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.


micha said...

The question isn't whether such a reconciliation exists, but whether we are capable of finding it. And I don't just mean because we accept the notions of choq and teiqu, and that there are questions Hashem can answer that we can't. Although WRT masseh bereishis, that's certainly true. There are also issue for which we simply may have not given ourselves enough time -- neither to collect the facts nor to make sense of them.

I am therefore loathe to find new interpretations in the mesorah in order to fit the science. That means that I place more faith in my own ability to understand and to find resolutions than in the historical Jewish community's ability to transmit the Torah. I would rather, in these cases, to say "teiqu", safe in trusting the resolution does exist, without having to know what it is before having that trust.

Yirmiahu said...

I understand where you're coming from but I would make 2 points:

1. As I think is clear I am not fond of allegorical interpretation of scripture when it is at the expense of the peshat and their is not textual/contextual basis to understand. Nevertheless a number of Rishonim have allowed it (generally) under strict conditions, but the anticipation that new information or realizations might be forth coming did not seem to be one of them. In retrospect I believe it would have been much better advice for the science of their day than that of ours.

2.By suggesting apparent age one is not suggesting "new interpretations in the Mesorah to fit science". The world was created fully formed, that is the peshat of B'reshis and explicit in the Gemara (and cited approvingly by the Rambam for what it is worth). The scientific particulars are irrelevant.

One could double, or quarter, the age of the universe and establish that genetic modification was really the result of acquired physical traits being inheritable until alien life put the kabbash on it and our understanding of apparent age wouldn't change (although the lessons we might learn from nature would be effected).

An appeal to apparent age to genetic issues raised by the flood or anthropological issues in general is admittedly more difficult. With respect to creation yesh m'ayin apparent age/prior existence is an inherent part, unavoidable in any universe we could imaging similar to ours. I believe the case can be made rebooting such "apparent age" to encourage genetic diversity after the flood or to restore social order or provide context for the new languages after the dispersion is consistent with the supernatural elements in these accounts. Nevertheless I think your words are much more applicable in these instances.