The Question: Earth’s Water Came From Where?

MinuteEarth / MinutePhysics are great YouTube channels discussing various topics about earth / physics in short videos.  I highly recommend them.  The writer, a theoretical physicist, even has a video on the origins of modern scientific views on the the world having a beginning, giving a nod to theologians.

One of his recent videos on the origins of Earth’s water got my thinking.  Here’s the video:

The short version, if you want to save a few minutes, is that water molecules contain hydrogen and oxygen.  Hydrogen is usually made up of one proton and one electron, however, a very tiny fraction of hydrogen molecules also have a neutron.  This is called deuterium.  Here’s the problem: according to scientific theory, when the Earth was forming and there was no atmosphere, any water would have boiled off and the planet should be as barren as everything else this side of the Kepler belt.  Further, the water found on Earth matches the deuterium ratio of the outer solar system.

Far-fetched Theory or Fact: Comets

The prevalent scientific theory has been that water on Earth comes from comets with water hitting the Earth after the atmosphere was formed.   This even even reported as fact by science museums, so it must be true, right?  Below is a picture of a sign from the New York Hall of Science in Queens, NY:

comets-oceans[Begin Gripe] Click on the image to see it bigger and clearer.  I love science museums, but it a huge pet peeve of mine when they teach theory as fact (see a similar post about the Harvard Museum) … especially when it’s a theory with so many problems.  The theories are rapidly changing, bit I suspect the next sign in the museum will state the next theory just as unequivocally.  It’s the inverse equivalent of the “G_d of the gaps” fallacy – when you don’t have a good answer, instead of saying “mystery of G_d” you say to an 8 year old, “here’s the least absurd thing we can think of right now that we’re going to pass off as unequivocal truth so you don’t look further.” We laugh at plenty of things in science books of twenty years ago, and apparently, twenty years from now we’ll still be doing that while meanwhile a bunch of non-thinking people will continue to put their unquestioned faith in the high priests of science who claim superior knowledge. [End Gripe]

Questioning the Comet Theory

The oceans cover 71% of the Earth and “happen” not to cover just some puddles (as would by my guess given the amount of space and relative sizes of the planet and comets) or the entire thing (if we’re talking about 4 billion years of consistent bombardment).  Why, if comets are hitting the Earth and providing water would the size of our land masses, even if moving, just conveniently stay about the same for the past hundred of millions of years?

Then further, that’s a whole lot of outer solar system comets that managed to hit Earth and miss … everything else in the “vicinity.”  Why did all these ice comets “happen” to nearly completely miss Mars and our moon?  Is Earth such a bigger target?  (See more about water on Mars from an article that just came out a day before this post – it’s a quickly changing topic.)

Contemporaneous with this article, the European Space Agency has landed a probe on an outer solar system comet and the deuterium doesn’t match.  The scientific theory is already shifting . . . no, no… not comets… how about asteroids.  That seems to have the same problem to me, but now you have to say further, “the comets [with the wrong levels of deuterium] missed Earth but the asteroids [with presumably the right levels of deuterium which has yet to be determined] hit Earth.”  I don’t buy it.

The Less Crazy Theory: Rocks Turned Into Water

This theory has been gaining momentum just this past year.  It would take 1/3 of 1% (by current estimates) of the rocks in the mantle of the Earth to be composed of water trapped in ringwoodite rocks to equal the water in the oceans.  Ringwoodite is some pretty neat stuff, only discovered in 1969.  The numerous biblical references to water from rocks don’t seem to mysterious and it appears, once again, like the beginning of the universe, science and Torah are converging.  Further, the theory makes a whole lot more sense.  The reason Earth’s water didn’t all boil off pre-atmosphere is because, in this theory, it was under the surface and came out over time, the pre-Earth mass with ice being formed from the same stuff as the outer solar system, so as to match the deuterium levels in our own water.

The Talmud on Water Creation

First, there is at least one source, in Sanhedrin, for boiling water in the oceans.  Then, as for the creation of water itself, the second perek [chapter] of Chagigah is quite intriguing.  The whole thing is here, with phrase by phrase translation.  I am only pulling out bits and pieces here, for brevity.  First, the mishnah tells us that even if we understand, we cannot teach to another “THE WORK OF CREATION IN THE PRESENCE OF TWO, NOR THE CHARIOT IN THE PRESENCE OF ONE, UNLESS HE IS A SAGE AND UNDERSTANDS OF HIS OWN KNOWLEDGE.”  So creation itself is just under the hiddenness of creation as seeing heavenly creatures.   Rav Meiselman says that once something is revealed, it is like it has taught itself, so we can discuss such things which have “revealed themselves” publicly today.

The very second verse of the Torah, describing creation, states:

ב  וְהָאָרֶץ, הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, וְחֹשֶׁךְ, עַל-פְּנֵי תְהוֹם; וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים, מְרַחֶפֶת עַל-פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם. 2 Now the earth was unformed [tohu] and void [vohu], and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.

The Gemora [Tamud] tells us, “It is taught: Tohu is a green line that encompasses the whole world out of which darkness proceeds . . . vohu, this means the slimy stones that are sunk in the deep, out of which the waters proceed”

I think it is reasonable to understand this in line with water created from deeply sunk rocks!  That’s where some sort of “water” comes from!  The waters extended up from the depth until G_d said, “Enough!”  tells us other sources.  Other midrashim tell us how Dovid HaMelech [King David] dug down to these waters which threatened to flood the Earth again.  The Earth’s water coming from rocks under the surface certainly has it’s sources in Torah.

Now, this comes with the standard disclaimers … it’s nice when you find theories in science and Torah that match, but some of science is in flux, and so is some of our understanding of Torah so with moving targets, it’s just another point of confirmation that may or may not stand the test of time, but I still like it as of this writing because the theory of our water from underground rocks makes the most sense, based on what I understand, from both a scientific and Torah perspective.  In doing so, i reject the theory that ocean water comes (in any significant quantity) from comets or asteroids, as the current scientific theory states.

What Else Does the Talmud Have to Say Over Here

Jump down to page 5 over here to read, in English, more of the account of how things were created according to the Torah.  Some of it matches our modern understanding, some does not.  For example, I find this interesting and perplexing:  “Rav Yehudah said that Rav said: The first man [extended] from one end of the world to the other … as soon as he sinned, the Holy One, blessed be He, placed His hand upon him and diminished him.”  Does this mean that “man” as we know us was not the 6 foot tall flesh and blood creature?  I picture The Little Prince on his own world or a baby in a womb, the womb being the entire universe at the time, and then the entire nature of the world became concertized into something closer the form we know it today once man was expelled from the garden.  It’s all just conjecture, but fits in with Rav Meiselman‘s point about not being able to understand previous time epics through extrapolation using present physics, rendering such theories meaningless.  Or, it might also fit with those who take the Torah’s account of creation to not be literal in any case, such as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks at the complete other end of the spectrum.  Perhaps there is really no difference between the two “opposite” opinions.  It is something I grapple with all the time, for which the only thing I know is that I will never know.

 

 Les Miserables

Last year, the Maccabeats, best known for the most popular mainstream Chanukah song since Adam Sandler, released their Passover music to Les Miserables:

It fits all too well, but this shouldn’t be surprising when the basis for each is the same source.  For that matter, it’s been done before … Dudu Fischer combines “Who am I?” from Les Miserables with Kol Nidre (from Yom Kippur).  I can’t find a link to it, but his Hebrew Les Miserables is pretty good.

It seems apparent that Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserables, knew his bible well.  One could also chalk this up to having a commonality of Jung’s archetypes, but if you believe that the Torah is the instruction book from the Creator, then certainly it’s all going back to this source.  In a nutshell, the story of the Torah and so much of western literature is the story of starting out “free”, being cast down, and then earning your freedom and growing into something more than you were.  Take a look at these lines:

Les Miserables (the musical):

Valjean:
macabeats-300x300
Before you chain me up like a slave again
Listen to me! There is something I must do.
This woman leaves behind a suffering child.
There is none but me who can intercede,
In Mercy’s name, three days are all I need.
Then I’ll return, I pledge my word.
Then I’ll return…

Javert:
You must think me mad!
I’ve hunted you across the years
A man like you can never change
A man such as you.

Peruse Chapter 8 of Shemos [Exodus] and a few chapters back and forward and it’s like reading the conversation between Moshe [Moses] and Pharoah complete with a three day journey to the desert to “serve time” not to Pharoah/Javert and the state, but to a power of Moshe/Val Jean’s own choosing … ” Let us go [for] a three day journey in the desert and sacrifice to the Lord, our God, as He will say to us.” (Shemos 8:27).  In both cases, I’ve never found an answer the fully satisfies me – why ask for three days when you know you’re not going to be granted it?  I suppose it shows the reasonableness of the merciful one (Moses / Val Jean) and the unreasonableness of the unyielding one (Pharoah / Javert), which only plays into the hand of the one willing to bend.  It is the rigid one who is broken in both cases, in the Torah by watching his land destroyed, son killed, and army drowned … in Les Miserables by watching his land destroyed, and being left to live with his own defeat.

Now that the link is shown, take it a bit further …

Moshe’s life: a) can’t live at home (will be killed if found); b) matures under the care of Pharoah’s daughter, Basya; c) tastes freedom and rises up against Egyptian power and forced to flee; d) returns to face Pharoah; e) leads people to freedom.

Val Jean’s life: a) can’t live at home (no food); b) matures in jail until the care of the state, as represented by Javert and shown kindness by the priest; c) tastes freedom and rises up against the state, forced to flee; returns to face Pharoah; e) leads Cosette to freedom from the cycle of servitude.

We could go into more details, but I would posit that Moshe –> Val Jean, Pharoah and Egypt –> Javert and France, the Jewish people –> Cosette and even the French revolution sort of matches up with the 10 makkos.  It’s a tragedy leading to freedom which teaches the ultimate power and trust in the good.  Though the army wins in Les Miserables because, well, the French revolution didn’t have the miracles of the exodus and Hugo wrote it while in exile for 19 years (e.g. “19 years a slave of the law” for those who know the line in the musical).

In Dudu Fischer’s version of kol nidre, at about “c” in the above list, he links “Who am I?” directly into Kol Nidre and confessing our wrongs to G_d and owning to the truth.  This is, in fact, the focus of “Who am I?”  Admit to who you are and speak the truth so you can move forward and grow to even higher heights, despite the pain of admitting to do so.  One could read the entirety of Les Miserables as the metaphysical struggle in one’s mind, but there’s only so long I want to make the article. 🙂  Still, what a great teacher of one of the aspects of the Pesach [Passover] holiday.

Lord of The Rings and Torah

According to this source J.R.R. Tolkien was asked by the nazis whether he was Jewish.  The nazis were considering a ban on the book from England and had quite a knowledge of Judaism.  His response included the line, “I can only reply that I regret that I appear to have no ancestors of that gifted people.”  It seems he is quite familiar with Judaism, himself.  The story line, similar to Star Wars, the Matrix, the new Star Trek movies, and so many other works of science fiction follows the story of man, in general, and resonates with us in the western world.  (For example, having once taken a course in Indian subcontinent literature, it can be summed up as, “bad stuff happens to us and ends worse”, and what I’ve read of Chinese literature or something like, “I’m trapped on a box and can’t get out so I will kill myself honorably”.)

Back to the Lord of the Rings series … it goes something like this: a) kingdom of man prospering; b) kingdom goes to war with evil kingdom which destroys it 3000 years ago; c) king exiled, wait for descendant of the king to reclaim the throne; d) numerous warring races in the meanwhile fight it out for power, sometimes with long period of peace … all look down upon man for having fallen; e) all because man became corrupted by power (the rings) which led man to be evil; f) righteous man reclaims thrown and brings in prosperity.

This is a clear take-off on the Temples, destruction thereof, and waiting for the moschiach [messiah], a descendant of Dovid [David] to reclaim the throne.  a) First temple period with rule of King Dovid and Solomon and others (actually, the Temple was built after Dovid’s death), b) kingdom destroyed by Persians 2500 years ago and then Romans 2000 years ago; c) Jews are exiled and wait for a descendant of Dovid to return to power; d) numerous countries and kingdoms fit it out in the meanwhile, often with long periods of peace, but all look down upon the down trodden Jewish nation; e) man was corrupted by the power given … towards idolatry, sexual immorality, and so forth.  The ring represents power to do good or be overtaken by evil, and the simple Hobbit who is humble with no desire for power is not controlled by such things.

The symbolism goes even further … I haven’t read the books into 20 years or seen much of the movies in 10, but here’s some other comparisons:

– the king had the chance to destroy the ring … throw it into the fire and it was over.  He did not.  King Solomon had the chance to destroy Amalek, the nation of evil in the world (e.g. Mordor).  He failed in that task and so the evil remained to cause trouble until today.

– gollum is Cayin [cain] who kills Hevel [Abel] to get the ring … overcome by his own desires for power and acceptance.

