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Friday, November 9, 2007

Evolution, Revolution


I am currently reading a book about the Darwin awards. These awards are given to people who, by their own stupidity, take themselves out of the gene pool. It's a generally enjoyable and informative book that is easy to read in the facilities. But I got to a segment this morning that really bothered me. The authors of this book decided to use this chapter as a platform to make fun of people who don't treat the theory of evolution as "halakhat Tora mi'sinai" (the law of the Tora given "on high" to Moses on Mount Sinai).

I'm as scientific as the next person (Math and Science were my best subjects in school -- with history a close third), but I have a problem with people acting as though evolution (a theory, remember?) is definitely true and the Tora is definitely false (they then act, by extension, as though anyone who believes in G-d or follows any religion is a fool).

Granted, most of the people who are acting this way have only been exposed to the Christian version of the creation story and the fundamentalist interpretation (which is that the Tora version is totally literal).

I have to admit that I wasn't there when the world came into being, but, then again, neither were any of the scientists who bow down at the altar of evolution. So my version of what happened is no less valid than their version. (Keep in mind, science thinkers, our knowledge of science is far from complete -- much of what we "knew" just 50 years ago has been debunked or replaced. How do you know we won't find something in the next 50 years that will make people who swallowed the "evolution" theory whole look like fools?)

This is my version, more or less. G-d created the world. Over time (which was short for G-d but long for us) G-d created the stars and the planets, the nebulae and the galaxies, the sun and the stars and the moons. Then (S)He turned to Earth and began creating life on earth. G-d started with plant life (because that would be food for animal life and it makes sense to put the food on the table before you invite the guests). Then G-d moved on to the animal life, the lower animals, creepy crawlies and water life, then reptiles (in there, at some point, was the age of the dinosaurs), then birds, then mammals and then people. When G-d wrote the Tora to describe all this, (S)He used time terms that people could comprehend, using the model of a week, so that (S)He could give people a forced rest on the 7th day by saying "even G-d rested on the 7th day". This, of course, is metaphorical. G-d doesn't need to rest (and, for all intents and purposes, can't since G-d is the One who runs the show, so to speak.)

Now, I have to tell you. I don't label people who don't believe this version "fools" or "heretics". Nobody who is alive today was there then, so no one knows for sure. I believe that G-d wrote the Tora, so I believe that every word in the Tora is true. But I also know that the Tora is made up of two parts -- the written and the oral Tora. Without the Oral Tora, the written Tora doesn't make sense. It's as though you read your roommates notes to a lecture class -- you really don't understand the notes without the lecture.

My point in all this is why do people feel that it's either one or the other? Why do people think they have to reject one story for the other? I suppose this comes down to the fundamentalist way of looking at the "bible". There are people out there who believe the "bible" is meant to be taken literally (something that is nearly impossible to do, IMHO). The strangest part of this is that they believe that it is meant to be taken literally as it is translated, into English, in the King James version! That is, not only is it meant to be taken literally, but it's meant to be taken literally in a language it wasn't even written in!

Hebrew is a very rich language, with nuances of meaning that just can't be captured in a translation. For example, it says that the Children of Israel came out of Egypt "Hamushim". The commentaries come up with at least two meanings for this word -- armed, or 1/5 (from the same root as Hamesh, which means 5, Hamsa, which is supposed to represent the hand of G-d, and Humash, the Hebrew word for the 5 books of Moses). Another example is the Hebrew word "Et". "Et" is a preposition that really has no meaning in English (or any other language I've been exposed to except Hebrew). I can't come up with a translation for it, but I know when I'm writing or speaking where it belongs in a sentence. In the Tora, there are usually additional meanings gleaned from the word "Et" -- as in the commandment "Kabeid Et Aviha V'Et Imeha" "Honor your father and mother" -- the "Et"s there are said to represent grandparents or older siblings.

So what is the "take home" message I'm aiming for here? I guess it's threefold:
1) The Tora (and "bible") are not meant to be taken literally
2) There is no reason one can't believe in both the Tora ("bible") version of creation and evolution
3) The Tora and Science are parts of the same whole -- G-d created them both. And, therefore, they can't be contradictory. I agree with Maimonides on this -- if you find a contradiction, you must be misunderstanding or misinterpreting either the science or the Tora.

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