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The Torah Science Foundation Newsletter

Volume 3, number 1
Tevet 5764 / December 2003

In this issue:

1. A Torah-Science View on Evolution
2.
Questions and Answers to torahscience.org
3.
Tapes Worth Listening To
 

1. A Torah-Science View on Evolution

The question about the origin of the universe and of life is of deep interest to all human beings. The Torah answers that question in a straightforward fashion: Both the universe and life in the planet were created by G-d. On the other hand, the scientific theory of evolution does not invoke any divine force in the process. Rather, it postulates that the universe started with the Big Bang, and that life evolved in a slow fashion from atoms, to molecules, to unicellular organisms and eventually to humans.

This sharp difference of opinion between the Torah and science is commonly viewed as irreconcilable. However, Eliezer Zeiger, professor of biology at UCLA and the CEO of the Torah Science Foundation, recently argued at The Fifth Miami International Conference on Torah & Science that, according to the inner wisdom of the Torah, the concept of evolution can be readily found in the Torah.

 

We include excerpts from Prof. Zeiger's presentation:

(see www.borhatorah.org/home/conference/conference.html for the complete program)

 

KOSHER EVOLUTION

For a G-d fearing Jew, the answer to the question: “Where did the world come from?” is straightforward: “Bereishit barah Elokim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz”“In the beginning G-d created Heaven and Earth.”

 

On the other hand, the scientific theory of evolution states that the universe began with the Big Bang and that life evolved from atoms, to molecules, to unicellular organisms, to multicellular organisms, to humans.

It also teaches that the driving forces for evolution are random mutations (alterations in the DNA that change the genetic instructions), and natural selection. So, according to evolutionary theory, there is no divine design in the Universe.

One of the strongest forces opposing the scientific theory of evolution is scientific creationism. Scientific creationists support a literal interpretation of Genesis. Their major limitation is that they do not recognize the Torah Shebe’alpeh—the Oral Torah. As a result, they do not have access to the inner wisdom of the Torah, which includes Kabbalah and Chassidic philosophy.

It is worth noting that Catholicism, a major branch of Christianity, has officially endorsed the scientific theory of evolution.

Another important viewpoint about the origin of the Universe is Intelligent design.

“Intelligent Design is a scientific disagreement with the claim of evolutionary theory that natural phenomena are not designed. ID claims that natural laws and chance alone are not adequate to explain all natural phenomena. Evidence that is empirically detectable in nature suggests that design is the best current explanation for a variety of natural systems, particularly irreducibly complex living systems”.

 

From a Torah point of view, an important limitation of intelligent design is its goal to prove the existence of a creator using the scientific method. Chasidic philosophy teaches that God’s existence is hidden to protect free choice; therefore the question of the existence of God can not be proven by the scientific method.

 
In this study we attempt to integrate Torah knowledge with the scientific view of the origin of the universe and of life.


The simplest interpretation of the Torah (pshat) teaches us that God created the world in six days and rested on the Shabbat, the seventh day.

The question can also be addressed using the tools provided by the inner wisdom of the Torah, as expounded by Kabbalah and Chassidic philosophy. If we use that approach we notice that there is no one but two accounts of Creation: Genesis 1:1-31 and 2:3-24.

There are many differences between the two stories, for example, two different names of G-d are used: Elokim and Havayah-Elokim.


 The two stories also differ sharply in the use of two different verbs for the act of creation: “Vayivra Elokim et ha’adam” (Genesis 1:27)—“And Elokim created [ex nihilo] the man” vs. “Vayitzer Havayah Elokim et ha’adam” (Genesis 2:7)—“And the Lord God formed the man”.

The Medieval scholar and philosopher of Torah, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (Nachmanides) teaches that the verb “barah” (to create) is the only verb in the Hebrew language that embodies the all-important concept of Yesh mi Ain,” or creation ex nihilo.
On the other hand, the concept of formation, vayitzer, is clearly not ex nihilo; in fact the text in Genesis continues: “from dust of the ground”—not from nothing. So the first account of creation is a “Barah”, creationist story, whereas the second account hints at development and progress, and it is an evolutionary story.

 
The evolutionary nature of the second story is reinforced by the fact that the word “toldot” (generations, or offspring: “Ve’eile toldot ha’shamayim veha’aretz”) appears for the first time at the beginning of the second story (Genesis 2:4).