– The eye of Sauron is watching.  From Pirkei Avos, Jewish ethical teachings – “Contemplate three things, and you will not come to the hands of transgression: Know what is above you: a seeing eye, a listening ear, and all your deeds being inscribed in a book.”  That is, if you constantly remember that you’re “being watched” by the “eye” of the Creator you would never do anything wrong. Coincidence or not, Tolkien seems to make this fairly literal.

– The black riders – they cannot go in living waters.  They are former humans who have become so corrupted.  In Judaism, a mikveh, living waters purifies you.  The bodies of water would make them pure so they can’t enter or they’d lose their … evilness.

Still Other Western Literature References to the Torah

I’m not sure whether this is just what resonates with the western world, people aren’t as creative as they think, or it’s purposeful (it’s probably a mix) but it’s seen all over.

In the new “Outer LImits” it’s clearly written by people familiar with their bible.  In “The Camp” humans are held captive by robots as prisoners of war.  The humans have their workload increased, and various other iterations straight from the Torah.  When I first saw this, I had no idea I was watching a biblical story.  After the escape, a sequel episode called “Promised Land” has those who disobey and complain live was better back in the camp eat the first food they find, only to die of poison very similar to the biblical episode.  In yet another episode, a Supreme Court judge in the future is held hostage until he admits to hiring a conjurer to raise his dead daughter … this is the story told in sefer Shmuel [Samuel] regarding the witch of Endor.  (This, uncoincidentally, is the name of the witch in “Bewitched.”)

In the new Cosmos series, filled with excellent production quality on various cosmology and scientific theories, they are unable to get away from Biblical narratives.  Tyson, the narrator, describes evolution as a “tree of life” and makes some very obvious logic flaws only made by fundamentalists such as, “trees and humans have almost the same DNA.   … this is undeniable proof that one evolved from the other.”  People who speak in absolutes are always wrong (paradox intended) and certainly there’s at least one other possibility … but suffice to say, in a work about scientific theory, the theory follows the progression in Bereshis [Genesis] itself, and those explaining it are referencing it.  We didn’t see the theory come out of China or India for a reason.  To put it another way / quote Rabbi Shlomo Singer, no one spends their life trying to show the moon isn’t made out of cheese, but people spend their lives trying to show there is no Creator.  Apparently, there’s not as sure as they claim or they wouldn’t be dedicating their lives to disproving something so silly.

I have hard that much of Sigmund Freud’s theories come out of biblical relationships, though I am not familiar enough with works to know.  I did find this interesting link which is suggestive that it did at least influence his thinking, and therefore, modern psychology.

Feel free to add your own references in the comments that you think I should have included.

This is the last in a thread of posts which began with a review of R’Meiselman’s book on Torah and Science, followed by a discussion of the dispute between R’Meiselman and Nosson Slifkin, and finally, a broad philosophical perspective on maybe why there are six days of creation.  Now, I will be discussing modern Jewish views on the six days of creation in view of science and attempt my own reconciliation of sorts.

Overview of Jewish Answers of What’s Happening in the 6 Days Of Creation

Here is the short, short version of how different thinkers have phrased it, from right to left on the viewpoint map.  The answers are, I believe, not very far off.  It should also be understood that I don’t think any of those I refer to actually claim theirs to be the answer.  R’Sapirman poses his ‘answer’ in question form only for purposes of showing we need not abandon Jewish beliefs in the face of science, R’Meiselman’s answer is along the lines of “we don’t know, but we do know Torah is true”, and as for Dr. Gerald Schroeder … I once had the opportunity to pick him from the airport.  I asked him  “Do you believe your theory is true?”  He thought for a moment and said, “After teaching it for so long, I’m starting to.”

Answer 1: Strict Literal Reading – Six Days & Creation of an Old World

(By “strict literal”, I am using the colloquial understanding that creation took six days from our time perspective and using the incorrect assumption that time is absolute.  In ‘reality’, even if it was from another time perspective, that’s still “strict literal”.)

Rabbi Sapirman has been instrumental in trying to introduce teaching emunah (why jews believe what we do) into Jewish schools.  He has produced books, school curriculums with short lessons (which were dinner time reading for my family), and an audio series.  The latter is available for free download on this blog, entitled, “Know What to Answer Yourself.”

In Rabbi Sapirman’s audio series, he posits the question – why can’t it be that a Creator created the world already in place?  He uses an example of stars with light already stretching for light years when it was created.  This could be literally done in six days.  Just as man was created fully formed, so too was the universe.  This would explain inconsistencies with what current science observers from our exceedingly limited vantage point and what actually was.

I’m not particularly fond of this explanation, but it is at possibility and one which really can’t be disproven.  Then again, it’s not really that different than the more palpable answers.  If a tree falls on a mime in the woods … does anyone care?  (Farside cartoon.)  If it all happens slow or fast, and you’re an infinite which is creating, what’s the difference?

Answer 2: Different Time Click – We Don’t Understand it, Move On

It’s said a bit more eloquently than that, but this is my understanding of R’Meiselman’s opinion in his book.  He devotes a chapter to the Rambam’s understanding of the shift in time clock on the fourth day (Bereshis [Genesis] 1:14 where it states, “to separate between the day and between the night”).  Before there’s a difference between “day” and “night” there’s a difference in the time being told.  Beyond that, the Rambam also states (as quoted in the last article) that it’s the second most hidden topic in all of Judaism … right after the description of the visit to the throne of the Creator.

R’Meiselman also makes clear that we have a truth from our fathers extending back to Sinai and this tradition is the living and continuing truth from the Creator.  There are a ridiculous number of places where we see the wisdom in the Torah attesting to it’s truth and greatness. (Rabbi Sapirman points this out as well, though more in the prophecy sense.)  It doesn’t change, but beliefs of the rest of the world have and continue to do so.  If something outside of Torah matches it, great.  If not, it can go take a hike (again, he says it more eloquently than that).

Answer 3: Torah Sources Match Modern Theoretical Physics; We’re Almost There

This opinion comes from Avaraham Goldberg, a Torah observant theoretical physicist (kabbalist?).   I reviewed his book over here, previously.  He basically goes through, on a very simple level, how our Torah sources describe the first moments of creation especially, and continues through from there.  Minute Physics, a great YouTube channel, actually discusses this as well:

It’s also seen in the “God 2.0 Video” from Imagining the 10th dimension which I discuss over there.  Great video.

In short, there’s a whole lot of convergence of Jewish beliefs and modern physics beliefs that, well, for more are further evidence of the truth of both.  No other beliefs coming from such disparate systems which claim truth are so aligned, to my knowledge.

Goldfinger does acknowledge at the end of his book one major problem: time.  For this the answer is relativity of time.  I discussed this in the previous article, but Gerald Schroder really takes this concept and fleshes it out as fully as I’ve ever come across.  It was actually a talk of his which I attended which first let me to realize not all creationists are … ignorant.

Answer 4: Torah is Telling Time from the Point of the Big Bang

This is the theory posited by Dr. Gerald Schroder, a Torah observant physicist by training.  He has a lot of very excellent books, trying to understand the Creator.  He strictly uses Torah sources and modern physics and organizes a whole lot of data.  I am going to try and explain the basics of his theory in a short space and do my own “making it fit” experiment, with apologies to R’Meiselman. In short, taking current physics it is believed that the speed of light is constant … we’ll use this, though there are theories that say the speed of light must have been quicker and I don’t see a reason why, when the universe itself was being created and more in flux, that the properties of physics and math would also be more in flux and changing than the seemingly static rules we observe today.

So what haRelativity_of_Simultaneity_Animationppens if something is moving away from you at something close to the speed of light?  The time it takes for the light to arrive back to you takes longer.  Add in another element – not only is the object moving away from you, but it’s moving faster and faster away from you, e.g. accelerating.  See, for example, how the rolling shutter effect distorts our view far away galaxies.  With a spinning galaxy, the closer part of it will reach us faster.  This is shown quite well on Wikipedia as well in the article, “Relativity of simultaneity” and the image to the right which I borrowed.  (Click it to see it bigger.)

As Einstein put it, imagine a train traveling at half the speed of light.  Shoot a laser up from the floor of the train to a mirror on the ceiling. When the beam comes back down, if you’re on the train it will be a straight line.  If you’re standing next to the train as it whizzes by you, the light moves at an angle upwards (remember, the train is moving quite fast) and then back down … but since the speed of light is constant, the time it takes to do so is much longer.

Limits to Human Knowledge and Assumptions Inherent in Cosmology, Geology, Torah

(You can skip this section and move on to the answer, if you prefer.)

Here comes the fun – do the math when viewing the universe from the point of creation of the universe and you got a very nicely overlapping picture between the two disciplines of knowledge.  (I used to be able to do the math, but now I have a Flowers for Allgernon feeling (not understanding my own previous work) when I try to do it.  For some simpler English explanations, see here and here.  I’ll leave the details of the math in this problem up to whomever wishes to comment, or view Gerald Schroeder’s works.)

What makes this complicated to do is that, in my humble opinion, is that well what actually happened is quite static, our understanding of it from a scientific point of view, is always changing, and from a text point of view, is open to all sorts of interpretations.  For example, the most current theories say that the rate of expansion has been decreasing, until recently when it again began increasing.  lyabao.graph5That is shown in the graph to the right from the link in the prior sentence.  This theory has only been widely posited for about 7 years.  For purposes of simplicity, I’m going to go with constant deceleration of an expanding universe.  It shouldn’t change the data too much, and further, there are many more approximations going on here which create far bigger problems including massive gaps in human knowledge.

Now when we get to geology, this is also based on very limited amounts of data.  Try and research a question like “when did the oceans form?” and you’ll find that the range of current range of scientific estimates have about a 13% difference between them, and suffer from the problem of piggybacking off of the same absurdly tiny data set being used to form the conclusion the first place.  No one was there four billion years ago to make direct observations and much may have effected the present time observations that we haven’t a clue about.  I have even less knowledge than a person who spends their life on this stuff (why one finds an interest in dedicating their life to a pursuit that gets us nowhere in human development except for maybe making arguments for/against G_d’s existence is beyond me).  So I wrote to both the Museum of Natural History in New York, NY and the American Geological Association requesting an accurate timeline of events and how they know it from geological digs.  Let’s just say the answers are quite disappointing.  In cosmology the experts publish all sorts of timelines and mathematical calculations.  In chemistry, Mendelev arranged the periodic table and predicted elements yet to be found.  Geologists and evolutionary biologists don’t seem to like math or neat organization of very disparate data from all over the place which makes me highly suspicious when the experts in the field stopped just shy of writing to me that I should take a leap of faith and just believe them.  They confirmed that there is no place you can bore a hole in the earth and see a complete picture of the 4 billion years of earth development, but even worse, there isn’t even a published place, according to the experts I asked, where the biostratography is put together to paint a complete picture.  The claimed there isn’t much interest in such a thing, but yet, it’s the claim in every textbook.  So I’m defaulting to the every-man source, Wikipedia and the article, History of the Earth … and making another assumption that Wikipedia has accurate information on the beliefs of geologists and evolutionary biologists.

As for the words of the Torah, all of creation is summed up even more concisely.  It’s 26 sentences.  The description of the mishkan in the desert is far longer than that, and that was a temporary physical structure.  Conclusion: The latter is more important to learn.  That teaches us how to live and is a metaphor for a body with arms, legs, and a heart.  Meanwhile, when the Torah says with regards to creation, statements like, “”Let the water that is beneath the heavens gather into one place, and let the dry land appear, and it was so” does that mean that it occurred all at once, over more than one epoch of time, or was it a command which was only actually fulfilled later in another day?  (The Malbim discusses much of this.)

A Day by Day Attempt At Reconciliation Using Relativity

Relativity of Time from Big Bang ("G-d Time Clock") vs. Earth - Click for Large Image

Relativity of Time from Big Bang (“G-d Time Clock”) vs. Earth – Click for Large Image

With those disclaimers in mind, a theoretical person viewing the earth from the point of creation would be like the person standing on the train platform watching the train pull away immediately at it’s fastest, and steadily slowing down.  It’s an exponential decay curve. and is, according to Schroeder’s hypothesis, how the Creator is narrating the opening verses of the Torah.

With apologies to my high school calculus teacher for not updating the answers on the review sheet after graduation like I said I would (I guess I should forgive myself at this point…), I’ll do my best to explain – constant decreasing acceleration (picture a line going down and to the right on a graph) results in an increase in distance over time, but the increase comes slower over time.  Now, the time it takes for light to reach back to the observer takes longer and longer but the space in time between the first epoch (between “day 0” and “day 1”) is much greater when acceleration was faster and the percentage of distance change is highest.  If the “train platform” is also moving away, you have a further shift in observed time of the earth (or what will be the earth) from such a vantage point.  According to Jewish sources, in fact, the Creator did “remove Himself” to allow a physical space to be created.  Combine that with the rate of acceleration of the universe might not have been constant, and there’s an infinite number of ways to match up the “G_d timeline” to the “human timeline”.  I’m going to stick with Schroder’s theory to make it easier – time in the Torah is told from the point of the Big Bang, and earth is moving away at a decreasing accelerating rate.  (For more on the math of integrals and derivatives, that part is explained here.)

