Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rabbi Slifkin on Apparent Age 1

In his work The Challenge of Creation Rabbi Slifkin  poses several objections to the approach I call the "Apparent Age" approach.

Particularly problematic is Rabbi Schneerson's statement that they question, "Why create a fossil?" is no more valid than the question, "Why create an atom?" This is a strange statement; a fossil is directly misleading in a way that an atom is not. Asking why create an atom" is a pointless philosophical speculation, but asking "why create a fossil which appears to be a dead dinosaur if no such creature ever lived" is a very reasonable and obvious question." (page 159).

While I do believe that we can suggest theologically coherent reasons why the world would have apparent age I don't think from the standpoint of Jewish tradition we can be so bold as to demand one:
Accepting the Creation [as opposed to Aristotle's theory on the Eternity of the Universe], we find that miracles are possible, that Revelation is possible, and that every difficulty in this question is removed. We might be asked, Why has God inspired a certain person and not another? why has He revealed the Law to one particular nation, and at one particular time? why has He commanded this, and forbidden that? why has He shown through a prophet certain miracles? what is the object of these laws? and why has He not made the commandments and the prohibitions part of our nature, if it was His object that we should live in accordance with them? We answer to all these questions: He willed it so; or, His wisdom decided so. Just as He created the world according to His will, at a certain time, in a certain form, and upon a peculiar time, so we do not know why His will or wisdom determined any of the things mentioned in the preceding question. But if we assume that the Universe has the present form as the result of fixed laws, there is occasion for the above questions; and these could only be answered in an objectionable way, implying denial and rejection of the Biblical texts, the correctness of which no intelligent person doubts. (Guide for the Perplexed, 2:25, Friedlander page 199-200).
I've looked over the larger context and the Rambam's line of reasoning isn't entirely clear to me. Specifically while I think this passage is clearly and directly relevant to our topic it seems a little ambiguous why the Rambam seems to accept that such questions would be relevant given a different set of assumptions.
I believe he is saying that given the general presumption of the Biblical account of Divine Creation which allows for the supernatural all of these questions are an issue of Divine Will, which we may or may not be privy too. Conversely (as I understand it) it is not that accepting Aristotle's position which demands we "disbelieve all miracles and signs" gives us justification for asking these questions, which in turn must be "answered in an objectionable way". Rather the questions are merely rhetorical, the objectionable answers being that such things are simply not possible [in Aristotle's worldview].

At any rate, the Rambam gives a strong indication that our inability to know God's reasoning for an action is of little consequence.  This is so even though I believe he does attempt to answer some of the very questions he mentions.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Logically admirable reconciliation of theology with the data of science"

A couple weeks back in the used book store's clearance section I noticed "Religion and Science" by Bertrand Russell for $2. Those of you who have seen some of the posts on this blog could probably guess I'd snatch that right up, but I almost didn't. But it was two dollars so I did, and it didn't take me long to find something of interest:
A curious attempt to save orthodoxy in the field of biology was made by Gosse the naturalist, father of Edmund Gosse. He admitted fully all the evidence adduced by geologists in favour of the antiquity of the world, but maintained that, when the Creation took place, everything was constructed as if it had a past history. There is no logical possibility of proving that this theory is untrue. It has been decided by the theologians that Adam and Eve had navels, just as if they had been born in the ordinary way. Similarly everything else that was created could have been created as if it had grown. The rocks could have been filled with fossils, and have been made just such as they would have become if they had been due to volcanic action or to sedimentary deposits. But if once such possibilities are admitted, there is no reason to place the creation of the world at one point rather than the another. We may have all come into existence five minutes ago, provided with ready-made memories, with holes in our socks and hair that needed cutting. But although this is a logical possibility, nobody can believe it; and Gosse found, to his bitter disappointment, that nobody could believe his logically admirable reconciliation of theology with the data of science. The theologians, ignoring him, abandoned much of their previous territory, and proceeded to entrench themselves in what remained.(Oxford Press 1997, page 69-70, bold added)
Russell seems to suggest that although internally coherent, the Apparent Age theory strikes people as implausible. I think this is a fair assessment but as we have seen the Rambam warns that if one, "reject[s] things as impossible which have never been proved to be impossible, or which are in fact possible, though their possibility be very remote, then you will be like Elisha Aher; you will not only fail to become perfect, but will become exceedingly imperfect" (Guide 1:32, Freidlander page 42, emphasis mine). At times things strike us as counter-intuitive when deeper reflection or observations demand us to accept them. Take gravity for instance. Most of us intuitively expect heavier objects to fall faster than lighter ones, and it is only through education that we learn otherwise much to our surprise. A few people seem to never really get it.

 As to his objection that "there is no reason to place the creation of the world at one point rather than the another" given such a hypothesis, this misses the point. The challenge presented by science under discussion is that it conflicted with the account found in the book of Genesis. Apparent Age demonstrates that the two are not mutually exclusive. While most of us agree that we do not have reason to believe we were created 5 minutes ago many of us feel that we do have reason to believe that the Torah is divine revelation attesting to how the world was created. One might disagree with that conclusion, or how it was reached, but that is a different discussion.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

HaRav Yaakov Kaminetsky zt"l and Apparent Age

It took me a little while to find this again, but I've found the source I read that R' Yaakov suggested apparent age as a possible resolution between science and Torah:

Fully Grown Creation

    I read with interest the first-page article by Gil Student. Permit me to comment on the issue of reconciling the Torah view with that of science regarding the age of the universe.

    My rosh yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Kaminetsky, zt"l, had a very plausible approach to resolving this problem. The Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 11a) states, "all of creation was created with their height, with their mind and with their beauty." Tosefos adds that we see all creatures gradually developing their beauty, strength, mind, etc. At the time of Creation, however, all this happened immediately.

    In other words, the world was created fully developed. Adam was created as a fully-grown man, not as a baby who developed with time. This holds for all of creation.

    With Reb Yaakov's approach, there is no need to change the accepted meaning of the Six Days of Creation. The world was created in six days 5767 years ago, but with all the physical characteristics it has today.

Bezalel Fixler
(Via E-Mail)
(Letter to the Editor's, August 30, 2006, the Jewish Press)

Of course if anyone has anything more definitive that an e-mail to the Jewish Press I'd love to know.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

"Machzikei HaDas"

A couple of years ago now, R' Micha of Aspaqlaria challenged me about the name of my blog. To paraphrase his comment that was lost when haloscan was discontinued, "Machzikei Hadas" implies those who "Hold on" or "Maintain" the faith. As such my frequent posts challenging views held by other Orthodox Jews seemed to imply they were outside of Orthodoxy ח"ו.

It was a fair criticism, but by no means my intent. While I am someone who believes that their are beliefs that are and should be considered heresy, beliefs which are mutually exclusive with Judaism, I do not believe every erroneous belief needs to be חייב כרת ר"ל, and certainly not because I believe it to be incorrect.

So to explain myself (better late than never?), my understanding, and intent, when using the phrase "Machzikei HaDas" was in the sense of faith being "strengthened" rather than "possessed". Whether "Strenghteners of the Faith" is the best (or even appropriate) English rendition of the Hebrew phrase, I'm not the only one who has understood it in this way. If those of you whose Hebrew comes a little more naturally think that this understanding doesn't hold, please feel free to let me know. While I cannot change the URL, I can change the "Title" fairly easily if necessary.