver or a door its carpenter, so does the world proclaim the Holy Blessed One Who created it.

One can argue that Rabbi Aqiva’s students realized that his proof was far from rigorous. His reply revolves around giving a parable to make the conclusion self-evident. Not contructing a deductive argument.

Ver 2.0:

The Rambam’s version of the proof in Moreh Nevuchim II invokes the Aristotilian notions of form and substance. We find that without an intellect giving the process a desired end product, natural processes reduce forms from functional to non-functional. People make objects out of metal, nature takes the substance and eventually turns it into a useless lump of rust.

Therefore, the notion of an infinitely old universe is untenable. In an infinite amount of time, all functional forms would have disintegrated.

Ver 3.0:

This is roughly the same argument as the Rambam’s, brought up to date with 19th century thermodynamics. Rather than speaking of functional forms, we recast the question into one of a lack of entropy.

All processes require an increase of entropy. Entropy is simply a fancy word for what boils down to randomness in the small scale. A visible state has more entropy if its molecules are more random. When you spill a drop of ink into water, the ink spreads until it’s all a light blue liquid. Entropy increased. In microscopic terms, the molecules of ink and water started out nearly ordered, with all the ink in one spot at the surface of the water, and ended up an even random mixture of ink and water molecules.

Given an infinitely old universe, entropy would be at a maximum. All of existance would be a thin mixture of nuclear particles, or perhaps hydrogen atoms.

The requirement that entropy increase does not rule out evolution. Entropy could be decreased in the order and design of living beings at the expense of increased randomness elsewhere, say in the arrangement of molecules in the air, or of energy or even a thin stream of atmosphere leaking off the earth. If the increase in entropy offsets the decrease inherent in life, the ledgers are okay.

ver 3.5

In the 20th century science accepted the notion of the Big Bang, and finally realized the universe has a finite age. The challenge shifted from proving the universe has a finite age to proving that the origin shows intent.

The entropy version of the argument can make the transition. By definition, low entropy states are unlikely ones. In fact, Roger Penrose in The Emperor’s New Mind computes just how unlikely. Given the current estimate of 1060 nuclear particles in the universe, the probability of the universe begining in a low entropy state is 1010123. That’s a number so huge, it has 10123 zeros in it!

To assume that the universe shot odds that long is irrational. Clearly the moment of origin wasn’t random, and statistics isn’t a meaningful way to model it.

ver 4.0

However, using information theory we can raise questions about the existance of ordered items, from atoms to stars and solar systems to the evolution of life.

Much has been made of the notion of “irreducible complexity“, introduced by Michael Behe, a biochemist. If some living system requires multiple parts, each of which serve no purpose alone, how did the system evolve? How can the mutations that produce part A be coordinated with those that produce part B? He therefore argued that evolution demonstrates intelligent design, that there is a Designer who is loading the dice, doing that coordination base on his desired end goal.

However, there is also a standard reply. Perhaps the organism had an A’ that was part of a different function, and a B’ used either for this function on its own, or in a third system. Then, as A’ and B’ shifted to make this new system, the new system made the old functions obsolete (e.g. there’s a new means of locomotion, and now the fins are redundant) and A and B emerged to more simply address the new, more efficient, method of solving the need.

Chalmers definition of “information” (as opposed to Claud Shannon’s earlier definition, still used in telecommunication) makes a distinction between two kinds of unpredictability: information and noise.

Take a stream of information. Fortunately people today are pretty well exposed to the notion that any such stream can be transmitted as a sequence of ones and zeros. If there are patterns in that sequence, we can reduce them by simply describing the pattern rather than sending each one. A message that is composed of 10101010… for 1 million bits (spots that could be either 1 or 0) can be sent quite concisely, as something representing (“10″ repeat a million times). One needn’t send 2 million bits to do it. Even if certain sequences of bits are more frequent (such as that representing the word “However” in one of my postings) we can give them a shorthand and sent the sequence in fewer bits. This is how information is compressed in zip files or the advertised 5x speed enhancement on dial up connections. Claude Shannon, the father of Information Theory, defined information in a message as the minimum number of bits (spots that could be either 1 or 0) with which it could be represented. Therefore randomness, which can not be reduced to a description of an algorithm, contains the most information.

John von Neumann, in his seminal speeches on Automata Theory (published as a book in the 1950s), spoke about the information content inherent in a machine. You can compare two machines by looking at the number of bits it would take to describe them. If the machine has fewer parts, it will require fewer bits. Similarly if the parts are simpler. Also, if the parts do not require the same precision in order for the machine to work, one can describe them in fewer bits. von Neumann found that machines below a certain information threashold can only make machines simpler than themselves.

These automata, this interacting collections of parts, is Behe’s irreducibly complex system presented in other terms. And von Neumann usefully gives us a method for measuring them.

