A couple of weeks ago, a much-anticipated debate was held between Bill Nye “The Science Guy” and Ken Ham, on the question of creationism vs. evolution. Youtube records that over one million people have watched so far.
As a man of faith, I was frustrated of the inability of Ham, the creationist, to articulate a theology to include the findings of science along with a belief in the divinity of the Bible.
The reality is that everything that we have learned and discovered so far in biology, geology, paleontology, astronomy and physics, tell us that a belief in a 6,000-year-old Earth is not only preposterous but makes a mockery of our God-given ability to make sense of the world around us. The same science that has cloned a sheep and put a man on the moon, a cellphone in your hand and antibiotics in your medicine cabinet, is the same science that tells us the universe is close to 14 billion years old and that Man evolved over time.
One cannot craft a credible argument that allows for science to be correct in every field except when it contradicts the Bible. When science contradicts the Bible, it is not a crisis of faith, but an opportunity to learn something new from both the scientific discovery and the Bible.
God did not descend on Sinai 3,326 years ago to give us a biology or a history lesson. If both my science textbook and my Torah are intrinsically the same, then one of them is superfluous! God revealed himself on Sinai for one reason and one reason alone: to teach us theology. That theology takes the form of law, lore, narrative and poetry, but is none of these. It is only theology, making use of different mediums of the written word to teach us about God, ourselves and how to make a relationship between the two.
This does not mean, of course, that the six days of creation are not true; of course they are true – true in the lesson they teach us. When I teach my children that “honesty is always the best policy” or that “cheaters never prosper,” I am imparting to them great truths that historically never happened. But the truth of those statements is even more true than the fact that our experience as human beings contradicts the facts of the lesson.
What Ham fails to understand is that one can believe in the Bible, even a fundamentalist view that it is the word of God, and still not take the Bible literally.
Rabbinic Jews know there is an Oral Law which has informed us that God has no hand, nor arm, nor face. It has told us Hammurabi’s Lex Talionis as quoted in Exodus was not to be taken literally. And it is plain old common sense that informs us that the Canaanite “cities fortified up till the heavens” (Deut.) were not that high.
Its an old rabbinic axiom that “the Torah speaks in the language of Man.” This idea does not refer to God’s use of Hebrew alone, but also to the terms, ideas, images and idioms of the time. Yes, the Torah is timeless, but once it was inserted in time, it had to take on the garb of the era to be understood by the people standing at the mountain. The word Torah means “teaching” and God, like any good teacher, needed to speak in the same language as His students. The Torah had to be understood by those ancient Israelites who were already steeped in Babylonian and Egyptian myths.
Why then, didn’t the Torah tell us about evolution? When I was around six years old, I asked my parents about where babies came from. They told me that babies are born when daddies give a special seed to mommies and put it in their tummy. I was told the truth of my origins without the graphic details of how said seed arrived in mommy’s tummy. My parents brilliantly used the words, images and ideas of a six-year-old to communicate a concept, when its exact truth could have proved harmful to my six-year-old psyche. Early knowledge of certain truths can prove harmful. (Isn’t that the lesson of the Garden of Eden?) We needed to be told that humans are special and different from all Creation, in order to develop the morality needed to differentiate between when one lion kills another lion, and one man murders another. Through the stories of Genesis, God was able to cultivate in us inborn morality that echoes in us and continues to ask, “Where is your brother Abel?” We are answering that we are our brother’s keeper when helping the needy and feeding the hungry. We are reminded that Man is responsible for his environment when we read the story of Noah, and the folly of human hubris when we read the Tower of Babel.
The truths of the Torah are larger and greater than historical fact. By releasing the story from the trappings of history, we can learn even more profound lessons.
The bottom line is that Genesis teaches us that God created the world, science teaches us how. The writer is a doctoral candidate in Jewish philosophy and currently teaches in many post-high-school yeshivot and midrashot.