Thus, a rigorous analysis of the two stories of the creation of the world told in Genesis shows that there is a creation ex nihilo, and that there is, in parallel, an unfolding, a development or evolution of creation. So we can recognize a creating force, that science attributes to random mutations, but that according to the Torah is clearly attributable to God. Divine creation proceeds in quantum leaps, a process that science calls macroevolution. Science has not been able to prove macroevolution, and our analysis explains the reason: Macroevolution is divinely directed and above nature.

And then there is the unfolding, an interaction of creation with the environment that follows the laws of natural selection, which science calls microevolution and that has been successfully proven many times.

 
We thus see that the inner wisdom of the Torah clearly reveals the operation of evolutionary processes in creation.


Let us look at other teachings from our sages that expound on it. In Genesis 1:26, we read “Vayomer Elokim na’asse Adam”, “Elokim said: Let us make man.”

Why the plural “us?”

Rashi comments that God talked about man’s creation with the angels. However, another explanation brought down by the Chassidic master Mordechai Yosef of Izhbitz, in his work Meiy Ha’shiloach (published, incidentally, almost concurrently with Darwin’s The Origin of Species) reads:


In the beginning, G-d created all the creations. Then the creations understood their limitation that they did not have anybody that would unite their life with the Holy One, and that by means of man all the things in this world would be united with the Creator, for, as it is known, man elevates all:

The inanimate gives its energy to plants, plants give their energy to animals and animals give their energy to the man—the one that can talk. And man, by worshipping God with his energy will thus elevate all the energy he received in this world, even that of the inanimate.

When the creations saw what they were lacking, they used their power to create an  awakening above (itareruta le’eila) [literally: beseeched the Almighty] that man should be created.

“And Elokim said: Let us make man,” meaning that God decreed that all that were created should give of their energy, and contribute to the creation of man, so that man will have a part of all of them. Thus, if man will be in need of anything, they will all help him because his “lack” is their “lack,” like in the generation of the deluge, and when he is well-off so are all creatures.


How do we relate to the Izhbitzer’s teaching? Is it a metaphor? This is a very important methodological question.

Many people erroneously think that the Torah is only a moral discourse. For instance, Stephen Gould, a major contributor to evolutionary theory, used to say that we should live with the Bible on Sunday and with science the rest of the week.

However, a thorough study of the inner wisdom of the Torah readily reveals its outstanding precision. So if we can relate to the Izhbetzer’s teaching as a precise statement, we realize that it has stunning biological implications. It hints that the sharing of many biological features by man, animals and plants arose from a contribution from all created organisms to the formation of man, in order for them to be their partner in the praising of God.


We thus see that an analysis of Genesis based on the inner wisdom of the Torah can definitely unify the Torah and science perspectives on the origin of the world and of life. It shows that the creative forces that shape all creatures of the world are Divine forces, and that the unfolding of these major creations are micro-evolutionary forces that follow natural laws and that are amenable to scientific analysis.


The bringing together of Torah and science into a common conceptual domain also brings about important clarifications. For example, as we study Divine creation we find that Divine action always pulls, as it were, from the top, creating forms that are more and more advanced, as evident from the flow of events in the six days of creation, and in the teachings of the Izhbetzer.

This in contrast to evolutionary theory, which claims that random mutations over very large periods of time generate new species from the bottom up (random mutations almost always have a negative effect on creation). This is the macro-evolutionary process that has been so hard to prove.

 

What is the nature of the evolutionary process at the present time?

 

Let us look at the vision of Rabbi Abraham Yitzchak Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel (he became Chief Rabbi in 1920). Rabbi Kook wrote extensively about Torah and evolution, here is an excerpt:

 

Teshuva as the Ultimate Phase of Evolution

(from Glimmerings of Penitence 5:3, translated by Rachel Tovah Ebner):

 

It is inevitable that the world will arrive at a full return to G-d. The world is not static, but continuously evolving, and true, complete evolution must bring total healing, material and spiritual, and this will bring the light of the living Turnaround along with it.

 

Our sages thus teach that evolution is at work right now, and that the next quantum evolutionary step is a jump in consciousness that brings redemption for all humanity, a step embodying the culmination of the evolutionary process and the purpose of creation.

2. Questions and Answers from torahscience.org

Many of the Torah Science Foundation’s web site visitors address various questions relating to Torah and science to our staff.

Here we share two of these with their responses.

 

Question: I wonder if you know offhand the total number of words in the Hebrew Bible? I have been searching frantically and can't seem to find the answer.

 

Response: You may be surprised to learn that before the advent of the computer this was a formidable task. So formidable in fact that there was a special title in the days of the second Temple (about 2400 years ago) for those who were adept at this task: they were called "sofrim".