As opposed to Claude Shannon’s definition of “information”, G J Chaitin launched a feild called “algorithmic information theory” that gives a generalized version of von Neuman’s measure to define “information”. Randomness comes in two sorts: information that is useful to the message, and noise, the static that garbles it. Information is only that which is necessary to describe the message to the precision necessary to reproduce what it describes.

So how did complex automata, such as life, emerge? Invoking the roll of randomness and evolution, von Neumann argues that proto-life (or the proto-solar system) did not produce the information in the resulting system itself. Information came in from the outside.

That outside information is provided by evolution involves two basic steps: the introduction of mutations, and the filtering process of which mutations survive. Yes, mutations add randomness and Shannon-information to the system. But why would that randomness be Chaitin-information rather than noise? In fact the leading cause of the static on your radio is the very source of many of the mutations that evolution requires — cosmic radiation. It would be like the probability of static just happening to produce the recipe for an award winning pie. (Actually, that’s a huge understatement.) Needless to do the math to show that even in 5 billion years, it just won’t happen.

To make the probabilities more likely, one needs to invoke “survival of the fittest”. It’s not billions of years of distinct rolls of the dice, but the successful rolls are links and combine. The flaw here is a shift in the definition of “successful”. Successful at surviving is not correlated to the notion of being part of an automaton in the future. The evolution of “part A” in some irreducible system is not more likely because it can come from A’, which is useful alone. One needs to also look at the likelihood of A’ arising, the likelihood that it could be reused, that there is a path from one system to another, etc… Since they’re uncorrelated, once you multiply the probabilities together, you couldn’t have improve the odds over simply tossing a coin for each bit.


Which argument is most convincing? Version 4.0, based on math, many models of the cosmology, geology and biology of our origins, but very rigorous, or Rabbi Aqiva’s simple appeal, using a comparison, to show how the point should be self-evident? The ver 1.0, being closest to reducing the claim to a postulate, carries for me the most appeal.Rabbi Aqiva gives us the tools for emunah. Building on that emunah, we can understand it in greater depth, subtlety and beauty using these more formal forms of the argument. But the formality hides the dependence on assumptions from which to reason, not replaces them.

Rav Dessler’s Approach to Creation

(You might want to see also Different Approaches to Creation, a survey that just touches on a variety of opinions, as well as Divine Timelessness.)
I think that in order to understand Rav Dessler’s position about the nature of time during ma’aseh bereishis one needs to start with MmE vol II pp 150-154, aptly titled “Yemei Bereishis veYemai Olam“. Comments of my own that I feel can’t wait for the end of the maamar are in square brackets.
Rav Dessler opens by defining the nature of time-as-we-know-it. In the first two paragraph he establishes the connection between time and free will. The flow of past to future is that of desire to fulfillment.In the section “Havchanas haZeman“, Rav Dessler points out that time passes as a function of the number of experiences we have. When we have more experiences, we have more opportunities for choice, for fulfilling desires.

But while man’s choice now revolves around many issues, Adam qodem hacheit [AQH] had only one choice, and therefore didn’t have the same connection to the flow of time. [pg. 151] We can not understand what time was like to AQH.

The next section is “Zeman Sheishes Yemei Bereishis“. It opens with the assertion that since the 6 days of bereishis were before the completion of creation, the havchanas hazeman was different. The six days are “diberah Torah kelashon benei adam” (the Torah talks like the language of people), that the Torah’s discussion of ma’aseh bereishis (the act of creation) is like explaining something to a blind person by drawing parallels to touch.

[Does that qualify as justifying allegorization of the narrative altogether? His phrase is "bederekh dimyon" (in the manner of comparison). But at least with regard to time, Rav Dessler is saying the Torah's terminology is one of dimyon, not literalness.]

Rav Dessler quotes the Ramban (1:3) who explains that the 6 days were literal days of hours and minutes, and also the 6 sephiros from Chesed to Hod. According to Rav Dessler this means that to our perception it would be 6 literal days, but the core of the issue is that of 6 sephiros. The Bahir says that this is why the pasuq says “ki sheishes yamim” — through these 6 days, 6 sephiros — “asah H’ es hashamayim ve’es ha’aretz…” – Hashem made the heaven and the earth….

[Sidenote: The Rambam also identifies the days of creation with steps of unfolding creation, rather than a measure of time. See this entry.]

[pg 152] Rav Dessler again quotes the Ramban (this time, 2:3) who draws parallels between the 6 days and the subsequent 6 millennia. The Ramban sometimes says that one is “romeiz” (hints at) the other, sometimes “kenegdo” (corresponding to it), and sometimes the actual identification — that the day “hu” (it is) the millennium. From this Rav Dessler concludes that the Ramban identifies the two — the current millennium is the same thing as the Friday of creation, which seems to us to be a hint to it, or corresponding to it.