The final step is matching up what the first 26 verses in the Torah say for each day within those time frames.  I am using the current accepted number of 13.75 billion years for the age of the universe (Schroeder uses the now outdated 15 billion in his books, as far as I know).  In a decelerating frame of reference (again, assuming constant deceleration) that gives us a nice decay curve like you see to the right.  Viewing a photon traveling back to you after traveling for 24 hours at a rate much, much greater than the speed of light (by a power of 10 to 12) and it’s actually been traveling 7 billion years from it’s frame of reference.  If you want to view a photon traveling for two days from your perspective, and it’s 3.5 billion years from it’s frame of reference.

Here’s how it fits:

Time from Creator View Time from (pre-Earth) Perspective English Torah Original Hebrew Wikipedia Desc Fit?
Day 1 0 to 7 billion yrs (approx) 1. In the beginning of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth. א. בְּרֵאשִׁית בָּרָא אֱלֹהִים אֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְאֵת הָאָרֶץ: big bang to formation of stars and galaxies
Perfect fit
2. Now the earth was astonishingly empty, and darkness was on the face of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the face of the water. ב. וְהָאָרֶץ הָיְתָה תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ וְחשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם וְרוּחַ אֱלֹהִים מְרַחֶפֶת עַל פְּנֵי הַמָּיִם:
3. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. ג. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי אוֹר וַיְהִי אוֹר:
4. And God saw the light that it was good, and God separated between the light and between the darkness. ד. וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאוֹר כִּי טוֹב וַיַּבְדֵּל אֱלֹהִים בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחשֶׁךְ:
5. And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night, and it was evening and it was morning, one day. ה. וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים | לָאוֹר יוֹם וְלַחשֶׁךְ קָרָא לָיְלָה וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם אֶחָד:
Day 2 7 to 10.5 billion yrs (approx) 6. And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the water, and let it be a separation between water and water.” ו. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי רָקִיעַ בְּתוֹךְ הַמָּיִם וִיהִי מַבְדִּיל בֵּין מַיִם לָמָיִם: formation of solar system
Separation of the ‘rakia’ which is debated in Jewish sources would be the solar system and perhaps the matter that would form Earth, from rest of matter
7. And God made the expanse and it separated between the water that was below the expanse and the water that was above the expanse, and it was so. ז. וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָרָקִיעַ וַיַּבְדֵּל בֵּין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ וּבֵין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ וַיְהִי כֵן:
8. And God called the expanse Heaven, and it was evening, and it was morning, a second day. ח. וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָרָקִיעַ שָׁמָיִם וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם שֵׁנִי:
Day 3 10.5 to 12.25 billion yrs (approx) 9. And God said, “Let the water that is beneath the heavens gather into one place, and let the dry land appear,” and it was so. ט. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יִקָּווּ הַמַּיִם מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמַיִם אֶל מָקוֹם אֶחָד וְתֵרָאֶה הַיַּבָּשָׁה וַיְהִי כֵן: oceans form; simple life to eukaryotes (complex cellular life)
Formation of oceans generally belived to be a little earlier but we’re pretty close given the overall timeline. As for vegetation and trees, the wording in Hebrew is more literally translated as, “said G_d [the controlling forces in this word aspect thereof] there will be grasses and vegetation from offspring of offspring [zera m’zera]” – Evolutionary theory says that plants come from simple eukaroytic life which could be what is being described here. Is is the beginning of the process and leading to grasses and trees in the “offspring of offspring”.
10. And God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas, and God saw that it was good. י. וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים | לַיַּבָּשָׁה אֶרֶץ וּלְמִקְוֵה הַמַּיִם קָרָא יַמִּים וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי טוֹב:
11. And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, seed yielding herbs and fruit trees producing fruit according to its kind in which its seed is found, on the earth,” and it was so. יא. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים תַּדְשֵׁא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע עֵץ פְּרִי עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי לְמִינוֹ אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ בוֹ עַל הָאָרֶץ וַיְהִי כֵן:
12. And the earth gave forth vegetation, seed yielding herbs according to its kind, and trees producing fruit, in which its seed is found, according to its kind, and God saw that it was good. יב. וַתּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע לְמִינֵהוּ וְעֵץ עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ בוֹ לְמִינֵהוּ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי טוֹב:
13. And it was evening, and it was morning, a third day. יג. וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם שְׁלִישִׁי:
Day 4 12.25 to 13.13 billion yrs (approx) 14. And God said, “Let there be luminaries in the expanse of the heavens, to separate between the day and between the night, and they shall be for signs and for appointed seasons and for days and years. יד. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי מְאֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם לְהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הַיּוֹם וּבֵין הַלָּיְלָה וְהָיוּ לְאֹתֹת וּלְמוֹעֲדִים וּלְיָמִים וְשָׁנִים: multicellular life; sky becomes visible
The sun and moon were created earlier, however, geology tells us that it is the bacteria which produced oxygen and made our current “third atmosphere” in this time period. During the “second atmosphere” it was filled with ash and thus, the luminaries would not have been “in the expanse of the heavens, to sepearte between day and between the night” or “for appointed seasons”. This, in fact, happened during the time which falls into day 4.
15. And they shall be for luminaries in the expanse of the heavens to shed light upon the earth.” And it was so. טו. וְהָיוּ לִמְאוֹרֹת בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמַיִם לְהָאִיר עַל הָאָרֶץ וַיְהִי כֵן:
16. And God made the two great luminaries: the great luminary to rule the day and the lesser luminary to rule the night, and the stars. טז. וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת שְׁנֵי הַמְּאֹרֹת הַגְּדֹלִים אֶת הַמָּאוֹר הַגָּדֹל לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַיּוֹם וְאֶת הַמָּאוֹר הַקָּטֹן לְמֶמְשֶׁלֶת הַלַּיְלָה וְאֵת הַכּוֹכָבִים:
17. And God placed them in the expanse of the heavens to shed light upon the earth. יז. וַיִּתֵּן אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים בִּרְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם לְהָאִיר עַל הָאָרֶץ:
18. And to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate between the light and between the darkness, and God saw that it was good. יח. וְלִמְשֹׁל בַּיּוֹם וּבַלַּיְלָה וּלֲהַבְדִּיל בֵּין הָאוֹר וּבֵין הַחשֶׁךְ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי טוֹב:
19. And it was evening, and it was morning, a fourth day. יט. וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם רְבִיעִי:
Day 5 13.13 to 13.46 billion yrs (approx) 20. And God said, “Let the waters swarm a swarming of living creatures, and let fowl fly over the earth, across the expanse of the heavens.” כ. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יִשְׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם שֶׁרֶץ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה וְעוֹף יְעוֹפֵף עַל הָאָרֶץ עַל פְּנֵי רְקִיעַ הַשָּׁמָיִם: simple animals, fish and proto-amphibians, land plants, insects and seeds, amphibians, reptiles
Fish <-> “mayim sheritz” (water creatures) fits perfectly; birds said to form 310 million years ago; seems to be perfect fit
21. And God created the great sea monsters, and every living creature that crawls, with which the waters swarmed, according to their kind, and every winged fowl, according to its kind, and God saw that it was good. כא. וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים אֶת הַתַּנִּינִם הַגְּדֹלִים וְאֵת כָּל נֶפֶשׁ הַחַיָּה | הָרֹמֶשֶׂת אֲשֶׁר שָׁרְצוּ הַמַּיִם לְמִינֵהֶם וְאֵת כָּל עוֹף כָּנָף לְמִינֵהוּ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי טוֹב:
22. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters of the seas, and let the fowl multiply upon the earth.” כב. וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים לֵאמֹר פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת הַמַּיִם בַּיַּמִּים וְהָעוֹף יִרֶב בָּאָרֶץ:
23. And it was evening, and it was morning, a fifth day. כג. וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם חֲמִישִׁי:
Day 6 last 220 million years 24. And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kind, cattle and creeping things and the beasts of the earth according to their kind,” and it was so. כד. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים תּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה לְמִינָהּ בְּהֵמָה וָרֶמֶשׂ וְחַיְתוֹ אֶרֶץ לְמִינָהּ וַיְהִי כֵן: mammals, flowers, primates, people
Fits perfectly with mammalian
 development
25. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kind and the cattle according to their kind, and all the creeping things of the ground according to their kind, and God saw that it was good. כה. וַיַּעַשׂ אֱלֹהִים אֶת חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ לְמִינָהּ וְאֶת הַבְּהֵמָה לְמִינָהּ וְאֵת כָּל רֶמֶשׂ הָאֲדָמָה לְמִינֵהוּ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי טוֹב:
26. And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the heaven and over the animals and over all the earth and over all the creeping things that creep upon the earth.” כו. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל

This article was actually far more difficult to research and put together than I had imagined.  While I have gone over it a number of times and made many edits, I am still not satisfied with it.  I also recognize that I am an expert in none of the areas I am describing.  Thus is the nature of a Patent Attorney.  We’re good at quickly learning all sorts of topics about everything and then writing at length about it.  Then we send it back to the inventor, the expert in the field, to make sure it’s all correct.  Given that this article spans many very different disciplines, there are a lot of different experts that will have opinions! Therefore, I am not insulted if you argue against anything I have said vigorously in the comments.  I welcome it (when done respectfully) so that you and I can both better come to finding truth.

This is a continuation in the series on Rav Meiselman’s book on Torah and Science and the Controversy between R’Meiselman and Nosson Slifkin.  It also might be helpful to see what a modern physicist / Chassidic Jew has to say.  The narrow answer, walking through the actual text of creation, is coming.

The Question

How can it be that the world certainly appears, based on cosmology and geology, much older than the about 6000 years that the Bible says?

The Short Answer: What Question?

Where were you at the founding of the earth?  Tell, if you know the esoteric understanding.  (אֵיפֹה הָיִיתָ, בְּיָסְדִי-אָרֶץ;    הַגֵּד, אִם-יָדַעְתָּ בִינָה) – Iyov [Job] 38:4 (translation is my own)

Why is this a question?  The question should be why it doesn’t say that the world was created in an instant!  Now that seems like something a powerful infinite Creator would do.  (I’d answer that by saying that this is a rather finite definition of expectations of an infinite.  If we were infinite, we could just as well take our time.)

As for six days or any duration longer than “instant”, how would we know how to view things from a time scale of our Creator’s writing?  It is certainly “literally” true, albeit esoteric from our perspective.  It’s all a matter of frame of reference.

Take a look at the great video below from “Minute Physics.”  Gravitation and acceleration result in time dilation measurable even with the error in our own GPS satellites, yet we expect a story of creation to be told from an immutable time frame.  Time, itself, as well as they laws of Physics are themselves being created!  Clearly it’s different and there will always remain parts of our understanding (e.g. crush the universe into a singularity with an infinite temperature) or experimentation that we won’t understrand.   (The video is actually 37 seconds over it’s namesake, but not if you watch it from a GPS satellite accelerating at the right speed).  

Our Outstanding of Time Has Changed; the Literal Truth Has Not

There has never been a case where the refuah [healing] wasn’t prepared before the makkah [punishment]. – Rav Yaakov Weinberg zt”l, “Rav Yaakov Weinberg Talks about Chinuch”, 2006

America was ‘discovered’ by Europe during a voyage under the Spanish crown in 1492, the same year that Jews were expelled from Spain by the same crown.  The answer is always prepared before the problem.  The Creator is not bound by time and doesn’t need to answer to our notions of time, space, or linearity.  When Moshe [Moses] wanted to see more, he saw the knot at the back of the Tefillin … where the seemingly disparate straps (when viewed head-on) come together and it all makes sense.  I’ve skimmed through early issues of Popular Science, which used to have some religious content … the problem with days of creation and religious content leaving the scene of science seems to have occurred only in the early 1900s.  It was in 1905 that Einstein first published information on the relativity of time showing that it’s not linear, and finding ‘the solution’ to the problem.

Wait, What Answer?

What is the difference between Maaseh Merkavah [accounts of ascent to the throne of G_d] and Maaseh Bereishis [creation]? Maaseh Merkavah may not be revealed even to a lone individual unless he is wise and capable of understanding on his own, in which case one may pass on to him the “chapter headings.”but maaseh Bereshis may be taught o an individual even though he is not capable of understanding it on his own.  Nevertheless, one may reveal to him all that he is capable of grasping of these matters.  Why, then do we not expound on it in public? It is because not everyone has a sufficiently broad grasp to comprehend the presentation and explanation of these mattes clearly.” – Rambam, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 4:10-11.

