Saturday, October 31, 2009

Apparent Age

In a recent post at Seforim, R. Marc B. Shapiro takes a shot at historical revisionism at the expense of the apparent age approach:

Any written record will be rejected as a YU-Haskalah forgery, or something that God miraculously created to test our faith, all in order to avoid the conclusion that an authentic Torah scholar taught at YU

Leitzanus is making light of the serious, and in my opinion attempts to understand the conflict between the scientific evidence and the Torah's narrative is a serious matter. While is is not clear to me that R. Shapiro would be so dismissive about the apparent age approach itself (since it wasn't really his topic and I don't recall him discussing it in anything I have read), by taking this approach to it's illogical conclusion one creates a false analogy between this position and the absurd example he hypothesized. Such mock-analogies silence a reasoned analysis of differences in favor a smug, hastily-generalized dismissal of such an "absurd" position. Even if it wasn't his intent, and it certainly wasn't his primary one, the damage is done.

Of course there is a major difference between arguing that the world was created with apparent age and the speculative argument that evidence was miraculously planted that a Talmid Chacham worked for an institution deemed politically incorrect. While in the later case we have no reason to assume such a belief, in the former we have God's own account that He created to world from nothing a couple of generations before Yetzias Mitzrayim. Likewise it is a necessary inference that the world would have some appearance of prior age based on the narrative itself, and indications from Chazal that at least the living creatures where created in full stature (despite the fact that such stature would indicate prior age/growth/development in any other context).

Granted, this doesn't in any way give us reason TO accept the Torah's account, it just simply illustrates that the conflict presented by the material evidence need not contradict the Torah's account.

I would add that I don't think that the apparent age needs to be understood as an attempt for God to test us per se. I am inclined to think that a materialistic explanation for the world's existence which seems plausible is necessary for free will. Nevertheless I think that it is reasonable to say that while God chose to create the world as He described, He coordinated the implicit apparent age in such a scenario with how He designed the world to operate according to teiva. Such a "past" isn't false, it is as real as the light we see every night from stars long dead, it is a retroactive existence which, it seems to me, fulfills both a scientific and theological role which complements the Torah as much as it conflicts.

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