The Gra identifies the 6 days with the subsequent 6 millenia, and [pg 153] had Adam not eaten from the eitz, the world would have only lasted those 6 days, and the first Shabbos would have been olam haba. And in the end of days everything will return to their maqor. And (emph Rav Dessler’s or Rav Aryeh Carmell’s) “the present is this time, which is knowledge of good and evil.” Rav Dessler understands the Gra to mean that the six millenia we’re living through is a post-sin perception, it is entirely a product of our knowledge of good and evil.

The last section “Zeman: Qevi’as Mahuso” (Time: Establishing His Nature) takes it’s name from the nature of the person. With each moment and each impression, some of the potential of the person is actualized. People think of themselves as stable, and the world moves around them. But this is an error.

It says in Nidah 30b that a baby before birth sees “from the end of the world until its [other] end”. But when he’s born, he enters the hiding caused by time, the unity of creation speaking the Unity of the Creator is concealed, and only the present seems real. In the world of action (olam ha’asiyah), every moment is fixed by the action. [pg 154] Every moment following the Torah adds some light to his mahus, and similarly ch”v in the reverse. Through his free will [thus connecting this definition of the time to the one in the opening of the lecture] he establishes his nature, thereby giving a flow to time.

Rav Dessler compares our perception of time to looking at a map through a piece of paper with a small hole in it. One can move the hole from city to city along the roads. But that progression is a product of how we’re looking at the map, not the map itself. After death, the paper is removed, and one can see the entirety — not a progression.

Hashem is the One Who “looks until the end of generations” because He can see the whole. Rav Dessler closes with an exhortation to learn Torah, do mitzvos, cling to the truth, to rise beyond seeing the world through a little hole in the paper.


Some more of my own thoughts:
Rav Dessler holds that time-as-we-know-it flows, time-as-AQH-knew-it barely flowed, and time before AQH didn’t flow at all. Because the concept of a flow from past to future is so central to what people think of when they read the word “time”, I think it’s fair to say that time didn’t exist during the act of creation, only something more like “Time” (capitalized in the style of Platonic ideal, but in quotes) or “block time”.
Why “block time”? It’s Paul Davies’ term. Davies is a philosopher in Australia who published some popular books on science and philosophy. one of them titled “Time’s Arrow” about where the flow from past to future comes from. (He also has Scientific American article on the subject available on line.)
In relativity, the universe is not so much a 3D movie as a 4D sculpture. The flow of time isn’t inherent in relativity, and it’s difficult to explain why time is experienced so differently than the 3 dimensions of space. This 4D “block” lead to the term “block time”. This sculpture sounds much like Rav Dessler’s “seeing the entirety”, so I think the use of his term is meaningful when speaking of his view of “Time” during creation, the end of days, or of a soul before and after its life.

It is interesting to follow the parallel between Rav Dessler’s metaphor and Davies’ to explore how Rav Dessler’s position compares to R’ Yaakov (“Gerald”) Shroeder’s resolution of the time of creation issue. To start: both dismiss the notion that 6 days does not rule out it also being something else.

The power of speech

I had an epiphany during leining this past Shabbos (parashas Bereishis). Such things are notoriously difficult to convey, but I’ll try anyway.Usually, shmuessin on the subject of shemiras halashon revolve around showing how much power is in speech, how speach is a real “thing”, and has a challos (impact) the world.I realized something, though: It’s the exact reverse! It’s not merely that speech is a real thing, the point is that every real thing is in truth “just” speech! All of creation is “And E-lokim was saying….” Our words have power because words are the more primary ontology, they are more real than, and the source of, objects.

The Rambam on Time During Creation

I thought readers might enjoy the following sources on the Rambam on Creation. The Rambam writes:

The following point now claims our attention. The account of the six days of creation contains, in reference to the creation of man, the statement: “Male and female created he them” (i. 27), and concludes with the words: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them” (ii. 1), and yet the portion which follows describes the creation of Eve from Adam, the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge, the history of the serpent and the events connected therewith, and all this as having taken place after Adam had been placed in the Garden of Eden. All our Sages agree that this took place on the sixth day, and that nothing new was created after the close of the six days. None of the things mentioned above is therefore impossible, because the laws of Nature were then not yet permanently fixed. (Guide II:30)

R’ Daniel Eidensohn (author of “Yad Moshe”, an index to the Igros Moshe, and “Daas Torah”, a resource book of rishonim on various topic in Jewish thought) collected the following commentaries on this chapter.

It is quite clear that the Rambam is understood to say that sequence during creation refers to relationships, not time. Time itself is a creation, and its meaning was not fully established.