The Torah tells us that this is all really hidden from us.  Not inaccessible, but only can even be revealed to one who can understand.  I don’t know what I’m talking about nor does anyone, really know.  I think, however, thanks to modern physics, many more people can understand and grasp much more than in the times of the Rambam.  Maybe there is a kabbalist or theoretical physicist (they often sound the same thing to me) out there today has great understanding,  Still, the thing we’re trying to explain is the second most hidden topic in the world.  Time and space itself is created during creation, and we, who live within both time and space and cannot avoid it expect to explain beyond it?  Imagine Gumby, a stop-motion clay character from my childhood, explaining how Art Clokey‘s brain works.  Now take that up an infinite level.  We can only understand what is revealed to us, and even that is with great difficulty.

‘Video Gaming’ Billions of Years in Days

It may well be that questions affecting the relation between science and religion received due treatment in those two departments of esoteric learning. – R’Yitzhak Herzog.

When hearing a simple “frame of reference” answer for the first time, I wouldn’t be satisfied.  Gerald Schroeder goes into it in much more detail; I will discuss his view and that of others in the next article.  For now, the greatest mashal, or comparative story to make a point, I can think of are the hours and hours spent playing video games in my childhood.  I gravitated towards the more sophisticated (“nerdy”) games.  This included many life simulation games from Maxis such as SimCity, SimAnt, and SimTower.  I posited in about 1990 that one day they’d come out with a game where you just played a person going through your day.  Turned out “The Sims” is their most popular game yet.  It is SimEarth that best helps explain, however.  It’s a simulation game where you guide Earth through stages from pre-Cambrian through blasting off into space.  You can see someone playing it over on YouTube.  In the game you guide life from simplest to most complex by creating the right conditions.  You can terraform, you can place oxygen producers and affect the atmosphere, and you can futz with the conditions of life and watch it grow.  (In a much newer and related incarnation, Spore, you follow the ‘life’ of an individual species and can actually edit the functional parts of your creature.)In these life simulation games, you can’t even play in real-time where a day is 24 hours.  For that, you might just step outside and watch the grass grow in a much bigger simulation .  We play simulations which are simpler than ourselves with fast forwarded time.  Bored?  Want to get up to the part in the game where mammals are created?  You set it on super fast speed … until desert takes over or your design starts going the wrong way, and you zoom in both in time or place and make some tweaks and keep going.  Do i really care that I zoomed past 1 billion years to get the part of the game that I want to play?  That took me maybe 10 minutes where I went to get a snack because I lost patience.  This comparison, of course, breaks down when talking about an infinite who has an infinite amount of time to “play the game” and in fact, created time and dilates it even after creating it.  It’s not only not fixed, it’s not … anything.  Suppose G_d really did “zoom past” a few billion years in a “day” … so what?  The question, again, would be why zoom past anything instead of just creating it done?

Time Dilation in Action

Time Dilation in Action

To explain a bit further and borrow from Rav Shimshon Dovid Pincus‘s example, imagine a bird that take a speck of dust in it’s mouth and puts it down on the ground somewhere.  It goes back and gets another spec and does this again and again … eventually, after a month, there’s a tiny pile.  After a year, a bigger pile.  After a trillion years, there’s a large mountain.  Now we have some sense of duration of time, but the Creator is infinite in all dimensions, not just time.  Is it a problem for such a Creator to create everything in six days, even if for us it takes a billion years?  What’s the rush when you’re outside of time?

The ‘Extra’ Time and Space is Everything and Nothing Extra – Why All This?

That’s all well and good, but I think we are left with the question of why would a Creator need to create all this extra time and space only to ‘fast-forward’ through it?  We tend to think of the amount of energy needed to move a system.  We worry about wasting fossil fuels and how much it will cost to buy a sandwich.  Our reality is surrounded by having a cost for what we do.  If you create the world, there is no cost.  Consider it “limitless free energy.”  

It also must be a teaching method for us.  (This does not, as Nosson Slifkin argues, mean that it didn’t happen or that we should start changing what we think is wrong with the Torah or our mesorah from Mt. Sinai – Just because we don’t full understand doesn’t mean we throw it out.  We can try and deduce more, but even then, we may be totally wrong.)

For example, when we create something big, we consult with others (e.g. G_d says, “let us make man”; a straightforward discussion of Rashi’s explanation of this is here).  So too, when we create, it takes a blue print and execution of multiple steps to create something complex.  Look at the universe in any direction and there is more to see.  Large: What’s outside of the edge of the universe?  It seems to just expand bigger and bigger.  Small: What’s smaller than a quark?  Simple: A point.  Complex: The brain.  Why create more than a flat surface to let your creatures run around on it and serve you?  Why give them the ability to deny you even exist?  What on earth is that all about?  Look how great the creation is, and this testifies to the planning, breadth, and greatness of amazing this infinite Creator is.  Ma rabu ma’asecha!  How amazing this all is!  Everything testifies to the Creator and there is no limit to the progress of our understanding.  Science serves to show that, not detract from it.

More on the ‘Extra’: The King Who Sits in Solitude

The whole world was only created for the Tzaddik [righteous person] – various versions appear in the Midrash, Talmud, and Zohar.

We all desire relationships.  With our spouses, or parents, our children, and our friends.  We are also created in the likeness of the Creator.  So it follows that the Creator also wants a relationship … but with whom?  The Creator sits alone!  When I maybe 14 years old, my atheist grandfather once answered missionaries at the door with, “You expect me to believe in a G_d who is an un-sexed being?”  (We didn’t always agree on philosophy, but we certainly always agreed to question things.)  To love another person is to see the face of G_d!  Just as the vastness of time and space teach us the vastness of G_d, all the more so, so does love.  We want a relationship, and an infinite wants the relationship infinitely more!

A fundamental belief from the Torah made little sense to me for years – the whole world is created for the tzaddik [righteous person].  There is a story in, I believe the Gemora, Midrash or both [source needed <grin>] of rich men with vast fortunes who find their entire purpose was to build a bench under a tree where a tzaddik stopped to rest while walking. The entire fortune of the rich man, in the end, is nothing except for the bench and tree.  The rest of it all, and the rest of us, are only served by serving the tzaddik.

Why?  Whom to we love?  When we love everyone, our relationships are spread so thin that we don’t have them.  We choose whom who can, and with them with draw close.  The more depth, the more meaning.  The more we can do for someone, the more we can come close.  We can’t really do anything for an infinite Creator, but like any good relationship, it’s two ways.  One has to give to the other and give the other an opportunity to give to them.  We see how G_d created the world in six days, not in a moment, so as to show us that we too go through levels of simple to greater complexity in depth and relationship.

However, we will ultimately love few … as does the Creator.  In the finite world which is wider than we can fathom, having parts smaller than we can fathom, and lasting a greater amount of time than we can fathom, sits one planet floating on nothingness.  As wide as the skin of an apple is to the fruit is the atmosphere of the planet.  Within that, are numerous creatures, only one of which ever asks, “Why?”  (Thank you Michael Stevens of Vsauce for this one.)  Who else even has the opportunity to connect to the Creator?  Within that are the few who even try and serve the Creator, the fewer who do so every day, and the fewer who get it almost all right.

Yet, it is precisely that person who G_d wants.  This person won’t be born like an automoton serving the Creator – that’s no fun and that’s not much of a relationship.  That’s programming, or maybe fear, but a real relationship is one of love.  It is the few who come to this fully … the tzaddik with whom the Creator wants the relationship.  Just as the world isn’t created in an instant, neither is the tzaddik.  Just as the world goes through creation until perfection, so too does the tzaddik.

We are still, at least in the moment that we overcome a negative trait, like the tzaddik in a smaller, or maybe even a larger sense.  Or, we can serve the tzaddik … within us or around us.  Even a kernel of grain, in Jewish thought, achieves it’s greatest tikkun [rectification with the infinite], on it’s level, when it’s part of the bread that we eat on Shabbos.

If you have a question on the length of time, you also should have a question on the breadth and depth of the universe, as well.

Next Up . . .

– From where, exactly is G_d telling time in the Torah?  How does that fit with our frame of reference?

– Matching up the “G_d time” and “Human on Earth time” in a more specific manner through cosmology and geology.

– Creation in the Torah and modern scientific theories don’t always tell the story in the same order.  What do we do about that?  (Spoiler alert: I am going to reject throwing out the literal meaning of the words or relegating creation to a mere ‘parable’.)

– From “right” to “left” in opinions of modern Jewish thinkers on creation … from literal to relative.

 

This is part 2 in a series on Rav Meiselman’s latest book.  For the full book review, see part 1.

Road-Map to These Articles

In my review of Rav Meiselman’s book, the purpose was to explain the Rav’s opinion.  I was trying to limit my own editorializing or make any decision on if it was the right approach.  At the time, i was really grappling with the difference between Rav Meiselman and Slifkin.  in this post, I go through my thought process and how I’ve arrived at the conclusion as to with whom I agree.  In part III, I’ll discuss the first 6 days of creation to bring out the point.

The Controversy of How to Relate Torah to Modern Science, in a Nutshell

slifkin-meiselman-contreversy-scienceA rather lively debate is going on within the Torah Judaism world as to what constitutes, well, ‘Torah Judaism’ with respect to scientific discovery.  I’ve well documented Rav Moshe Meiselman’s opinion on this matter that if it’s in the Torah which is received from G_d, the starting point is our mesorah [handed down understanding], and unless necessary, do we seek guidance from experimentation.

Recently, I’ve been grappling with the opinion of Nosson Slifkin whose books have been banned by Meiselman and for that matter, many other big names in the Torah world . . . Rav Moshe Shapiro, Rabbi Ahron Schechter, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetzsky, and Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef amongst a long list of others.  These include some of the greatest Torah giants of our generation and are certainly not to be taken lightly.  As Torah Jews, we trust that there are those who know more than us, even if we don’t understand.   (I wrote about must trust in a gadol [giant] in Torah it in an article on Rav Zilberstein’s discussion of medical halacha.) Still, I was never satisfied with it in this case.  I want to understood why … what, exactly is wrong with Slifkin’s books?

What is a Machlokos for Shaymayim (The Sake of Heaven)

First, a brief word on machlokos, or “disagreements” in Judaism.  Those which are for the sake of heaven endure, those which are not, will not.  This is a core belief which we learn from Korach and explained in Pirkei Avos [ethics of our fathers].  Rather than reinvent the wheel, the concept is explained quite if you follow this link to Torah.org.

Still further, there’s another principal of “minimizing machlokos” – making it as small as possible because we don’t want disagreements.  For example, in Bava Kamma, daf 14 (which I happen to be learning right now), there’s a dispute between Rav Pappa and Rav Huna as to whether when your animals gores someone for the first time and you pay half damages, is this as compensation or as a fine?  What’s the practical difference?  The only difference is whether in the case of admittance, do you pay?  If it’s a fine, one doesn’t pay when they admit guilt.  If it’s compensation, you pay.  Yet, the Talmud goes on for pages and pages trying to prove one way or the other despite the point of dispute being so small.  Yet, everyone agrees that if your animal gores the first time, it pays half damages to the other party.

First Try: Minimize the Maklokos Between Rav Meiselman and Slifkin

This, in a nutshell seems to be something like much of (but not all of) the dispute between Slifkin and Meiselman. It seems, from a theoretical standpoint, to be only a question of “to what extent” with very little difference in end result. I’ve actually met and had a few short conversations with Nosson Slifkin.  He gave lectures at Ohr Somayach when I learned there.  I asked him about the ‘proof’ used by the Aish HaTorah Discovery program regarding fish with scales always having fins, as seemingly spelled out in the Torah.  Slifkin’s answer to me was that there is, in fact, an exception but he wasn’t publishing it because it was used for Jewish outreach.  Meiselman’s book spends an entire chapter on the issue!  He had no problem exposing it (though it’s still pretty good, and in summary, for kashrus purposes, if you see a fish with just scales it’s kosher and you can rely on that … something that is 99.99% the case is just fine to rely on, and even in the exception case, it can be argued that it’s really not an exception … see Meiselman’s book).

To go even further, Meiselman openly says (and I apologize for being too lazy to find all the page numbers) that Rishonim (about 10th century to 14th century) sometimes explained concepts in Torah using the science of their day and could be mistaken.  Example: Spontaneous generation of life with regards to the “Achbar”, a rodent or squirrel that came from the mud next to the Nile river.  The Talmud itself, however, does not state that there is spontaneous generation, and in fact, Meiselman and Slifkin’s answers on this are nearly identical … the Talmud is arguing what the law would be in such a case described by others, and not actually saying it occurred.   (Though modern science does believe in spontaneous generation … they say life just sort of happened.)  This is useful in discussions of say, grown meat, or a better example, the discussion of flying towers is very useful when discussing Jewish law with regards to airplanes.

Both Rav Meiselman and Slifkin, are, to my knowledge Torah observant Jews who believe in the authenticity of the Torah from the Creator, as handed down to us from Mt. Sinai without change.  In practical difference, the outcome is, at least at this time, fairly small if existent at all.  The difference, as best I can tell, from reading both of their writings, is that if the Talmud states something as fact, it could be a mistake.  Even there, the number of potential ‘mistakes’ is about as many as the fingers on a hand.  More often, and I think both would agree, it’s a mistake in our understanding.

