Wednesday, 19 August 2009

On Torah, Literalism and Evolution

Rabbi David Willig:

"But to argue against the evolutionary process completely on the basis of the literal meaning of the bible is to argue.."


Actually if you follow the pattern of Creation in Breisheet, it starts from the most simple (grass) and ends with the most complex (woman :-) - which really does parallel Darwin as I understand it.

I also find dinosaurs in "taninim g'dolim"

So w/o working hard on apologetics, the Humash narrative matches the general scientific view in several ways.

And I think the Torah WAS being general.

So Rabbi Willigs suggestion of taking Torah seriously - but not literally - can be quite informative. You need some flexibility and to ignore dogmatists on both sides of the debate.

We also know from the Torah text that literal 24 hour days make no sense for days 1-4 when the Sun and Moon were first created. Again not apologetics, just simple analysis within the text.

So a fundamental read of the text cannot really match what PASSES for a fundamental read anyway.

If a were teaching a Martian - I would say that Darwin was being technical and the Torah more poetic - but both were describing the same events. More a gap in style than in substance.

Even our 9th grade science teacher in Yeshiva Day School - a secular Jew - taught us classic evolution with the possibility that God was pulling the strings. I think most of us students were quite comfortable with that perspective. AFAIK None of us felt that it threatened our belief in Humash




micha said...

Except the gross mismatch of timing of flying creatures, and them and fish being after celestial objects.

Li nir'eh there is a poetic thing going on, not a historical one.

1- Light and dark
2- Sky and sea
3- earth and plants

4- The providers of light
5- the denizens of air and water
6- the animals of the land

Two sets of three, laid out in parallel.

But it rules out making the dinosaurs taninim, since day 4 is not about land creatures. Although one stream of evolutionary theory could claim them as ofos -- Hashem made the birds by making their predecessors, the dinosaurs.

And what about land insects being later than the dinosaurs?

Personally, I think what really happened was incomprehensible. The chumash is literally true, in a way, and the theories of cosmogony, geology and evolution are getting closer and closer to a true description, in a way. But a description without that "in a way" waffle would require more comprehension than human beings possess.


Rabbi Ben Hecht said...

I have written that reading the chumash, including Ma'aseh Bereishit although not necessarily limited to only this, is sometimes like listening to the famous Abbott and Costello routine of "Who's On First." I can read the section, translate it, put it into everyday language -- but let's face it, I really have no idea of what I saying. And if you consider a view such as the one expressed in Da'at Tevunot that the entire Creation was operating under different natural and, thus, scientific rules until Adam and Chava ate from the fruit, it only gets more complicated and bewildering.

The value is clearly in the expression, in the message meant to be imparted, and not in an attempt to see this as an expression of science. Of course, it may be in there -- but as Micha says, we simply don't have the tools to comprehend what is really being expressed about the actual Creation.

Rabbi Ben Hecht

micha said...

Rabbi Hecht, I am basing myself on the Maharal's first words in Gevuros Hashem (haqdamah #1). He quotes Bereishis Rabba about ma'aseh bereishis being a closed book, discusses how chokhmah is adifah minevu'ah, and along the way uses the mishnah "ein doreshin" to argue that ma'aseh bereishis is beyond both.

Rav Dessler (MmE vol IV) on Sheishes Yaemei Bereishis also clearly understands maaseh bereishis as being about incomprehensibilities.


Rabbi Ben Hecht said...


I appreciate what you are saying and, of course, the words of the Maharal. I believe that the only thing that this discussion adds -- although this could also be understood from the words of the Maharal -- is that the text itself points to its incomprehensibility. To give a mashal, its not just a case of describing a colour to a blind person, the text almost reads like its describing a colour using terms for sound. I read the words and these are words of which I generally know the meaning -- but that meaning is clearly inapplicable here. How do you have erev and boker without the sun? I think that this is what I was trying to say (and thank you for forcing me to clarify). Olam habah is beyond our comprehension -- but it is a term that we know we do not understand. Throughout Ma'aseh Bereishit, we have terms that generally we understand, but applying that understanding, we don't know what we are saying. It is like saying the colour of the sea was a treble note.

Rabbi Ben Hecht