Abarbanel(Bereishis):

The 9th question concerns that which is mentioned in the Moreh Nevuchim. Rambam notes that time can not exist without the movement of the celestial spheres and the the sun and moon. However this raises the question as how there could be time before the fourth day when the celestial spheres and sun were created? The Rambam answered this question by asserting that in fact the spheres and the sun were created on the first day. Thus time existed for the first 3 days in the same manner as it existed on the subsequent days. He explained that in fact everything — both the Heavens and the Earth — were created on the first day. The Rambam cited Chazal that the word “es” indicated that the creation on the first day included everything associated with the Heavens as well as everything associated with the Earth. He also cited the gemora (Chulin 60a) that everything that was created was created in its final form. He also cited another statement of Chazal that the Heavens and Earth were created simultaneously. Thus the Rambam believed that the work of Creation happened all on one day and was not divided amongst six days. He claimed that in a single moment of creation everything came into existence. He explained that the reason for the Torah stating that there were six days of Creation was to indicate the different levels of created beings according to their natural hierarchy. Thus the Rambam does not understand the word day to be a temporal day and he doesn’t read Bereishis to be describing the chronological sequence of creation…. This is the view of the Rambam which he considered as one of the major secrets of the Creation. In fact he tried hard to conceal this view as can be seen in his words in Moreh Nevuchim (2:30). In spite of his efforts the Ralbag, Navorni and the other commentators to Moreh Nevuchim uncovered his secret and made it known to the whole world…. However, despite the Rambam’s greatness in Torah and the apparent support from Chazal, this view of the Rambam is demonstratably false….

The Abarbanel is clear in question 5 that the Rambam certainly held of creation yeish mei’ayin (ex nihilo), that he was not totally declaring creation an allegory — only the notion of a progression of events over the 6 days of time:

Behold you see that the opinion of the Rav [ie the Rambam -mi] was not that all of the story of creation was an allegory, but only a small part of it. All that is mentioned regarding the activity of the six days, from the creation of the heavens and the earth, and all of the phenomena, and the creation of Adam and his wife, up until “vayechulu” [the first Shabbos -mi], have no allegory whatsoever for everything was literal to him [the Rambam]. Therefore you will see that in this very chapter, no. 30 in the second section, in all which the Rav has explicated regarding the activity of the six days, he did not make an allegory or a hint at all. Rather, he did the exact opposite, for he made a concerted effort to support the doctrine of creation ex nihilo and accepted all of the verses literally…

Shem Tov (Moreh ad loc):

Just as G-d is an absolute unity, His actions are also unified and from His organization came out the sequence of Creation. At the start — time was created simultaneously with the rest of Creation. It is incorrect to say that Creation began at the start of time. Consequently creation consisted of entities that were separate and distinct and prioritized — which is not a reflection of G-d Who is an absolute unity. Their prioritization is the result of their nature as to what their purpose and causal relationship is in combining and interacting with other things. Therefore it only in describing their level in reality that we say Day One, Day Two — but not that they were created in this sequence. Thus the Rambam’s explanation rejects the literal meaning of the Torah verses. He asserts that everything was created simultaneously. It is only as a reflection as to their purpose and importance does the Torah say first second and third and the rest of the days.

Aqeidas Yitzchaq (Bereishis sha’ar 3):

The Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim gives the reason for Torah saying that there were days in the Beginning by citing the gemora in Chullin(60a). There it states that the products of Creation were all created complete. In other words all of creations was created at the first instant of creation in their final perfect form. Thus he says that the Creation description is not describing the chronological sequence of events but the days are simply serving to indicate distinctions in their levels and to inform of of the hierarchy of Nature. This was a major esoteric doctrine of the Rambam concerning Creation as those who are understanding can discern from Moreh Nevuchim 2:30) which is devoted to this issue. However the Ralbag publicized it in detail and expounded it thoroughly….

Ralbag (Milchemes Hashem book IV, II8):

You already know from the preceding that the generation of the universe by God occurred in no time, since [its generation] was from nothing to something. Thus, our Rabbis maintain that the heavens and’ the earth were created simultaneously. As it is said in the Chapter [called] “One Does Not Interpret”: “Both were created as one. For it is said, ‘Yea, Mine hand hath laid the foundation of the earth, and My right. hand hath spread out the heavens; When I call unto them they stand up together. “‘ It is therefore evident that the description of creation as being completed in six days is not to be construed as [implying] that the first day preceded the second, for example, by one [whole] day [i.e., twenty four hours]. Rather, they said, this is in order to show the priority amongst various created things. For example, the movers of the heavenly bodies are causally and by nature prior to the heavenly bodies, whereas the latter are causally and by nature prior to the elements and to that which is generated from them. Now, the elements are prior to that which is generated from them according material priority, and the compounds of the elements are also [related] to each other by this kind of priority.For example the plant is prior to the animal; and similarly the imperfect animal is prior to the perfect animal. In the same way, an aquatic animal is prior to a flying animal, and the latter is prior to a walking [i.e., terrestrial] animal while the latter is prior to the rational [animal, i.e., man]. For an aquatic animal produces an imperfect egg, whereas the bird produces a perfect egg; the walking animal, however, produces a living animal in its own body. For this reason Aristotle says in The Book, of Animals that the bird is more perfect than the aquatic animal and the walking animal more perfect than the bird. And there is no doubt that man is the most perfect animal amongst the walking animals.