Would one’s practice of Judaism be different if they believed Rav Meiselman or Slifkin were right?

Slifkin’s best argument in this regard (sifting through article after article on his blog of attacking everything just short of the color Rav Meiselman’s frock) seems to be “the Rabbonim are suppressing information and alternative thought.”  Slifkin, a student of the very much haredi Mir yeshiva in Jerusalem, now champions left-leaning publishers (calling out Artscroll?! who even publishes an RCA [modern Orthodox] addition of it’s prayer books) and regularly posts things to embarrass those to “to the right”.  (At the time of this writing, his blog leads with an article of haredi-looking Jews alternating between dancing and being sprayed with a water cannon, mocking them for not joining the army.  What this has to do with the controversy over his ideas, I have no idea.)

Meiselman’s argument in this regard is that once we start with beliefs which involve “throwing out” parts of Torah and saying that our mesorah as handed down to us from Mt. Sinai has mistakes in scientific understanding, then why wouldn’t you also say there are mistakes in legal understanding?  Further, if you start changing things because modern science says something, then what happens when ‘science’ turns out to be wrong and the theories are thrown out for new and better ones?  Even the ‘better’ ones are still approximation based on evaluation of evidence.  So if we ‘jump ship’, so to speak, to keep Torah up to date with science, in reality, we’ll always be jumping further and further away.  Even more so, we’re always putting Torah in the “one down” position, giving in emotionally to the inferiority of what we believe is the word and oral transmission from the Creator.  That’s certainly a silly thing to do, for which I think Meiselman’s opinion is quite logical.

Progression of My Own Opinions

So the above conclusions were where I was up until Adar 9, 5774.  Actually, let me back up further – I went from science being my religion to Torah being my religion 14 years ago.  Still, I ‘needed’ Torah to fit with science.  I needed that up until, I don’t know exactly when, but suffice to say, it was recent.  As both Rav Meiselman and Slifkin would agree, one best arrives at the truth of the Torah by learning it and seeing it’s depth and beauty.  It’s a full and complete system that just makes a whole lot of sense.  What were questions, cease to be questions as you learn more.  There is few pleasures in this world that I have experienced as great as resolving a contradiction and understanding how it fits together.  There are no absolute proofs (though I’ve had fun debating atheists over here and here to sharpen my beliefs), but everyone is seemingly after finding the singularity that explains everything, whether approaching from physics, psychology, the stock market, or, well, the Creator.

When Slifkin’s books were banned, it happened to coincide with feeling the pain of some very bad advice from a person I called “my Rav”.  I had major questions on the scientific understanding of today’s Torah scholars.  Gerald Schroder’s articles on Aish.com were also taken down for review.  It was Schroder’s hypotheses that actually ‘allowed’ me to become Torah observant, though his articles were eventually restored.

It was not until Rav Meiselman’s book that I actually understood the position of the Torah giants of our day.  Slifkin is a much more prolific writer, and as I knew him, he was just this guy running zoo tours from a Torah perspective and a sort of side speaker at my yeshiva.  Still, I have not been able to resolve for myself intellectually why there was a need for the book ban.

I Am Now Was? Convinced of Rav Meiselman’s Side of the Debate Against Nosson Slifkin

David Kornreich runs a blog whose sole purpose is to challenge assertions made by Nosson Slifkin.   He read my review of Rav Meiselman’s book on Torah and science and commented (as you can read over there) that I left out in my review that one can’t call the creation narrative in the Torah just a “parable”.  True, Rav Meiselman said this in his book, but I really didn’t think it was answering a serious challenge and so I left it out.  So I challenged Kornreich – does Slifkin actually say such a thing?  Sure, I can call the “hand of G_d” an allegorical sort of thing, or better yet, a metaphysical sort of thing.  No problem … I don’t understand what it really means, though maybe some kabbalist out there does on a deeper level.  However, to call an entire narrative in the Torah a ‘parable’ would mean that when the Torah says X happened followed by Y, it’s lying to us.  That would be too much for me to stomach.

David Kornreich delivered and provided me with this link –  It’s clear from Slifkin’s video where he’s pretty much talking from his book, The Challenge of Creation (the link is to Google Books where you can actually read excerpts online – jump down to page 218 and start there) … he takes it way too far in supporting whatever the current scientific theory is over Torah.  Not only does Slifkin put science in the “one up position” and Torah in the “one down position” he quickly dismisses the veracity of the Torah’s creation account!  If that’s the case, how can we trust anything in the Torah as being accurate?  Let’s just take whiteout to the ten commandments because modern psychology says honoring a deadbeat father is wrong.  Then once we do that …

I’ll take up the topic Slifkin and Creation in more detail in part III of this series.

The Summary

torah-chazal-science“Torah from Sinai is not only truth, but tells us the whole of truth.  Modern science is, at best, an approximation and a curiosity.  At worst, it’s a changing set of incorrect theories taught as religion.”

The above is my own summary of Rav Moshe Meiselman‘s 600+ page book which discusses how Judaism and science interrelate.  With some skipping here and there, I’ve actually gone through the entire book to arrive at the summary.  Rav Meiselman has some impressive credentials.  He holds a doctorate from MIT, was a close student of Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, and is Rosh Yeshiva at Yeshivas Toras Moshe in Jerusalem.  I personally hold his only other published English work, Jewish Women in Jewish Law, in very high esteem.

The Writing Style

Rav Meiselman has no problem taking others head on with whom he disagrees – this includes very direct references to the works of Rav Aryeh Kaplan, Rabbi Jonathan Saks (former chief Rabbi of the British Empire), Shlomo Sternberg (Bar Ilan professor), fundamentalist Christianity, and others.  This work also includes some obvious but never-named references to Nosson Slifkin who has gone on a very public warpath, especially through his blog, against anyone who he perceives is against his own books.  More on that later.

I’m pretty sure that it’s people such as myself who are the intended audience of this book – I come from a scientific-minded background, and very much ‘needed’ theories such as that of Gerald Schroeder (an MIT Physicist) to become Torah observant.  Once, I even picked him up at an airport, had him over for dinner with a few friends, and then drove him to his public talk so that I could directly ask him all my questions.  Now Rav Meiselman, as best I can tell doesn’t mention Schroeder or Andrew Goldfinger (Thinking about Creation – my review over here), or those of this sort who “make it fit”, but he does have a general criticism for anyone who wants to “make it fit”.  The message goes something like this: “That’s curious.”  At other times (it’s a long book), the message is more like this: “Knock it off.”

The book is best described a hybrid of encyclopedic and Solevechian.  it covers all sorts of topics to prove the point, and goes into all the details to do so with lengthy discussions of mostly the Rambam and Rashba.  It appears to me that the author’s intention is that a person might like this section or that, depending on their interest, so there is a lot of overlap or downright repetition of concepts in different sections.  Or, just if you start at point A, it will lead you to bring in point B.  So too, if you start at point C, it might bring you to point B as well, so you see point B covered twice.  This is not unlike learning Torah in general, as one thing will lead you to another, especially when learning in depth in the Solevechain method of learning.  (The Satmar Rebbe’s biography contains an indirect criticism of this approach as one doesn’t get to the point this way.)

The Approach of Rav Meiselman

Rav Meiselman’s logic is fairly straight forward.  He takes as truth our tradition that Torah was handed to us from Sinai.  This is a basic belief of Judaism.  There are a few zeniths of knowledge – when Adam was given a human soul, at Mt. Sinai, at the time of King Shlomo (First Temple Period), and again when the moschiach [messiah] arrives.  At Mt. Sinai it was greater than at the time of King Shlomo because there was direct access to the source.  King Shlomo, on the other hand, was able to logically learn out just about everything from the principles of how to restore lost information.  This included cures for diseases and the exact parameters of mitzvahs in the Torah.  The point is: the information was there, complete, and correct.

As we move further away in time from the informational zenith (but closer to another one), then not only is information lost, but even the knowledge to understand the writings of previous generations may be lost.  There *might* be errors, but we believe that the Creator is actively involved in the world, and as such, is preventing any major deviations.  More likely, we are misunderstanding.

So what happens if science and Torah don’t fit?  He divides this into two categories – 1. “extrapolative” or “historical” science and 2. confirmed tests of present reality.  The first category he does not consider science at all.  We might, say, have a working model to help us categorize such as is called “evolution” but, quoting his rebbe before him, science is overstepping it’s bounds when it posits any such thing as truth.  At best, science reveals approximations and where these approximations don’t comport with Torah from Sinai, it is the science that is wrong.  The Torah need not be “made to fit” and should not be made to fit.  For this, in Rav Meiselman’s eyes is degrading to the truth by putting it in the “one down” position and is downright dangerous.

Example – The Flood

Again, the book is large, but I’ll take a tough one because it appears scattered through the book, in order to make various points.  First, Rav Meiselman uses it to show that there is vast scientific knowledge – the very dimensions of the Tevah [Ark] have amazing buoyant properties, copied in smaller form by shipbuilders in the 1800s.  It fell out of practice because, well, steering doesn’t work so well (not a concern of Noach), but it seems to be a very maximal way of loading down a boat while it remains quite above water.

(In this section, I was also quite fascinated by mathematics discussions – such as the size of a window compared to it’s circular opening, as listed in the Talmud with what looks to be clearly erroneous numbers.  The book shows how if you stop reading it with the assumptions of modern math notation, and read it with a second set of circles around each corner, it works out quite well … and that people who could calculate the position of the moon surely weren’t so ignorant in other areas.  So too with using “3” as the calculation for Pi, as whatever number we use for Pi is always an approximation.  Using a greater approximation does not sure lack of knowledge … unless you have a pre-determined agenda.)

Then the book later comes at the ark from a different angle – that of attacks on it since a) it’s impossible to feed that many animals and b) they won’t all fit, even with the massive size of the ark.  The retort is something like this: “It’s a miracle, silly.”  It doesn’t go by natural mechanisms and the laws of physics may, or probably were, very different before, during, and after the flood.  These are different epochs of history with a world torn apart and put back together.  More than once the book references the concluding sections of Iyov [Job] and a quote from the Talmud that Iyov would be on the same level as Avraham, Yitzchok, and Yaakov if only he didn’t think he had that right to argue with the Creator.

So then what about the sediment layers in Greenland and Antarctica that show constant deposits due to the flow of water with no evidence of a flood?  Well, the answer is above – we have no idea how the world was torn apart and put back together and what aspects were and weren’t changed.  The retort from critiques is that “G_d would then be trying to trick us.”  This book’s retort: “No, you’re tricking yourself with your own logic.”  Rav Meiselman further argues against the Greenland sediment thing by saying that there are similar deposits on Mars with no evidence of water.  So perhaps what we think we’re looking at in Greenland is quite different than scientists are theorizing.

Further, Rav Meiselman has this to say on Jewish (and to a lesser extent, Christian) apologists who want to “make it fit” by saying things like “the flood was only localized.”  The retort – then how do you explain flood stories all around the world?  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_flood_myths for a very extensive list. [Addendum – see comments below where more detail is provided in response to a question.]

Attack on Historical Science

On this topic, the book’s bottom line is that there’s lots of knowledge even in the amount of Torah we have today,  We have no reason to change based on what is nothing more than a new religion that is deciding otherwise based on their theories which are stacked one on top of the other.

Rav Meiselman’s sourcing on the history of science, and what knowledge came from here is impressive even if you disagree with every one of his conclusions.  Through this, the book shows quite well how theory after theory has been overturned from geo-centricity (which relativity has sort of revived) to the eternal universe to Lamarckism (the theory that the environment effects traits inherited in future generations).  When I took medical level biochemistry, I had realized on my own that every prior biology class I took lied to me about current scientific knowledge on that last point.

In very many places, Rav Meiselman makes the point that what was taught as “truth” in the scientific world (which sometimes was put into dogma of other religions formed during such times), has been overturned again and again.   If science agrees today with something in Torah, great.  If not, well – neither did plenty of other scientific theories and today’s are no different and no more believable.  A geo-centered universe needed irrational “epicycles” to explain the motion of planets.  Today’s theories require one to have faith in dark matter which is just as strange, according to the book.  Many scientists who find this troubling are referenced and it’s quite possible that these theories will also be overturned.

Another problem with modern science is that it states that all life is generated from previous life.  This worked out alright when science also taught the universe has been around for an eternal period of time, but today, a beginning is taught with spontaneous generation of life.  Yet, despite the blaring contradiction (do we have spontaneous generation or don’t we?) the theories are still taught as absolute truth.

True, Rav Meiselman states, we have some questions on things like the flood, but we have no reason to re-evaluate or re-adjust in view of another religion (which some call ‘science’) which has far greater contradictions and leaps of faith.

