Question:

I feel like I'm living in two worlds at once. Teaching biology, I frame my lessons around evolutionary theory, which seems to hold all the parts together in a single whole. But at home, I help my son with his Hebrew homework, including the story of creation in Genesis.

I'm actually very inspired by Genesis, particularly through the prism of the classic commentaries and the little I've tasted of the Kabbalah. But despite all I've read on the subject, I've yet to find an honest and plausible resolution of these two perspectives on life and its origins. Yes, plenty have written on the subject, but I find their solutions very distant from the spirit of the text.

Is a resolution possible? Or is a Jew meant to live in two mutually exclusive worlds?

Answer:

Dear Jew2,

As Jews, we are used to living in two worlds. Take Prague of the Renaissance, where Jews comprised 30% of the city's population. Prague enjoyed the greatest religious and intellectual freedom of any city in Europe and the court of Rudoph II was filled with philosophers and scientists. The Jews were also active partners in the atmosphere of new ideas and reform, yet still stood apart in their own world and beliefs.

Only now, retroactively, did the world come into being Rabbi Yehuda Loewe (1525–1609), famous as "the Maharal of Prague," was chief rabbi at the time. He was the paradigm of the Renaissance man, as fluent in mathematics and astronomy as he was in Talmud and Kabbalah. It's not surprising that he wrote at length about two worlds, "the natural order" and the "transcendental order."1 Each, he said, has its science and its history. When Joshua made the sun stand still (Joshua 10), writes the Maharal, it stopped for Joshua and all those involved in the battle—but for the rest of the world it kept moving on its course. How could that be? Because miracles and nature occur in two different worlds, only intersecting when necessary and where necessary. The same with the splitting of the Red Sea and many other such miracles. We even have two New Years for these two different worlds: Rosh Hashanah for the natural world and the first of the Jewish month of Nissan for the transcendent, supernatural world.

So when someone asks the question, "How and when did the world come into being?" the archetypal Jewish answer-a-question-with-another-question retort should be, "Which world?"

Not so absurd. Listen to the words of Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, author of "the Shaloh" (who happened to be the chief rabbi of Prague shortly after the Maharal), on this concept2. He deals with the two opinions of the Talmud concerning when the world was created. Rabbi Joshua is of the opinion that the world began in the spring, in the Jewish month of Nissan, whereas Rabbi Eliezer argues that it began in the autumn, in Tishrei.

The "Shaloh" explains that no one is disputing chronology over here. In which Nissan does Rabbi Joshua say the world began? In that Nissan in Egypt when G‑d made miracles and took the Jewish People out from there.

Why? Because before the miracles that occurred in Egypt, it was impossible for a human mind to accept the concept of creation of everything out of nothing—including the laws of nature. Yes, there had been miracles before, but none did away with the laws of nature. In Egypt, even Pharaoh's own scientists saw with their own eyes that not a single law of nature is truly necessary. Nothing has to be the way it is. Anything could happen.

Meaning that as far as the subjective experience of the human mind is concerned (and what more is there for us human minds?), before the grand awakening that occurred in Egypt, the world had not been created at all. It had always been here in some form or another—because that is how it existed in the minds of those who lived within it. Only now did the world become a creation. And when was it created? Retroactively, in Tishrei, 2448 years earlier.


Here's a neat way of thinking this through: Let's say I'm playing a video off a DVD. The story involves many characters and multiple dramas. They're in an environment that implies lots of history, which the viewer is supposed to assume by implication. Five minutes into the story, I freeze the image. I ask you, "How old is the guy driving the car?" About forty. "How old is the car?" Maybe ten years old.

Discovering that they are glowing phosphors, everything changes Even better, let's say I could actually speak with the characters of the story. Let's say it was not a video, but some hi-tech role-playing game where the characters were programmed to have their own consciousness and memory. I could ask them for their entire life history, even for some history of their city and environs. And they would have a whole story to tell.

What if I would say back to them, "That's all ridiculous. I just took a nylon disc five minutes ago, spun it under an optical reader and all you guys popped out on the screen"?

Would they be able to handle it, integrate that into their belief system and lifestyles? Not likely. More likely that they would simply declare me a crackpot weirdo, learn to ignore me and get on with their drama. Just as from my perspective their drama is no more than a fantasy, so too for them it's my perspective that is imaginary and their world is very real.

Let's examine the issue a little closer: Why can't those story-characters handle my perspective? Well, memory is one issue: They don't recall being shoved into a optical disc drive. They recall their life histories. But what of their assumptions concerning the age of the rest of their environment? Much of that does not belong to their specified memory banks.

However, their minds are designed to work within the consistent patterns of their environment and make decisions accordingly. The programmer has set the parameters for this virtual world's "laws of nature"—including laws of gravity, speed of time, limitations of space, etc. That's how you give a game the look and feel of a real world, through consistent rules and set patterns. If processes were arbitrary, no one would be able play inside your game, because there would be no basis upon which to make decisions.