Alschich (Bereishis 1:1):

Bereshit Rabbah 1 comments on the repeated use of the word “es”, i.e. “es hashamayim”. The first “es” is supposed to include the solar system, whereas the second “es” is a reference to all the vegetation on earth. This sounds perplexing, seeing that vegetation is specifically reported as having been created on the third day, and the galaxies are reported as having been created on the fourth day; so how could they have been included by the words “es” at the very beginning? The answer is that the author of the Midrash did not want foolish people to think that what we know as a time-frame was indispensable for the development of the physical universe from its inception to its completion. We must not be allowed to think that G-d required six days to accomplish what He did. This is one reason why G-d did not say in the Ten Commandments that He created the universe in six days The words used are “six days,” as distinct from in six days, etc. 20,11) The idea conveyed in that verse is that G-d created these six day simultaneously with creating heaven and earth. The Midrash goes on to tell us that the word “es” in that verse is to alert us to the fact that heaven already contained all the elements for the galaxies, etc., and that “earth” already contained beneath the surface all the elements of vegetation, etc. These elements became revealed only at a later stage during the creative process.

Rav JB Soloveitchik (unpublished lectures on Bereishis, #7):

Indeed, one of the most annoying scientific facts which the religious man encounters is the problem of evolution and creation. However, this is not the real problem. What actually is irreconcilable is the concept of man as the bearer of a divine image and the idea of man as an intelligent animal in science. Evolution and creation can be reconciled merely by saying that six days is not absolutely so, but is indefinite and may be longer. Maimonides spoke of Creation in terms of phases and the Kabbalah in terms of sefiros, the time of which may be indefinite. However, our conflict is man as a unique being and man as a friend of the animal. Science can never explain how being came into being, for it is out of the realm of science, while the Bible is concerned with the problem of ex nihilo. Aristotle could not accept evolution because he believed in the eternity of forms.

(With thanks to Rabbi Eidensohn for permission to use his research.)

Models of Creation

Updated by user suggestion. Element added: tzimtzum.

We can’t really understand how the Ribbono shel olam does anything, and so in contemplating the concept of creation we have to fall back on simplifications, models that capture some aspects of the process that we can understand. Traditionally a number of such models have been used; and in fact, the same authority could appeal to more than one. They do not necessarily contradict, they look at the incomprehensible (by man) at different angles and thus match reality in some ways and oversimplify in others.

I thought I would post a survey of some of these models, and I invite the readership to help round it out with anything I may have missed.
1- Manufacture: From this perspective, Hashem first made yeish mei’ayin (ex nihilo, something from nothing) the materials in a step called beri’ah, and then through yetzirah gave them the forms we know today.

2- Speech. The word used in the Torah is “vayomer — and He said”. The world is spoken. As the Baal Shem Tov points out, this is different than writing. Print is written, and then persists without further involvement by the writer. Speech exists as long as the person is speaking. Hashem is still saying the words “yehi or“, since light still exists. Light is in fact the words being spoken.

(Tangent: There is a huge moral implication about the value of words. By this model, you and I are words being “spoken” by the A-lmighty, and thus speech is the essence of our power to create and our very beings. Perhaps this is why dibbur is a word for speech, sharing the same root as “davar” [thing].)

3- Atzilus: Creation is to G-d as light is to a lightbulb. Hashem can choose whether or not to radiate this Light and the how and what should be shined. (In that sense, it’s different than Platonic Emanation, which is a necessary consequence of the Godhead’s existence.)

Atzilus is a model by which such Light shines down from on high, through layers of increasing abstraction until it reaches the physical plane.

The Rambam argues that models #1 and #3, which the Rambam describes as identifying Hashem as Cause vs Agens, are really identical in the Moreh Nevuchim I ch. 69. We also find the Ramban opening his commentary to chumash with the beri’ah – yetzirah perspective of manufacture, but also refer repeatedly to the notion of atzilus and the descent of the Light through veils to lower and lower worlds.

4- Panentheism (not to be confused with pantheism): The idea that the universe is of G-d. He is greater than merely being the universe, but “ein od milvado — nothing exists aside from Him.” The universe isn’t merely made byG-d, or a “radiation” of His G-dhood, but is actually of Him. Based on this model, Chabad teaches that creation is an illusion, an occluding of our ability to see that everything is Him, and thus giving off the appearance that there are multiple existances.

Tzimtzum: This doesn’t merit its own bullet item, because tzimtzum is a feature of either the atzilus or panentheistic models for understanding creation. Tzimtzum is the Divine constriction that makes conceptual room (so to speak) for existence.
The best description I’ve seen for tzimtzum is the metaphor of a slideshow. The projector produces a clear undifferentiated white light. Without the slide, the screen is simply white, with nothing existing on it. The presence of people, buildings, or whatever on the screen is due to the slide selectively blocking light from reaching the screen.