Later (or perhaps even at the same time) the word became descriptive of a scribe, but the original verb in Hebrew for scribe is kotev, not sofer. Sofer just means "one that counts".

In any case it is not surprising that you did not find a number. Incidentally, it is easier to get a number for words than for letters, as the question about letters depends on some issues, not all of which have been solved.

To this day I am not aware of a count for the number of letters in the entire Bible.

The number of words in the Torah (based on the counting by Rabbi Bercher) is: 79,847.

The breakdown is: Genesis: 20512, Exodus: 16723, Leviticus: 11950, Numbers: 16368, Deuteronomy: 14294.

 

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Question: It is my understanding that there is no evidence-archeological or scientific- that the flood occurred. So how are we to understand the flood? If it left behind no archeological or scientific evidence, we obviously cannot believe in it literally?

 

Response: The question you are asking addresses the core of the relationship between Torah and science. How do we apply conclusions and reference points from one conceptual system to the other? What are the validation criteria in each of the two systems? In case of apparent or real conflict, which system do we listen to?

In Judaism we are taught that the Torah is truth (Torat Emeth), that the truth of the Torah is eternal, and that the validity of the truth of Torah applies to all levels of analysis (pshat, or literal, Drash, or interpretative, and Sod, or metaphysical). That means that an evolved Jewish consciousness leads to Emunah shleima, complete faith in the teachings of the Torah. This implies that, from the Torah perspective, the flood is a fact.
Science on the other hand is a wonderful body of knowledge about nature (or from the Torah's point of view about creation). The body of scientific knowledge is built by the scientific method, an empirical system in which assumptions, hypotheses, observations and interpretations are put to work to build the truth of science. One of the great virtues and the same time, limitations of science is that the truth of science is a relative truth, in the sense that any scientific statement can be replaced by a different one if new findings show the previous paradigm wrong.

The concept of the flood does not exist in the world of science, it comes from the world of Torah. There are several cataclysmic concepts in the world of science, for example the mass extinctions of the Pleistocene, but no event that can be unabiguously associated with the "flood" has been identified.

Some fascinating aspects of the interface between Torah and science in connection to the events associated with the flood are beginning to emerge. For example, work is being prepared by religious scientists suggesting that the animals that Noah took into the ark were "super species" (involving for example a common ancestor of the wolf, the dog and the fox) and that these "super species" evolved into what we know as species after leaving the ark.  The only way to do such research well is to carefully preserve the rigour of both the Torah and the science, and such requirement makes this type of research very complex. Of course, resolving  the large-scale geological and biological phenomena of the flood will be a very demanding enterprise.

So what to we do in the meantime, while the issue is yet to be understood? Some people choose to remain fully immersed in the conceptual world of the Torah, and therefore ignore the world of science. Other people choose to treat the facts related by  the Torah as metaphors, and relate to the Torah as a ethical body of knowledge.

We at the Torah Science foundation believe that the most powerful and creative approach is to take both the Torah and science as relevant bodies of knowledge that shape human consciousness. From that perspective, since the Torah tells us that there was a flood, we believe with complete faith that there was a flood. Can we map the "flood" concept in the scientific body of knowledge? Not yet. On the other hand, we watch with wonder how very large scale phenomena such as the story of creation in Torah match emerging scientific theories such as the Big Bang with remarkable precision.

3. Tapes Worth Listening To

The Torah Science Foundation is offering a limited number of audio-taped copies from lectures given at the launching of the Foundation in Jerusalem, on Chanukah of 2000.

Program includes:

Rabbi Adin Even-Israel (Steinsaltz) on Unifying fragmented reality

Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh on Spiritual reflections on the foundation of physics: An integrated approach to thermodynamics and Torah.

The two day event is available on a 5-audiotape set.

If interested, please send a check for $25 ($20 for the tape set plus $5 shipping and handling) payable to the The Torah Science Foundation to our mailing address:

The Torah Science Foundation

928 11th St., Suite 1,

S. Monica, CA, 90403.

 

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Tapes from the June 2003 Natural Consciousness Workshop in Los Angeles sponsored by the Torah Science Foundation in Los Angeles and given by Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh are now available and can be purchased on line at:

http://www.inner-store.org/naco.html

 

 

 

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© Copyright 2003-4 by the Torah Science Foundation

Do not duplicate in any type of publication without prior approval from the Torah Science Foundation, 928 11th Street, S. Monica, CA 90403, Phone/Fax (310) 451-4787 or zeiger@torahscience.org

Send comments to: genuth@torahscience.org or zeiger@torahscience.org

 

 

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