So these virtual beings have mastered the rules of their world and are able to project backwards in their time continuum to determine, "If things are like this now and the processes work like this, then a thousand/million/billion years ago, they must have looked like..." In fact, if you asked them, "When did this world begin?" they would certainly extrapolate that it had always existed in some form or other. Why would they imagine otherwise? Why would they even conceive of this as a "world" when they have no external context to place it in? Do fish recognize that there is water?

But now, discovering that all they are is arrays of glowing phosphors on a two-dimensional display, generated by electrical impulses passing through banks of silicon crystals—now everything changes.

No, I am not suggesting that our world is nothing more than a video game and G‑d is some wacked-out adolescent user. It's an analogy. But it's a very useful one.

Why? Because if we think of the world as a creation out of nothing, including all its parameters of time, space and the patterns of energy we call "natural law," then the Creator must stand outside all of this. Not just outside of time and space, but also outside the necessity of those patterns.

(By "outside" I don't mean there's this little ball where a world is happening, and the Creator is some ominous being standing outside of it. "Outside" means beyond, transcendent of—like you stand outside and beyond the figments of your imagination. So, too, the Creator somehow conjures out of nothing an entire universe, yet He remains unchanged by any of it.)

G‑d created a world that was always here. It doesn't appear to have always been here. As soon as it was created it was always here. "In the beginning, when G‑d created the heavens and the earth, the earth was...". Meaning that if all we have is the parameters of this world, that is the truth of this world—it always was. If it weren't that way, it wouldn't be a real world.

Yet from the Creator's perspective, it may as well have begun two seconds ago.


So why not let the little people in this universe just get on with their lives, as though the whole thing is truly the only reality? Isn't that the idea of creating a world, anyways?

Two realities: Could and Should Well it might be if this were a video. But in truth it's more like a game. There's meant to be interaction between the world of the machine and the world of the user. That's what started up in full blast on that propitious month of Nissan in Egypt. And that's where all the messy stuff begins.

If we were no more than props for the play, we could be satisfied with knowing no more than the words of our script. But if we are beings that are not just of this world, but empowered to do something with this world, then we need the Creator's perspective.

As if—getting back to my analogy—the virtual beings of my game would turn to the user and ask, "So what do you want of this game? How can we work together on this?"

That's what happened. And G‑d said, "Let me tell you how I first envisioned this creation of mine. I saw it as an exercise of bringing light where there was darkness and confusion. I saw it as a process where light would be good and need to be separated from the darkness. I saw it as a complete whole, an experience of harmony of patterns and rhythms, where each thing has its place, its purpose in the grand scheme of things, thereby reflecting my own oneness. I saw it as a drama of life, endless life sprouting from the earth and emerging from the seas. And there would be a being, conscious as I am, who would tend to that life and bring out its beauty."

Which is the story of Genesis. Not a description of geometries, of time and space, of objects in motion and collision, but an outline of an experience as it would be seen from within, where the sun and the stars are placed "as signs and for seasons" for the conscious observer, where even light and darkness are defined as the human experience of day and night.

(I recall my time as instructor of a course on multimedia development. The students would turn in a concept proposal and I would say, "No, don't describe to me what your media will do! Describe to me the experience of those who will live with it!" Genesis would have gotten an A+ in that class.)

"And when, in our timeline," we ask this Creator, "did this story begin?"

"Not so long ago," is the reply. "Because all I am really interested about in it is you and your experience of it. So it begins, really, with the first iteration of you and your consciousness of this place."


So now we must deal with two realities: One of could and one of should. One we need in order to say, "If I do this, then this could happen. But if I do this, then it will not." That is all there is to science, true Baconian science: the art of predicting outcomes.

And then there is the world of should: What should I do and what should I not? What outcomes should I want? What outcomes should I not want?

For the could, all we need is to think within the patterns of our world. Why confuse ourselves with what it is or why?

But for the should, we need to think within the terms of our world's Creator. We need to see the world as He does, as an expression of intent, a drama of ideas. Not as matter, but as thoughts; not as events but as statements. And we need to see ourselves as beings in constant interaction not with things and phenomena, but with Him, the User. That is Torah, a way of living in two worlds at once: His world and ours.


Do we leave things to remain in this tortuous dichotomy? Is there hope, or is this schizophrenic state endemic to the act of being?

It's up to us to fuse the two minds of G‑d The Maharal proposed that the union of these two worlds is in effect what the prophets and the sages meant when they spoke about a messianic era. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, his great-great grandson by seven generations, spoke about the same dichotomy as "two minds of G‑d": One from above looking down, where the world of the Creator is the true reality and our world is but a fantasy; another from within looking up, where our world is real and nothing exists beyond it. Our job, he said, is to fuse the two views into one.

Many minds have worked to resolve the conflicts of the two worlds of science and Torah. Most have fallen into the trap of syncretism, failing to understand the underpinning, vast conceptual chasm between them. A horse with a donkey is a more productive marriage than any of these attempts to scotchtape together materialist Darwinism with Genesis.