But obviously tzimtzum is metaphoric. As is clear from my circumlocution of “conceptual room (so to speak)”, no one is suggestion that Hashem actually constricts Himself. That would be suggesting a change in an unchanging G-d, and a reduction of His Absolute infinity. Neither idea is consistent with Yahadus.

So the question becomes interpreting the metaphor, given that we can only understand a glimmer of what it’s a metaphor for. And this becomes the basis of the distinction between the atzilus and panentheism models. The first approach is that what was constricted was not the Ein Sof (the Absolute Infinite) Himself, but the Light which is ne’etzal from Him. The “veils” that occlude some of the Divine Light are like the slide in the slide projector metaphor. The second is that we’re speaking of the Ein Sof, but it’s only an illusion — in reality, everything is G-d, but we are given the illusion of things existing as distinct from Himself.

Different Approaches to Creation

[Modified Feb 6, 2005: References raised on an Avodah discussion added.
[Modified Feb 5 2009: References to later essays added. -mi]

I know of a number of approaches to evolution vs creation in Jewish thought. As far as I can tell, it seems that an insistence on the Torah giving literal history with it being roughly 5,769 years since ex nihilo, became more popular after the scientific challenges of the past two centuries, not less. As though we dug in our heels in the face of so many rejecting the Torah for a blind acceptance of the zeitgeist and the importance it gives scientific research.

1- Rejection of scientific conclusions. Theories change over time. Rather than worry about a contradiction between current theory and the Torah, one can simply wait without concern as science slowly converges to the Torah’s truth.

After all, in the last century theory has gone from Aristotle’s eternal universe to acknowledging that it has a beginning. Compared to that, current difference are small.

This is the basic approach taken by R’ Avigdor Miller.

2- History as a backdrop. As one opinion in the Gemara has it, Adam was created as a fully mature man of 20, and trees were created fully grown, etc… The Lubavitcher Rebbe zt”l concludes that this opinion would hold that the universe as a whole was formed with a history consistent with a natural, scientific, progression.

One may then ask why Hashem chose to create a world that has an artificial age. Or perhaps not: Can one understand why G-d chooses to do anything?

Personally, I have adifferent problem with this position. How does one ascribe a time to creation? It can’t be on the Creator’s clock, since He Exists outside of time. Therefor, when we speak of “when” creation happened, we mean the beginning of the universe’s timeline. So then how could we talk about G-d creating the universe at some point in the middle of the line, allowing history to go in both directions — past and future — from that point?

3- Conflict resolution. Invoking relativity or whatnot to show that 15 billion years can be 5758 years in another frame of reference. Perhaps relativity justifies the differences between frames of reference (as suggested by Rabbi Yaakov “Gerald” Shroeder). The “birds” of day 5 are actually dinosaurs, which are most similar biologically to birds of any thing living today. Creation of the sun on day 4 is actually about the sky clearing to the point the sun could be seen on earth, etc…

As can be seen from my treatment, I don’t consider this opinion fair to either the Torah or the scientific data. Yet, many popular books have come out in the past two years promoting this kind of position. Perhaps someone else can do it justice.

[The next two paragraphs are minor paraphrases of material R' Gil Student wrote for his Hirhurim blog.]

On the other hand, however Bereishis 1 is understood, there is a poetry to the idea. In Collected Writings VII pp 363-264, R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch rejects an insistence on literalism, common to both of the previous approaches, and waxes poetic about the greater display of Divine Wisdom a natural unfolding would suggest. Similarly, Rav Kook makes the same point in Orot haQodesh 91.

R. Menahem Kasher, in Torah Shelemah (Bereshis, ch. no. 738), quotes a responsum from the Geonim in which it is stated that Adam was first created as a speechless creature, like an animal, and only later was given speech. This could certainly be interpreted as a precedent for the claim that Adam was descended from humanoids. R. Kasher suggests that this is a matter of dispute between the Ramban and his student R. Bahya ben Asher, with the Ramban on the side of the Gaon’s responsum. In his Hibah Yeseirah (Bereshis 1:26, printed in the back of Bnei Banim vol. 2), R. Henkin writes explicitly that Adam’s body was taken from creatures that preceded him and it was only his soul that was created ex nihilo. In other words, Adam evolved from lower creatures and became human when God created and implanted in him a human soul.

4- Multiple creation times. This is the approach of the Tif’eres Yisrael. He cites an opinion of the tannaim, a central theme amongst the more kabbalistically inclined rishonim, that Hashem created worlds and destroyed them before this one. Dinosaur bones and starlight are legacies of these earlier worlds. The Tif’eres Yisrael did not say anything about evolution, just that this earlier time explains what the fossils are fossils of. In Techeiles Mordechai, R’ Shalom Mordechai Schwadron speaks laudably of the Tif’eres Yisrael’s resolution.

In Gen 1:1, G-d creates ex nihilo (matter from nothing). Then, before verse 2, these other worlds (in this opinion, epochs) rose and fell. Then, there was “chaos and emptiness” from which our world emerged. The universe as a whole, even the planet, can therefor be older than 5758 years.