The Controversy

Even a summary of a 600+ book is long.  I think the above will give a reader the gist of the Rav Meiselman’s approach, but it is not without controversy.  This extends to the approach of Jewish outreach organizations, the curriculum of Jewish schools, and a debate which has been going on in the Orthodox Jewish world for quite some time.  That shall be the subject of the next article on the topic.

Introduction

rationality-add-more-lightIn the article, Folly of Faith, Folly of Reason, one of the things I argued based on Isaac Asimov’s short story, “Reason” was that point of view on topics beyond the dimensions that we can observe is based on emotion.  The article made a lot of my science-minded friends a bit unhappy, but led to some great discussions.  Below is a somewhat edited version (taking out any personal references and cleaning it up) of an online conversation I had with a friend where we explored the topic further.  We started out on vastly divergent points, my friend being what I would call a “hyper-rationalist” and myself being something of a self-proclaimed “rationalist leads to belief in things beyond what we can see”-ist.   We do, at least, agree that we should start with postulates that we want happiness and meaning in life and I think my friend began to see where I was coming from.  I argued that we can look at anything and see the negative or see the positive and that leads us to belief in a Creator who made us for a purpose (something akin to the robot in “Reason”, actually).

The conversation follows.  The headings are added for readability.

Defining the Limits of Knowledge

Friend: Your Folly of Reason image resembles an incomplete representation of the Radon Transform used by CAT Scan imaging.  The third light source is missing. You’d still be guessing if you said this object was a cylinder as you still cannot prove the objects opacity in all three dimensions. However, three ‘orthonormal’ light sources will give you the ability to establish the shape of the object leaving zero room for doubt and one’s emotional interpretation.

Me: Nice cold, hard reasoning.

Friend: We need to be certain before we operated.

Me: The image is just a metaphor – it’s harder to draw showing the 3rd and 4th dimension.  We can understand 2nd vs. 3rd though.

Friend: I stick to the three physical dimensions known as Hilbert Space. The other dimensions and the nature of 95% of the universe (dark matter and energy) is yet to be defined.

Me: Quantum theory calls the 4th dimension time or duration. We live in the 3rd dimension but still have a ‘flat’ view of the 4th. The picture shows the concept of living in the 2nd and imaging the 3rd, though we don’t need to imagine the 3rd…it’s a comparison.

Friend: Our observations are blind to those extra dimensions, but absolutely certain in the dimensions that are appropriate for the measurement. The difference between opinion and science is having a ‘spanning data set’ which covers all dimensions relevant to the conclusion. Psychology is not considered by science to physicists.

Me: Then why do you not include time on your list.  Our observations are not blind to time.  Time is not a dimension in the same sense as the physical dimensions

Friend: That’s debatable. We can and often do treat it as a dimension, though.

Me: I don’t think our observations can really tell us that.

Friend: it depends on what you are trying to prove.

Me. That is based on the postulate that you start with. That was Asimov’s point which I wholeheartedly agree with.

Friend: Maybe. Explain further.

Me: His point is that by using logic and reasoning alone, you can prove anything (philosophical) you want depending on your starting point. The starting point, however, is based on emotion.  A ‘rationalist’ will choose the starting point as ‘only what I can observe is truth’. I find that to be irrational.

Friend: That isn’t true. You cannot prove something that is false unless you are a working in ‘cargo cult science’ [a reference to the Asimov story].  That was a Feynman reference.

Me: That is when you have all the information… for the shape of a three dimensional object, that is true (assuming there is no fourth or fifth dimension to it that we can’t see).  However, our lack of ability to see the object in another dimension does not mean it is not there.  We become just like the ‘cargo cult’ robot in the Asimov story.

Friend: it is yet to be established.

Me: Agreed.

Friend: Do we care that the kidney stone we are illuminating with x-rays from three dimensions is blinking on and off in dimensions 23-56?

Me: Probably not.  It’s much easier to disprove the logic of something than prove it. My point wasn’t really to prove anything of the sort.

Friend: Dimensions 1-3 are good enough to tell the surgeon to start cutting.  Or do you have another point?

Me: I agree with you and understand what you’re saying.  I’m not arguing that any of it is incorrect or even arguing that I know or can prove with any certainty that there is anything beyond that.  I am, instead, arguing for the limitations of this mode exploration.

Me: There may be more that we can access (for which, with a yarmulke on my head, obviously I do believe).  Such modes of exploration cannot be used to show absence of such higher powers and causes.  As such, I then disagree with people like Asimov (don’t get me wrong – I think the man’s a genius) who say they don’t feel an emotional connection to such a thing, so therefore, they don’t bother studying it.

Friend: Many religious people require that all things G_d are mysterious and cannot be understood. Proven facts are then rejected based on the disposition that they are understandable.

Me: I don’t subscribe to that view. There are plenty of not-very-deep thinking people out there. Belief in G_d doesn’t seem to be an indicator of how deeply thinking a person is.

Friend: For example, the sequencing of the human genome has been done with a “sufficient number of light sources” to be undeniable fact.

Me: I don’t see the point in arguing along these lines … I agree with you. But it doesn’t change the existence or lack thereof further dimensions simply because someone isn’t too bright.  

Friend: Okay.  i see your point now.

Defining a Logical Emotional Postulate To Reach a Logical Conclusion in All Cases

Me: Or, turn it around – someone saying “there’s a sequenced genome” or “there’s a fossil” so therefore there is no G_d … is equally not very bright.

Friend: Such a statement would not be very bright.  A better conclusion would be that Gd is now understood a way that is different than previously believed.

Me: I agree with that.

Friend: Only the nature of the conjecture changes based upon emotion, the proof or disproof of that conjecture never changes.

Me: Pretty much. I look at someone like DeGrasse Tyson [who argues there is no G_d because why would G_d create a universe where life can’t exist in most of it and is “trying to kill us] and I just can’t get there.  Why would you want to look at the world as full of death and destruction?

Friend: A very religious person may perform different experiments, but there is no denying the facts that result.

Me: Agreed … though we may not understand all the factors, etc.

Friend: How I feel about the conclusion (i.e. death and destruction) does not change the facts that lead to the conclusion.  For example, those three sources of light that found a tumor . . . I do not like that.

Me: It’s a point of view. You can focus on those facts, or you focus on the amazing things that is the universe, the creation of life, and that it’s all for the best.  Same facts, different starting conjecture….   I choose my version. Tyson’s view is pretty depressing.  Yes, depressing is an emotion and this is an emotional response, but one that seems rational to me.

Friend: But what about the tumor that the three sources of x-ray have irrefutable illuminated? is it not really there because it makes you feel sad?

Me: Of course it’s there, but why do I have to feel sad?

Friend: Why do you have to feel sad about the evidence in which Neil Tyson conveys?

Me: I don’t feel sad about the evidence. I feel sad about the conjecture and conclusion he draws.

Friend: Asimov’s assertion is that such sadness may keep you from getting the cat scan. Someone else may not have the same bias (the doctor while you are in a coma and cannot give consent). Now you are faced with the facts. Who cares about your bias now?

Me: I don’t see how you get to Asimov’s assertion. In any case, I do believe your bias matters. That’s the placebo effect.  Happier people live longer. Holocaust survivors have this uncanny way of living really long lives, on average. People who want life, get it.

Friend: YOUR bias matters in what YOU do. Others will still present information that is irrefutable that YOU would have never tested.

Me: Like what?

Friend: Like you’re tumor that was discovered while you were in a coma that you would have never looked for.

Me: Ah.  Let’s pre-suppsoe for a second that calling to a higher power works.  Let’s further support that if your friends and family don’t try it, then you die.  If they do try it, then you come out of the coma.  In Jewish belief (I can’t speak for other religions, and can barely speak for Judaism) you’d be responsible for not praying.

Friend: Let’s pre-suppose that asking the higher power for things upsets him and the result will be much more favorable if i live him alone.  Who is right?  how do you know?

Me: Okay… that goes back to a very negative world view. That would actually be more ‘sad’ than Tyson’s. If that’s the case, we’re all in trouble.  What your proposing is the “reverse Pascal wager”. It’s an argument based on extreme negativity which is better suited to winning arguments than trying to live a life of pleasure.

Friend: It is not my disposition. its just a way of establishing logical fact. its is valid to take the converse of any logical statement.

Me: From a purely logical perspective, you are right … I do not know for sure that the converse isn’t true.

Friend: When dealing with tumors and global warming, it is important to deal only with facts.

Me: Agreed, but we might look at it very differently.  Why do you care about global warming?  You die anyway, done.

It is Rational for a Rationalist to Care About What He Cannot Rationalize

Friend: Who said anything about being done when you die?

Me: Will global warming effect you after you die?

Friend: Yes.

Me: Go on…

Friend: My children and their children.

MeHow does that effect YOU?

Friend: it is not necessary to take such an egocentric view.  The ego is just a survival tool. it is not all that we are.

Me: So now you’re getting into the unobservable.  What are we after death, in your view?

Friend: Our genome is propagated through our children. The sense of ego is as extraneous and useless defining a ‘computer’ in the internet cloud. Its just not relevent in that sense.  where are your digital pictures? Does it matter? They can be in 500 places.

Me: So the purpose of existence is survival? Whose geome can last longest?

Friend: This is a concept that is fairly well understood. Many religious people don’t like things that are understood.  They require that the explanations all remain secret and mysterious.

Me: So why do you want to propagate your genome?

Friend: This is the nature of life.

Me: That’s not an answer.

Friend: We were made that way.  We also can understand some of how and why we are made and how we operate. There is no requirement that we deny these things.

Me: So what? To use converse logic / Tyson logic … if the world is almost entirely death and destruction anyway, why bring more people into it?

Friend: its not what we do or how we are designed.

Me: Why does near term vs. far term matter either? Global warming? What about the sun exploding.

Friend: Our design does not account for our near or far term predictions of the universe.

Me: Your answer is akin to a person traveling down a stream on a boat rowing because that’s what boat’s do.  They never stop thinking about how they got on the boat or the waterfall ahead.

Friend: We may also know that the waterfall ahead is not a death sentence for which we should put a bullet in our head right now.

Me: Maybe. I think that’s my point.  Except in the end, we all die and according to scientific theory, so does our genome.

Friend:  …and that the waterfall really is ahead even if we don’t want it to be. We don’t argue that the waterfall is not ahead because it makes us sad.

Me: No, but that’s a silly way to live life.  This is conjecture, but I think that life should be about maximizing pleasure.  I start with that postulate and another one of free will.

Friend: i’m not arguing against that.

Me:  I think my conjecture leading to belief is pretty simple: maximize pleasure + free will … and see where that takes me. This is where it did [to become a Torah observant Jew] …and does. I have yet to hear any counter to that to convince me otherwise.  This is where non-theists lose me.

Let’s Attack Belief in Authenticity of the Bible Instead

Friend: i do argue that earth is much older, however.

Me: Agreed.  That was the largest thing which held me back, actually.  I agree that the world is much older.

Friend: How did you come to this conclusion?

Me: Reviewing the evidence for and against.  However, I do not really *know*.  It’s perfectly logical to say that G_d created a world that only looked old, even if not satisfactory to say so.

Friend: We have better information than that.  We have information illuminated by a sufficient number of light sources.

Me: I don’t see how we can know. We examine data and conclude based on it, but we can never have all the data about what happened 13 billion years ago.

Friend: Age of the universe is a harder question than the age of the earth.

Me: There are a bunch of theories, interpretations, et al. as to how to understand the Biblical account of creation with the age of universe / earth. The most appealing to a rationalist is probably Gerald Schroeder’s. He’s a MIT physicist and writes books on the subject.  The short version of his answer is that the biblical account is from the point of creation, using relativity … it’s measuring 24 hour cycles of time from that point, when the light returns back there. It’s an accelerating frame of reference, so each day, if you calculate it, is half as long as the last.  Once Adam is giving a human soul (breath of life), the frame of reference switches to earth. This is day 1 (Rosh Hashana) on our calendar … though this is day 6 of creation.

Friend: it helps to formulate a general model of any unknown system so that you can even think of the next experiment to perform in order to put together the big picture conclusion…eventually.

MeI hear… so it’s about knowledge and knowing more, but to what end?  There’s no ultimate purpose in any of it from an atheistic perspective other than an Asimov-type “I’m happy and don’t need more” sort of argument, as he once said.

Friend: Okay. You need to work on an overly convoluted bridge that now reconciles evolution in the framework of Genesis.

Me: It works out quite well.  The Bible’s concern is not teaching science. If the theory is correct, billions of years are condensed into about 24 sentences.  Why Genesis is there at all, is a better question.

Friend: You have only reconciled age of the earth. You need an equivalent reconciliation for evolution.

Me: The short answer on that is it fits into days 3-6 or so, each day being half the length of the last. If you’re up for reading material: http://www.aish.com/ci/sam/48951136.html

[At this point we exchanged concluding salutations and I went to get lunch.]