Take a look: Both come to provide a taxonomy, a framework in which to understand the apparent relationships between the multifarious forms of our planet. We look about us and we don't see chaos, but order and apparent design.

Both present a hierarchy. Genesis, too, speaks of earth and water becoming life, of families and of emergence of forms, beginning with light, then atmosphere, then seas and earth, then flora, then fish, reptiles, birds and mammals and finally to Adam.

The difference, however, is not just in time frame, but in their very concept of reality: The Darwinist explains this emergence in terms of dumb matter following set laws (stupidity is generally very obedient). Essentially, all this design arose by accident: Those that reproduced the most, reproduced the most (a.k.a. "survival of the fittest"). Our own intelligence, as well, is no more than a fluke of nature.

Genesis tells us that the world is made not of matter, but of conscious articulations— the "words of G‑d" by which all things came into being. All things are related because they are streams of thoughts extending from a single Mind. If some things appear to be "just here for the ride," it is only because that intelligence is so well hidden within them. They are, in the dialectic of the classic philosophers, "dumb"—silent about the life that they contain.

The Darwinist takes the phenomena of life for granted and attempts to explain it on its own terms. Genesis begins at a place where nothing is to be taken for granted, anything is possible, and sees all phenomena as the most external layer, an outer expression of an inner, purposeful core.

In short, here we are, intelligent beings in a universe that somehow, surprisingly makes sense to us. So, we ask, is it that an essentially stupid universe gave birth to intelligence—or is it that intelligence sometimes looks to us as stupid?

To put it another way, take a look at a pile of mud. Imagine that if you left enough of it alone for long enough, it would become a spaceship. And it would also come up with Quantum physics and String Theory. Why is that any easier to swallow than "And G‑d formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul"?

What I am pointing out is that materialist reductionism (the dogma stating that reality is no more than a conspiracy of particles of dumb matter charged with energy) is atrociously deficient at explaining anything at all. All the criticisms that challenge the impossibly low probabilities of progressive evolution, the naivety to believe that highly complex systems can be explained through outdated mechanics and the outright abrogation of the law of entropy should be harkened to.

Problem is, the so-called "Creationist Science" isn't the solution either. How can we be expected to do science within a framework that says, "And here, G‑d does a miracle"? This reduces G‑d to a mischievous tinker, forever mixing in where He does not belong, as if the material of which life is made were entirely exogenous to its Creator. The more I read their works, the more I am convinced that they are not talking about the Jewish G‑d from whom all things extend, who is found in equally in both worlds— in the rhythms of nature just as in the blurps of miracles.

I once confronted one of these syncretistic scientists over lunch and asked him, "Doesn't it bug you, as a scientist, that there are natural phenomena you will observe to which you can only say, "Well G‑d made it that way" and that will be the sum of your explanation. How can you do science that way?"

"Yes," he replied, "it bugs me to no end."

A new science that sees consciousness not as an epiphenomenon, but as a building block of existence... The solution, as only an incipient few have suggested, is to return to the foundations of modern science and redefine some of its most basic notions—notions such as matter, causality and consciousness. As, in fact, theoretical physicists have been doing for most of a century. Return to the vernal state of science as it first sprouted in the minds of Descartes, Leibniz and Newton and see that there are other paths we could have taken. Leibniz for one, challenged the Cartesian dichotomy of matter and spirit, proposing that all matter is essentially sentient. He even wrote a book, "Thoughts on Genesis"—as the ghost writer for the editor of the Cabala Denudata.

But perhaps we should not stop there. The fathers of the Enlightenment, while rejecting the assumptions of Aristotle and the scholastics, still never truly shook off the shackles of their heritage. The Christian mind had always assumed that the logos—the sum of all laws of nature and reason—was as eternal as the Creator Himself. The idea was born from the mind of an ancient Jewish philosopher named Philo, who attempted to do with Torah and Hellenism what many attempt today with Torah and materialism.

Classic Jewish thought, on the other hand, was never married to this idea. Thinkers such as Hasdai Crescas, Menachem Azaria of Fano and the Maharal of Prague openly challenged it. The simple understanding of a Jew reading the miracles of the Torah is certainly that none of these laws of nature are necessary and anything can be changed. As Rabbi Tzvi Ashkenazi (1656–1718) wrote, even the Hebrew word for "nature" (teva) is a borrowed term—the concept simply does not exist in the native Jewish lexicon.

Perhaps then it is possible that by questioning our most basic assumptions of these many centuries of science, we could create a new science in which there is room for two worlds at once. A science that sees consciousness not as an epiphenomenon, but as a building block of existence. A science that, rather than being an indifferent stranger to should and should not, will allow us an appreciation of why such terms lie at the core of reality. A science that will be truly a messianic science of a whole new world.


As you can see, many of these ideas require more time in the oven. A good pounding from an intelligent, critical audience wouldn't hurt. So any comments you have are certainly welcome.