Since current theory is that the world started as a singularity — IOW, not within the purvey of science, it is all a matter of faith if the ex nihilo was with the intent of the Creator or not.

Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan quotes R’ Yitzchaq meiAkko (a student of the Ramban) who concludes from the Zohar that the first creation was 15.8 billion years ago — the age astronomers and physicists seemed to be converging on in the 1980s and 1990s, given multiple ways of measuring the age. It is unclear that this is truly the intent of R’ Yitzchaq meiAkko, but that’s Rabbi Kaplan’s take. The original lecture to AOJS, which is more complete and persuasive than the mention in his NCSY book, is available on line. This is built on an idea discussed by Rabbeinu Bachya and numerous other kabbalistically inclined rishonim, that of our world being one of a cycle of shemittos, so that there is history and time before our universe.

5- Rejection of a literal read of the Torah. This is much easier, halachically, than it sounds, as there is a long tradition, including the Rambam and the Vilna Gaon, teaching that Genesis 1&2 actually convey deeper truths via metaphor. The gemara, after all, limits the number of students (to 2) that one may teach the secrets of the Act of Creation — so clearly we can’t just take the text at face value.

Another commonly sited proof for non-literalness is that the word “day” precedes the creation of the sun. Therefor, it can’t be used, at least in this narrative, to mean our 24 hour period.

The Rambam takes “day” to mean a stage in the causal chain, not a reference to time altogether. See The Rambam on Time During Creation.)

6-The Maharal (intro to Gevuros Hashem) teaches that creation is so alien to human experience that we don’t have a comparison to it. Therefor prophecy, which is transmitted by visions, can not describe it. (The World to Come is similarly explained. This is why it only appears in Tanach as “your days will be prolonged”. Continued existance we can understand. The rest of the details, no.)

However, creation is also so alien that we can not understand it by extrapolation, either. In general, the Talmud teaches that “wisdom is greater than prophecy”. The Maharal explains that this is because the power of extrapolation and deduction takes you further than just what can be presented metaphorically in visions. In this case, though, creation is beyond wisdom as well — which is why the Talmud limits the forum where it can be studied.

His conclusion is that the Torah can’t provide us with a comprehensible history AND that science must be wrong. (It may be implied from the Maharal that science can get you closer to the history, but not a correct history.)

R’ Dessler (vol. II) ascribes a similar opinion to the Ramban, at least with regard to time during creation. That the days of creation were both literal days of seconds, minutes and hours, but also the subsequence six millenia. Not that they represent or parallel the subsequent millenia, but they are literall the millenia themselves. These two perspectives appear to contradict, but only because of limitations of how humans perceive time ever since eating from the tree of knowledge. (A longer description of Rav Dessler’s opinion can be found at Rav Dessler’s Approach to Creation.)

In the two last opinions, the presumption must be that Gen 1 and 2 teach some deeper truths about reality. Either because that’s the only meaning of the text, or because all we can understand from the text are partial truths that don’t quite add up to a whole picture. In either case, without having a metaphor, there would be little reason for its inclusion in the Torah.

The Maharal explains some of the symbolism of the number 7 later in Gevuros Hashem. The seventh should be made holy even without the creation story, so it is possible the details of the story are made to describe this point.

One can also see a pattern: light, sky-and-sea, earth; repeated twice. First Hashem created light. On day four, He created the stars, moon and sun — the sources of light. Second, He seperated sky from the sea. On day 5, He created those who liv e in the sky and the sea — the birds and the fish. Third, Hashem made the seas converge to show land. On day six, the animals and people inhabited the land.

What is important to us as Jews is not what actually happened, that is, whether G-d used natural or miraculous means to create the universe. Rather, to take the lessons of creation, or the lessons encoded into the story of creation, and live them.

When a Paradox is not a Disproof

The central theme of religion is whether the values, ritual, and system of thought work. The issues of genesis, the flood, or the tower of Babel are tangential, and out the outskirts of the Torah as a “theory” of meaning and purpose in life.

It’s like studying modern physics. We currently have two systems: quantum mechanics (QM) which was born in the head of Max Planck and developed by numerous other people. Including Einstein. There is also relativity (which has two parts: special and general), which was pretty much entirely Einstein’s.

QM works well in the domain of the very small, relativity works well with the very large. (In between, Newton’s old system is a good enough approximation and people don’t bother with such things.) But they are based on contradictory assumptions. For example, relativity is  Background Independent. This means it isn’t about things that happen within space and time, but the nature of space and time is itself part of the theory. This is not true of QM. Figuring out quantum gravity — a theory of gravity that fits both QM and relativity, is a challenge. Filling this challenge are things like string and membrane theories, the Higgs Boson (the subject of the book “The God Particle”), and others.