Book Review: Thinking About Creation – Eternal Torah and Modern Physics; by Dr. Andrew Goldfinger

Introduction

Dr. Goldfinger holds a PhD in theoretical physics and as Masters in counseling.  Some people like to collect degrees.  He is also a Torah observant chassidic Jew and writes a monthly column in Mishpacha magazine, a weekly family magazine geared towards Torah observant Jews.  Though as I’m aware many of my readers are of different persusations, still, if you’re anything like me you might find it interesting to read magazines of different groups.  Myself, I enjoy the occasional buy of magazines like “Muslim Girl” or “Christianity Today” just to see what’s going on in the rest of the velt.

Confluence of Modern Physics and Torah

thinking-about-creationLike myself, Dr. Goldfinger sees quite a confluence between what modern physics and the Torah have to say about creation.  It was actually the study of physics that first seriously had me considering the existence of a Creator and all that entails (I wrote about that over here).  Other physicists tend also to agree, such as this guy, but still others claim otherwise.  To me, this is an example of free will in how the world is created.  (I once took up this topic with atheists over here.)

Indeed, Dr. Goldfinger also discusses many of these subjects.  He uses, for example, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle to show that the world is such that there is uncertainly and will always be an appearance of free will to us.  Even if there is not “really” one, since we will always have it from our perspective, that leaves choice.  That is, Heisenberg’s principle tells us that one can never know the precise position and speed of an object, and the smaller it gets, the more our observations effect it making our measurement ability even less accurate.

Other topics such as Occum’s razor are discussed (arriving at the simplest conclusion) and putting everything together, ultimately, we hope in a single unifying force underlying it all.  In Judaism, we call this . . . you know, the Creator.  It’s all really simple, really, it’s just that after creation it burst forth into lots of complexity.  The premise of the book is to examine what we know, or at least, what we have observed, from both sides of the coin and try and put it all together based on modern theories.  It works … surprisingly well.  It’s not perfect, and sometimes it requires taking a certain ancient scholar’s teaching over another (it’s possible for errors in the transmission of Torah learning) and sometimes the science doesn’t quite agree (because our observations often have bias or entire widely held theories may be based off of improper assumptions, unpopular papers may never get published, or the like).

Then, if we talk about the very beginning of creation . . . it all fits together very, very well.  This deserves it’s own heading, so . . .

Creation Itself – Where we are in Physics and Torah

One of Iyov’s complaints [Job] is that one cannot know G_d and to examine, we look backwards to what people have observed before.   The Rambam tells us that through science we can see an aspect of G_d.  Creation itself is put into very few words in the Torah, though our ancient commentaries do tell us more.  Dr. Goldfinger opens with an excellent exposition of discussions of tohu v’vohu, the beginning with void and darkness, and goes through how the commentaries describe the creation and how we read the very words in the opening of the Torah.  Now, there is certainly some hindsight bias here (having the conclusion we want to draw), but Dr. Goldfinger is quick to point out in many places that with any observations, we are just trying to put things together in narratives that work.   It’s not much different than other scientific narratives, e.g. the Big Bang and everything that went with it . . . the further back in time we go, say, to the first 1*10^-27 second, and the more conjecture and the more what we know of the physical laws break down.  Dr. Goldfinger will tell you repeatedly – it’s not bad science . . . it’s just the best we can do.

It doesn’t always work out perfectly and we will still have further “kashas” (questions), but in large part, it works out really well.  Take for example, the Hebrew word “bara” which is an usual term used for a new creation.  For things which are truly new, such as the creation of the universe or of animal life, the word is used.  For those things that could “evolve”, the word is not used.  Further, generically we go back to a single person.  Mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down directly, says it’s a fairly small number of generations, while the Torah tells us it’s 974.  Random selection and gradual change should show us a lot more diversity than that.

Now, take it back to the beginning . . . red shift of stars shows us that the universe is expanding and goes back to a single point.  The temperature, at creation, would be infinite and the size infinitesimal but this very quickly moves in the opposite direction.  How?  Why?  We don’t know and it’s fairly doubtful we’ll ever be able to measure this and we cannot truly understand the infinite, but we can come closer and closer.  In any case, after thousands of years of Hellenist philosophy telling us the universe just is and always was, and that an invisible ether permeated the universe and light came from matter, suddenly in the past 100 years it seems the Torah, written 3300 years ago, had it right all along.  There was a chaotic void, there was a beginning, there was an observer to make it all happen, and so on we go.

How Can There Not be Order in Creation?

One of the conclusions that I think Dr. Goldfinger is trying to bring out is that the universe is ordered and not an accident.  (I take great issue with those who want to see the world in a negative light – that’s just silly.  More about that over here.)  I am just in awe reading the chapter about the physics at the beginning of the universe.  If the theories are correct, there was a world immense heat which has fallen to an average of about 2.73 kelvin (just above absolute zero).  In the beginning, it’s too hot and dense for molecules to form.  Then, once you have atoms, then what . . . and at the end, it’s too spaced apart for anything much at all (if the theory is correct).  Yet the universe is such that it’s not just the chaotic void it once was, or nothingness, or whatever it was.  It’s such that not just atoms form, but complex atoms form . . . and it just “happens” to be that water has the properties it does, and carbon the properties that it does, and it all fits together to “allow” for self-replicating machines that we call life.  What an amazing thing!

I can go on with thousands more such examples of the appreciation of what the world is.  As such, there is no question that there is an omnipotent, infinite force . . . it seems from Occum’s razor and just the seemingly infiniteness of depth in which we can view the world, going smaller, bigger, or through dimensions of time and space that this must be a Creator.  The only time for doubt is when I’m thinking narrowly about and being blinded by physicality.  The Ramchal tells us that our senses are no help in coming to this reality – it is only our intellect which tells us.  Thus, the only question that I find even worthy of debate is whether this omnipotent force who created us, cares about what we do, but that’s for another article (and partially discussed here as well).

Nitpicks About this Book

Just a few things … it’s written for a very unsophisticated audience.  As such, there are times when, say, the page about scientific notation, you might just want to skip.  As such, it’s hard to say it’s written for those with even bachelors degrees in science, or even, who took high school physics.  My other nitpick is with some of the more ‘far out’ things and incompleteness of certain discussions.  For example, using “panspermia”, the idea that life came from another planet to make it fit in a Torah timeline seems pretty far out . . . and unnecessary.  There are better ways to make it work.  There are great discussions of relativity which makes a whole lot of things in Torah and creation work out and fit together quite well, but then, the author glosses over the difference between 6 days and 15 billion years.  It seems he just didn’t know, at the time of writing, how best to fit it together.  (Dr. Gerald Schroeder, another Torah observant physicist, I think, does a much better job of this over here.)

The book does, however, quite well describe many scientific theories and axioms using very simple and easy to understand analogies.  For that, I feel that I learned a lot.  It’s hard to write a book discussing what society today has deemed two very different topics, and generally speaking, he does it quite well.  Where else do you find a glossary that defines “peruta” (tiny coin, used in Talmudic literature) next to “photon” (tiny amount of light)?

Conclusion

This book is a great starting point for exploration of the world . . . seeing how to approach questions on creation, examine the evidence, and put it all together.  It’s a fairly easy read, yet discusses a wide variety of complex topics.  I do recommend it to others, especially to those who think their religious beliefs should match their scientific beliefs.

Google Books has a plethora of old photographs, books, and magazines available for free viewing.  This makes it a whole lot easier than looking through microfilm at a library, and you don’t even have to be looking for anything in specific.  One day I was perusing through old issues of Popular Science and found some quite interesting things.

Popular Science May 1872 – A lot of talk about G_d!

popsci1First, since this is a blog largely about the intersection of Jewish belief probably more so than patents and science, I found in interesting that in the May 1872 issue, one can find a rather lengthy article on the immortality of the soul as it pertains to scientific inquiry by a Reverend T.W. Fowle.  It seems the debate still hasn’t changed.  Among the things, the author says are:

Rationalism will approach mankind rather on the side of the virtues of the intellect.  It will uphold the need of caution in our assent, the duty of absolute conviction, the self-sufficiency of men, the beauty of law, the glory of working for posterity, and the true humility of being content to be ignorant where knowledge is impossible.  Religion will appeal to man’s hopes and wishes recorded in Nature and in history, to his yearnings for affection, to his sense of sin, to his passion for life and duty, which death cuts short.  And that one of the two which is truest to humanity, which lays down the best code of duty, and creates the strongest capacity for accomplishing it, will, in the long-run, prevail; a conclusion which science, so far as it believes in man, and religion, so far as it believes in God, must adopt.  Here, once more, it is well nigh impossible to discern the immediate direction of the conflict, whatever may be our views as to its ultimate decision.  Science is almost creating a new class of virtues; it is laying its finger with unerring accuracy upon the faults of the old morality; it is calling into existence a passion for intellectual truth.

Ironically, after the pessimism permeating how far reason can talk humanity after the devastating worldwide upheavals of the first half the 20th century, society would largely flip Reverend Fowle’s position on it’s head.  Namely, while I would argue that religion and science should ultimately have entirely resolvable conflicts (or one of them is incorrect), Fowle puts “absolute conviction, self-sufficiency of men, the beauty of law, the glory of working for posterity, and the true humility of being content to be ignorant where knowledge is impossible” in the “rationalism” column.  I’d put them more in the “religion” column.

“Then, down on page 122, “Sir W.M.W. ull, Bart., M.D., F.R.S.” discusses “The Nature of Disease” and discusses “God’s will”.

Popular Science October, 1872 – Climate Change

In turns out discussions of climate change are nothing new.  In an article entitled “Has Our Climate Changed?” the author tells us, “In Western Europe there is a belief that a great amelioration has taken place in all the Baltic countries since the time of the Roman domination.”  The author discusses the facts behind or lacking in such claims, but take a look at this chart, where he tries to find modern evidence:

hudson(click to enlarge)

The conclusion, based on temperature and river data (does the Hudson river even freeze over anymore?) is that there wasn’t climate change in the 1700s and 1800s.

Popular Science March 1936 – Communications Developments

By 1936, after the age of “reason” has taken over, worldwide discontent over WWI and a population in a state of depression, Popular Science is rather upbeat.  It’s hard to see negative signs of society in this science paper, and strikingly, many of the topics under discussion continue to be just the same today!

Take a look at this (click on any image in this article to enlarge):

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Click to Enlarge

That is an advertisement for an “automatic secretary” which which delivers messages in “the speaker’s own voice!”  It would take until 2003 for the government to start looking at ways of banning robocalls.

Then we’ve got short hand code for telegraphs:
popsci23

It seems, back in 1936, i was considered an improvement to write “KUBOR” for “we are shipping to your agent in your care in Shanghai” over a telegraph line.  Little did they know that by 1990, their grand-children would be using short codes on America Online to ask a stranger for his age, sex, and location or to tell a person that they’re laughing. LOL!

Popular Science March 1936 – Vehicle Developments

Take a look at the Lincoln Tunnel.  I love this article:

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Click to enlarge

The article touts how the tunnel was “built in record time” with a hydraulic wrench.  I want to say . . . we certainly have not progressed in this area!  New Jersey Governor Christie rightly canceled a project for a new rail tunnel which would have cost somewhere around $14 billion, connect to no where people want to go in New York City (requiring a further transfer to Penn Station), and had to be designed to absurd depths underground to avoid red tape.  Still, we can marvel at the Lincoln Tunnel which was scheduled to open in 1938 with “a real novelty in tunnel design – a roof of glass.  Eight thousand panes of cream-colored glass will line the top of the tube.”  This way, the article tells us, they don’t have to clean it!  I was in the Lincoln tunnel yesterday . . . I can confirm. LOL.  KUBOR!

Then the article tells us,

Eventually, an underground highway may link the Midtown Tunnel with a projected tube under the East River . . . giving motorists a through route between Long Island points and New Jersey mainland.

That is actually a quite interesting story, and the plan was only officially cancelled by Mayor Rockefeller in 1971.  One of the plans involved running the highway right through the middle of the Empire State Building.  In the end, it just proved far too expensive to buy up land in midtown Manhattan.

Well, here’s one downer – the German development of a vehicle that can travel on both land and water:

popsci12 popsci18

The vehicle travels at “1.5 miles per minute” . . . 90 miles per hour.  Not bad.  Today, similar vehicles are used for “Duck Tours” in Boston:

boston_duck_tour_splash

 

Back to automobiles.  Take a look at the Plymouth (later bought by Chrysler) ad for a new engine:

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Click to enlarge

 

“No premium fuel is required and owners report 18 to 24 miles a gallon.”  Let’s see . . . that was in 1936.  My 1988 Oldsmobile got about 16 miles a gallon on a good day, my 1988 Caprice about the same, my mom’s Mercury Topaz circa. 1994 got about 20 miles a gallon, and our minivan gets about 20, maybe 21.  Okay, my Kia gets about 25 or 26, but aside from the fact that we’re still using miles per gallon instead of a much more useful inverse, gallons per mile . . . seriously?  Our fuel efficiency is of the same caliber as when Charlie Chaplin was in theaters?

