Monday, July 11, 2005

R' Aryeh Kaplan on Science and Torah

R' Aryeh Kaplan has an amazing article on Torah and Science The Age of the Universe - A Torah True Perspective. He slaughters a lot of sacred cows in this article. Obviously the whole thrust of this article disagrees fundamentally with R' Feldman and R' Elyashiv's approach. Given that R' Aryeh Kaplan published and gave lectures in the US in the 1970's and no one objected, it leads one to believe that the gedolim in America at that time (R' Moshe, R' Yaakov, etc.) had no problem with his approach. Since this is being distributed for free I am going to bring some choice quotes from the article. I would truly recommend everyone to read the whole article in full.

I. Psak on Hashkafa

the Rambam says clearly that in questions of hashkafah or history, there is no p’sak. In other words, if an opinion is found in Chazal or in our accepted Torah seforim, one cannot say that we do not posken like that opinion. Thus, the Rambam often takes a daas yachid (the opinion of just one person) and builds an entire hashkafah on it. He may use this opinion because it fits into his system of logic, even though it may be a minority opinion. He can do this, since the entire concept of p’sak only applies to questions of halachah and not to questions of hashkafah.

II. A Geocentric World

If I would poll this audience vary rapidly, how many people here believe in a
geocentric universe. That is, how many frum people here believe that the Earth is the center of the universe? Not too many! But would you believe that as little as 50 years ago, seforim were published that said that the correct Torah view is that the Earth is the center of the universe, and that anyone who said otherwise was going against the Torah?3. [See Maamar Mavo HaShemesh, printed together with the Sefer HaTechunah, by Rabbi Chaim Vital.

III. Space Travel

I remember back in Torah V’Daas many, many years ago, we were discussing sending a rocket to the moon. This was long before Sputnik. And I asked one of the people there (I won’t mention his name), “What do you think about sending a rocket to the moon?” He said that it is impossible al pi Torah. It is impossible to send anything out of the Earth’s atmosphere, because above the atmosphere is the yesod ha-aish (the elemental fire), and anything that goes through that would be burned. They showed me seforim that said that. Obviously, we know that this was not the correct hashkafah. But once you paint yourself into an intellectual corner, it is very hard to get out. As Torah Jews, we cannot afford to paint ourselves into an intellectual corner, from which we will not be able to extricate ourselves.

IV. Approach to Science

Another approach is that which many Chassidim have. They say, “What do scientists know? Do they know what’s happening? Do they know what’s going on? They’re a bunch of phonies, a bunch of bluffers, a bunch of stupidniks! Do they really have a way of finding out the truth? They find a bone and they think it’s from a monkey.” But, I think to somebody who knows what science is, this is a very unsatisfactory approach. We have some idea of what is involved in paleontology. We have some idea what is involved in geology and in radioactive dating. We have some idea of what is involved in astronomy. We can casually speak about a star being a million light years away, and we do not stop to think, “Well, that’s a bit too much!” So I would say that if someone feels that science is ignorant and false, all well and good. Many people refer not to accept science as a worthy challenge. But I think that for many of us here, such an approach would be totally unsatisfying.

V. Creation and the Age of Universe

This is the meat of the essay and is too long to quote in a meaningful way. I am just going to quote what he rejects and the basics of the shita that he accepts.

One, the very simplest, is that 6000 years ago, HaShem created the universe with a history. There is a certain logic to this, and one may even find a hint of it in the Gemara. If HaShem created a tree, did the tree have rings or not? If it had rings, then it had a history.
The difficulty is that one could use a similar argument to say that HaShem created the universe five minutes ago. There is no question that an omnipotent G-d certainly could have created us all with our memories, with all the records, and with all our histories. It is very possible to say that the world was created five minuets ago. But this weakens the above argument. If it is possible that HaShem created the world 6000 years ago, then everything is possible.
It touches almost on intellectual dishonesty and sophism. It presents us with more problems than it answers. It seems to make all of Judaism depend on a glib argument. But there is an even more serious problem. In no place in Torah literature do we find that HaShem created the universe so that it should appear to be billions of years old. If not for current scientific discoveries, no one would have ever made such a statement based on Torah sources alone. Therefore, this approach is nothing more than
There is another approach that I will mention in passing. That is, that each of the “days” of creation was really thousands of years long. This approach is hinted at in Rabbeinu Bechayay, who mentions it only to refute it. He says explicitly that the world was created in six days of twelve hours each, for a total of 72 hours. Moreover, we keep Shabbos because there were six days of creation, where each day was just like one of our days. Moreover, there is no support in classic Torah literature for saying that the days of creation were more than 24 hours long. Besides this, there is the problem that plant life was created before the sun, moon, and stars, and this would not fit into any accepted scientific cosmology.
There is a shitah (opinion) known to mekubalim as shittas Sefer HaTemunah – the opinion of Sefer HaTemunah.
However, the approach of the Tiferes Yisroel is very interesting. He speaks of the idea that there were universes and people before Adam. Then he says, “See how the teachings of our Torah have been vindicated (I’m paraphrasing): In various places in the world, creatures have been found which no longer exist today. In Baltimore, they found a gigantic creature called a mammoth, which no longer exists today. In other places, they found dinosaurs over 90 feet long, and obviously no such creatures exist in the world anymore. Just look and see the emes of our Torah tradition! Even science shows that there were worlds before ours!” Such a different approach than people like today! Rather than see paleontology and geology as a challenge to Torah, the Tiferes Yisroel sees it as a vindication of an important Torah shitah.


Anonymous said...

"Therefore, this approach is nothing more than apologetics."

That seems like the pot calling the kettle black.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

Nobody: Rabbi Kaplan's point is that true apologetics is when you invent an entirely new hashkafa, in order to account for science.

What Rabbi Kaplan himself wants to do, is mine the hashkafot of prior authorities, who said such-and-such, even before the modern difficulty existed. This is not apologetics, because even though we are cherry-picking the opinion based on apologetics, the opinion itself existed before the modern problem did, and so we have no need to fear that this opinion is itself apologetic.