Because each works so well so often in ways it was not designed to, that the typical physicist is sure some resolution of the two that will preserve nearly all of both theories is out there, waiting discovery. For that matter, we have chips of semiconductors designed using QM in our GPS systems carrying out computations that include compensating for the relativistic effects of the satellite being in motion relative to earth. So, even though the two theories are built on contradictory assumptions, scientists place trust (bitachon) in them. They have faith (emunah) that each will have to be tweaked only minorly to get them to fit, not a major overhaul.

For similar reasons, these science vs Bereishis questions don’t really bother me. Neither is really about what happened in the past; scientific theories makes claims about the past to explain what we observe astronomically and archeologically, the Torah tells us about our past to help us work toward our future. These areas of conflict really are side-topics in each discipline.

It might even be that the reason our generation finds these topics so pressing is a flaw in today’s zeitgeist. Science and technology have brought us so much since the Industrial Revolution that we perhaps forget that it’s not the only venue. As Rabbi Soloveitchik would put it, Cognitive Man is so successful “fill[ing] the earth and subdu[ing] it”, as per Hashem’s blessing of Adam in Bereishis 1, that we forget the Lonely Man of Faith. We feel a pressure to get our religion to play ball on science’s court, when in reality we are looking at the fringes of what religion is for. Truth must be consistent, but the problem isn’t a pressing one.

Each “theory” works so well so consistently in their own domains, I presume that some resolution will someday be found — much like a quantum mechanical understanding of gravity, an understanding of the small-scale workings of a phenomenon only significant in the large scale. One cannot ignore science in the pursuit of the Divine, but neither can one ignore the Torah; nothing is gained by wallpapering over one source of truth in favor of the other. I can live until then with the open questions.

The God Particle

Not long ago, CERN announced that the Large Hadron Collider produced evidence of the Higgs Boson, a fundamental particle Peter Higgs predicted in 1964, and was a major missing piece from the Standard Model. In order to explain mass, and thus why certain particles differ in mass, which in turn influences things like why the Weak Force (carried by particles that have mass) and electromagnetism (carried by photons, which don’t) are different forces with different properties. A big deal for physicists, but somehow it generated a lot more attention in the general media than such things usually do.

The reason for this is that Leon M. Lederman wanted to sell books. (Or maybe it was his co-author Dick Teresi. Either way, he jokes that the publisher vetoed his original title “The Goddamn Particle”) Lederman named his popularization of the relevant science, “The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What Was the Question?” And so, people mistakenly thought the discovery implied something significant the Big Bang vs. Literal Genesis debate. It does provide one big piece of the Big Bang puzzle, it explains how a high energy “soup” too energetic to be thought of in terms of different particles divided the way it did.

But the discovery says nothing about Creation, despite rhetoric otherwise. The scientists who write such things (but I think most scientists are still theists or at least deists) are battling paganism. They think that we believe in Thor to get a handle on thunder and Poseidon justifies the moods of the sea. A “God of the Gaps” who is there to explain all the bugaboos of a world we don’t understand. And therefore they think that the more they explain scientifically, the less space is left for G-d.

Many Creationists defend their position by distinguishing between “science”, the stuff they can’t deny and depend upon for medicine and engineering, and “scientism”, the stuff they disagree with. Without a rigorous definition of “scientism”, that’s really all it can boil down to. So here’s my proposed definition:

Science is a methodology for reaching and testing theories about the empirical world, and the current collection of resulting theories. It has a limited domain of study — it is only the empirical and it only deals in the repeatable. Scientism is the belief that there are no truths outside of science’s domain of inquiry. In other words, it’s correct to say that belief in a Creator is unscientific, because G-d is neither empirical, nor is He constrained to follow natural law that we could repeat experiments in a laboratory to get predicted results. It is incorrect and becomes scientism when the person saying he thinks that saying “the notion of G-d is unscientific” has anything to do with the fact that there actually is One.

Thus, paganism’s “god of the gaps” is based on the same error as scientism; both are founded on the notion that religion and science are competing explanation systems. One overreaches religion, the other overreaaches science.

Science itself stands on the culture built by monotheism — the notion of One G-d, One Designer, One Maker, who had One Plan. There is no reason to assume a Grand Unified Theory or a Theory of Everything if it weren’t that even the atheists among them come from a culture that saw the Hand of G-d in creation. The main role of such religion is to explain “why” and what ought to be, though belief in One Creator is what led us to expect an elegant answer to “how” and what is.

And so, when science reveals more wisdom within nature, more design, gets one step closer to unity, it is actually reaffirming faith, not providing an alternative.

The Higgs Boson is like a beautiful sunset. An opportunity to gape open-jawed at the incredible Wisdom of the Designer. “מָה-רַבּוּ מַעֲשֶׂיךָ ה, כֻּלָּם בְּחָכְמָה עָשִׂיתָ; מָלְאָה הָאָרֶץ קִנְיָנֶךָ — How wondrous are Your works, Hashem!”(Tehillim 104:24)