Here’s some more car innovations which haven’t changed . . .

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This one is dear to me for a simple reason – in 2013, automakers have returned to putting two seats in the front, taking out the middle seat.  If your family or carpool is larger than the car, well, this 1936 innovation is hard to come by today, but in the world of Torah observant Jews in the United States where mass transportation is largely non-existent as is busing to private schools, there are those who install these things today.  You can take a 7-seat minivan all the way up to 9 seats this way.

. . . and finally, the scams remain the same!

I have an article over on my Patent Law Firm website about my meeting with an invention promoter.  These are people who promise you riches if you just pay them $10,000 or so.  They tend to be scam artists who start off with “call for your free brochure.”  The ads in the back of Popular Science in 1936 have almost word for word text compared to companies like Davison today.  Click the image to enlarge:

popsci126

 

Since 1999, however, such companies get sued by the Federal Trade Commission and have to disclose the number of clients they have and number that have made money.  Davison buries the following required disclosure on it’s website:

The total number of customers who have contracted with Davison in the past five years is fifty eight thousand eight hundred sixty five (58,865). The number of customers who received a net financial profit as a direct result of the company’s services over the company’s history, since 1989, is twenty eight (28).

To translate, they have been paid by 58,865 suckers, all of whom lost money except for 28.  That’s a 0.0048% success rate!  Yet, people are still fooled by the same old ads even with these disclosures . . . take a look at some of those ads from 1936: “unpatented ideas can be sold”, “patent your ideas – send for free book”, “inventions promoted”, “take out your own patents”.

The more things change, the more things remain the same.

In this article, I attempt to make a few points: a) Point of view on topics beyond the dimensions that we can observe is based on emotion; b) People tend to illogically ignore evidence that doesn’t fit with their emotion-based postulates, whether they are religious or secular (including the great writer, Isaac Asimov), c) you can’t convince most people of very much at all; d) Judaism, which I believe to be true, recognizes the limits of rationality and faith/emotion and is a mix of the two (in my opinion), and finally, e) choosing rational postulates of what gives the most meaning and pleasure based on examination of the evidence is most rational.

Proof Depends on the Postulate

The follow of reason - you'll never seen the cylinder, but it's there.

The follow of reason – you’ll never seen the cylinder, but it’s there.

In Asimov’s story, humans make a robot-run outpost in space.  One robot decides it’s illogical for humans, who are inferior to robots in so many ways, to have created him.  So the robot logically determines that the most advanced thing there, the outpost’s computer, made it and declares “There is no master but the master and I am his prophet” (a satirical take on the Muslim declaration of faith).

 You can prove anything you want by coldly logical reason- if you pick the proper postulates. We have ours and Cutie has his.”

“Then let’s get at those postulates in a hurry.”  Powell sighed wearily.

“That’s where everything falls down. Postulates are based on assumption and adhered to by faith. Nothing in the Universe can shake them. I’m going to bed.”

. . . “But I might as well try – as a matter of principle.”

– “Reason”, Isaac Asimov, 1941 (age 21)

This is exemplary of many arguments we’ve probably all had with someone invested in a different idea.  I’ve heard quoted in the name of Rabbi Noach Weinberg (who spent his life reaching out to Jews who learned little about Jewish beliefs), this mentality in many ways actually covers about 90 – 95% of people.  There are maybe 5% to 10% of people you can convince of anything substantially different than what they currently believe.

Folly of Faith

In the story, the humans try to reason with ‘the prophet’, to no avail.  Given Asimov’s personal belief (a “humanist Jew”, though an analysis of Asimov’s views is far beyond the scope of this article), it seems he’s attempting to knock various religions, and of course, Decartes.  They build a new robot; rebuttal – the parts already existed, made by the master.  They show the robot their library proving their knowledge of robot creation; rebuttal – the master wrote them for the humans to believe, but he has the real truth (I’ve read this view from a few Muslims and heard same from a Hindu).  Meanwhile, the humans who know the truth decide that they should argue with the robot “on principle” before deciding that it’s best just to let the robot believe what he wants . . . because he’s doing his job (again, akin to Rambam describing Islam to be like a statute which has beauty, but not the fullness of proper belief).

On the other side, it works the other way as well.  Try discussing the ludicrous claim in the Bible (jump down to point 3 in the link) written, at least, some time before 200 BCE (the time of Septuagint, and according to tradition, actually, in about 1323 BCE) that Jews will remain small in number, be scattered around the earth, and then return in massive numbers.  The latter part could only be confirmed in this century.  Other claims, such as mass revelation with a continuous unbroken chain (jump down to the heading, “Judaism” in the link) are just as wild, but yet, we can see the evidence.  Yet, how many nihilists suddenly start believing in the Torah’s authenticity?

Another example – While obtaining my undergraduate biology degree, the math behind life beginning as we know it boggled my mind.  It is still, to my understanding, very much an unsolved an unreciprocal problem.  My genetics professor, who remembered me years later as the only student to discuss G_d during office hours, fully agreed with me on this point . . . it couldn’t happen, but yet he said, “I have faith that it happened because . . . it happened.”  I thought that was intellectually honest (if not a tautology). Present someone (intellectually honest) who believes in the authenticity of the Bible with a proof of the age of the universe and he will try and fit it in with his theology . . . present someone (intellectually honest) with incredible mathematical claims for spontaneous generation and development of humans in only a few billion years, and, well . . . he may just admit it’s on “faith”.

Folly of Reason

The follow of reason - you'll never seen the cylinder, but it's there.

The folley of reason – you see a 2D shape, I see a different 2D shape, but we’re both right.  No faith, then no cylinder.

“Reason”, as Asimov like to use the term, is “coldly logical.”  We examine, we theorize, and we test.  Problem: we can’t apply the scientific method to the past or even examine with much certainty whether the law of physics were constant before we started examining them.  “Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell if you know understanding.” says the Creator to Iyov [Job] (38:4).  Those things that we hold as constant, might not be.  While we can test and review results without emotion, the postulates we choose and the conclusions we draw from them are emotion-laden.  For all we know, every particle within our view is doubling in size every moment in comparison to a much bigger meta-verse and this has some effect that we aren’t comprehending.  All that remains constant is – our own postulates.  I know why and how I chose mine, or at least, I think I do.  I choose those that make the most sense and yield the most pleasure . . . at least, according to my postulates.

Asimov would tell you that you can only act based on reason.  I agree.  Where I disagree is what he chooses as “reasonable” . . . his “postulates” which are based on emotion.  He said in 1982, “Emotionally, I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.”  That is a very honest self-assessment, but, to me, choosing based on a feeling and calling it a “waste of time” to examine what contradicts his feeling seems irrational.  (I am not, however, passing judgment on Asimov as a whole of which I do not know nearly enough information . . . just this quote.)

Kant vs. R’Shimson Dovid Pinchus

Immanuel Kant argued that if there is a G_d, this is irrelevant because why would an infinite G_d care about us?  Why would it relate to us?  We would be nothing.  How could we ever approach or understand something so much greater than ourselves?  We have no faculties to do so, so why bother?  This is very close to what Asimov argues and what’s argued in G_d 2.0 (a physicist who does believe in a guiding, omniscient creator or force of some kind).  It is also almost identical to the argument of Bildad in sefer Iyov [Job] (though he clearly still believes in the positive in G_d’s existence), and I’ve heard it from atheists.  One answer is here, in this guest blog post.

The best refutation that I’ve heard to the unattainable ability to reach an infinite Creator who might not even care about us comes from R’Shimson Dovid Pincus.  He doesn’t refer to Kant, et al, by name, but he posits like this – if you posit that the Creator doesn’t care what we do or that we can’t relate to the Creator, then you are positing a weak creator.  Your conception of “infinite” is lacking.  Imagine a bird removing a speck of dust from a mountain . . . one speck at a time, going up and down for a trillion years until the mountain is gone.  That’s not infinite and that’s only in one dimension.  Infinite in all directions and dimensions is much more than that in time, space, and so forth.  This infinite Creator who creates the universe would be . . . infinite.  There would be a path to understanding and growing closer to and knowing, at least, aspects of the Creator as we come closer and closer and closer (or farther and farther away).  We can relate to the Creator and the way we do that is with our intellect and our conversations (e.g. meditation or prayer) to the Creator.  We can manipulate the world in this manner, but this is verifiable only for each individual who does so.  I can’t know the sincerity of your thoughts or the level of your arrogance versus humility in your heart.  This is explained further below.

Jewish Text on the Folly of Reason

This heading, even more so than the above headings, could be written in volumes.  I’m not a major talmud chochim [scholar], but I have come across two sources i find poignant.  First, on that “cold logical reason” that Asimov describes.  The Gemora [Talmud] speaks about the famous case of King Solomon judging that a baby should be split in two.  The real mother would rather the baby go to the other woman, than see her own child die (It’s quite a fascinating section of Gemora, covering many angles, but for brevity, I quote only a small portion):

The king answered and said, “Give her the living child . . . she is his mother.”  How did he know?  Maybe, she had been acting craftily?  It was a bas kol [heavenly voice] that came forth and said, “She is his mother.” – Makkos 32b

A few points here: Jews are known for questioning everything.  Most of us, secular or religious, are big on reason.  I’m pretty sure this is where it comes from – even on something such as the great wisdom of Solomon, the wisest of people, who don’t just take it on faith that he reasoned it out smarter than anyone else, though once someone is has shown themselves to reason better than we, than we’ll probably listen to him whether he be Einstein or a great Rabbi.  That is, after all, reasonable.

Maybe, just maybe, the false mother realized ahead of time that he’d make this judgment and planned out, or on the spot, faked what would show that she is the real mother (empathy for the child) and the real mother was psychopath who only cared about winning.  It’s a possibility, albeit remote.  So the conclusion – it wasn’t just relying on cold logical reasoning.  If we did that, we couldn’t move . . . we could never make a decision.  There is also trust in the Creator that we will make the right decision, such that here the heavens even told the answer.

Jewish Text on the Folly of Faith

This quote is directly on how to have effective prayer.

R’Hanin said in the name of R’Hanina: “If one prays long his prayer does not pass unheeded” . . . But is this so? has not R’Chiya ben Abba said in the name of R’Yochanon, “If one prays long and looks for the fulfillment of his prayer, in the end he will have vexation of heart” . . . There is no contradiction: one statement speaks of a man who prays long and looks for the fulfillment of his prayer, the other of one who prays long without looking for the fulfillment of his prayer.  R’Hama ben Rav’Hanina said, “If a man sees that he prays and is not answered, he should pray again.”  – Berechos 32b.

For those who who want to test G_d and see that what they request is answered, to quote R’Shimshon Dovid Pinchus, you’re trying to make the infinite Creator into a slave that serves you . . . if you do x, you expect the infinite Creator to do y.  If you expect it to work that way, your conception of infinite and your place within it is rather flawed . . . you are leaving room for yourself, not for the Creator.  It takes humility and is almost a seeming contradiction.  Only if you don’t look for fulfillment, are you answered.  That is, humble yourself and realize that it is not you running the show . . . it is the infinite Creator (Hashem, or if you prefer, “G_d”).  The more you realize that, and the more you make your will into His will, the more His will becomes your will:

Make that His will should be your will, so that He should make your will to be as His will. Nullify your will before His will, so that He should nullify the will of others before your will. – Pirkei Avos [Ethics of our Fathers] 2:4

Though there is one way in which we’re allowed to test G_d, it still does involve doing “His will” and it’s not easy (follow the link in the sentence).  Thus, anyone who says, “If there’s a G_d, he’ll reveal himself to me” or “I don’t see the evidence, therefore there is no G_d” has it backwards.  Look smarter, not harder!

Conclusion

The pluralist argument that “there are multiple truths” is correct in some sense … but it all collapses down into an ultimate, underlying truth.  As Asimov said in an interview with Bill Moyers in 1988, “I have my faith, you have your faith, and there’s no way in which I can translate my faith to you or vice versa”, that may be true, but it does not discount that cold rationality by itself is deadly as is cold faith.  One can go off the deep end with either and do terrible things.  Then again, what is “terrible”?  For that, we need a mix of both.

Judaism has reason-based faith, but also has trusting in a transmission of a tradition from Sinai so that we can know what is truth and what is not.  As a Patent Attorney, there have been numerous people to whom I’ve tried to convince them not to proceed with their ideas … it will never work and it’s a waste of money.  I convince few of them of anything but my honestly (and then end up making more money, somewhat akin to the quote above from the Talmud where if you don’t expect to get it, then that’s when you do).  The exception was a lady who asked her Rebbe his opinion . . . that was bad for business.  Yet, that’s how we make our decisions as Jews.  We are rational but we trust in the chain since Sinai which tells what is rational and we can test via our personal experience and humility.  Even further, it then becomes logical and reasonable that we do not proselytize others who do not have the same transmission.  How can we?

I hope I have done the topic some justice.  While I have also tried to be fair, my own bias, like that of any author, cannot be entirely masked.  Feel free to comment.