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Grappling With Truth Behind Bars
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd
"From a scientific perspective, believing that G-d created billions of atoms... that later developed and evolved... is no different than believing - in accordance with the straightforward meaning of Bereishit - that G-d created the heavens and the earth on the first day..."
The Rebbe 
Readers Write
Is the Torah Literal or Literary?

Here's my response to Yaakov's letter of two weeks ago. Rabbi Shmuel Spritzer, who forwarded me this letter, directs the Reaching Out Lubavitch Prison Division. In addition to his monthly newsletter, he corresponds with hundreds of prisoners. If you know a Jewish prisoner who needs support, call (718) 771-3866 
Dear Yaakov,
This week, while we read in the Torah about the exodus from Egypt, I'm thinking about you and praying for your personal liberation among the totality of the Jewish people who are anticipating Moshiach any time now.
I'm responding to your detailed letter to Rabbi Spritzer explaining your view that in light of modern science you must accept Torah on a literary rather than literal level. He forwarded your letter to me hoping we could share some meaningful dialogue on the subject.
But will that in fact happen?
Let's say we were to exchange 10 long letters on the subject and at the end, you convinced me that the Torah is in general literary and not literal. How would you feel at that point? Probably very good since your view would be vindicated. Having spent many years 'evolving' your perspective, as you put it, your would enjoy seeing your hard earned conclusions being further verified by an orthodox Jewish scientist. What better hechsher?
But now let's suppose that at the conclusion of our correspondence, you found your view to be at fault and the one I espouse, the correct one, i.e., that the Torah has literal as well as literary meaning? At this point you may be thinking, "Hey, I'm a man of science. I'm objective. I'm rational. If the evidence points me in a new direction, so be it. I'm after the truth."
But are you more objective than say, Albert Einstein? For most of his life, Einstein believed the universe must be stable, neither expanding nor contracting. So convinced was he, that he adjusted his relativity equations so that they would conform to this belief he had. In 1929, Edwin Hubble discovered the red shift of light, implying that the universe is expanding. Einstein wasn't impressed. Two years later when Einstein (left) visited Hubble (center), he saw the observations, replicated his calculations, but still wasn't convinced. Only many years later, did he admit that hanging onto a static universe in light of contrary evidence was the "biggest blunder" of his scientific career.
Why did this consummate man of science, possibly the greatest scientist in history, refuse to accept the new view for so long? Yes science is science, but people are people. We are subjective and our views do not change easily, because we do become attached to them and invested in them at an emotional level. Even someone like Einstein.
So what to do?
Establish from the outset that the rules of evidence and logic will guide you, wherever they may lead. We won't change the rules in the middle of the game. Then the dialogue will be a meaningful one for both of us.
The focus of your letter is on the age of the universe, i.e., it can't be both 5769 years old and 13.7 billion years old at the same time. Before looking at the specifics of your arguments, I'd like to point something out. 
The collection of scientific evidence is an enterprise of just a few hundred years, in rare cases up to a few thousand. To suggest that we know anything about the very distant past, we must put our faith in weak inferential methods of backward extrapolation over eons of unobserved time under unknown conditions to come up with calculations that can never be validated experimentally. To me, this is not science. It is speculation.
I don't say that you are wrong to believe the world is old. I say that there is no scientific basis to deny a young world, because science itself has no certainty on the matter, only highly conditional, tentative propositions subject to unmeasurably large margins of error.
Does a quickly formed world pose a problem? Then what about the Big Bang's component Inflationary Theory that maintains that in the first trillionth of a second the universe expanded one hundred million light years. And you say six days is short?
You write at length about how stellar parallax conforms with red shift date calculations. You should recheck this statement because all astrophysics articles and forums I've read on the subject state the opposite, that there is not even one example of such corroboration. The problem is that with a baseline of 15 light-minutes we can only detect stellar parallax up to about 300 light years away at best. All those stars however are bound gravitationally to our galaxy so red shifts due to space expansion do not apply.
You mention the millions of years it takes starlight to get here as a proof that they have been around for millions of years. But if G-d could create a Big Bang, could he not as easily have created a star? And if the star is a creation, then why not create it with its light? If so, the star could be millions of light years away but the light did not have to travel for that length of time.
Speaking of the speed of light, since you mention quantum theory, you probably are aware of experiments showing that entangled photons adjust their properties to each other instantly, and that this effect has been substantiated at over 1,000 times the speed of light. The speed of light is no longer the limit of simultaneity for scientists.
Truth is stranger than fiction.
Dr. Velvl Greene, professor emeritus of microbiology and public health administration at both the University of Minnesota and Ben Gurion University of the Negev, used to be an exobiologist with NASA. At one point, NASA had decided to send a ship to our nearest stellar neigbor, Alpha Centauri, about four light years away.
The problem was the trip would take a few centuries each direction and the logistics were mind-boggling. They needed enough space for many generations of offspring and enough families so that sibling children would not marry. They needed a plan for food, for water, for waste disposal, for energy, for navigation without contact with earth.
All the issues were pretty well solved, but one: How to ensure the passengers would stick to the mission.
Maybe they will decide not to return to earth, or that planet earth doesn't even exist, or that the rulebook is a fake and the spaceship was not made but always existed. Who could contradict them? By the time the rulebook calls for a return to earth, no one living will have known anyone who knew anyone who knew anyone that had been on planet earth.
Dr. Greene started thinking: Don't we live on a spaceship Earth? Isn't the Torah our inherited rulebook for how to live life on this spacecraft? Even if the Torah were true, we still wouldn't believe it! Dr. Greene realized that maybe it was time to take a closer look at the Torah for its truth value... it's Divine orgin.
Think about it, Yaakov.
The Jews left Egypt without a Torah. They arrived forty years later in Israel with one. How did they get it, if not from Hashem? From aliens? That just pushes off the question to how the extraterrestrials got it. Mass hypnosis? Not a chance. Moses made it up? That doesn't make sense either. With all the rebellions in the Torah about leadership, destination, food, water, and so on, there isn't even a hint that the Torah might be manmade rather than G-d given.
The giving of the Torah involved a mass revelation to millions of people and a very precise and unbroken chain of tradition from then until now. It's what sets us apart from the pack. How do you fit a literal fact like that into your literary model?
Yaakov, in one way we are all behind bars. Our mental models confine and constrain us in a world as we see it, not necessarily a world as it is. We may need to reach between the cracks of our reasoning to unlock our mental cells and find the way home... To the Holy Land with Moshiach Now.
Best regards,
Aryeh (Arnie) Gotfryd, PhD.
PS, Here's a response from one of our readers, Gustavo C, of Toronto.
Dear Yaakov,
You say, "Just as I don't believe that Hashem controls our actions, I believe He set certain processes in motion billions of years ago which we're still trying to figure out today."
Many scientifically literate people share this particular view since there are things in our universe that even the sciences must agree are eternal and constant which would represent one infinitesimal of Hashem's domain.
The difficulty lies with partaking in the belief that Hashem would care about us lowly beings since He has other things to do than to care about us.  I myself had a problem with the theistic view that is until I thought about the uncertainty principle a little bit.  The idea that we cannot precisely know all parameters about a given system at one time makes it impossible to definitively predict the future as it will unfold.  If we cannot pin down anything about the future with absolute certainty we are ultimately bound to be spectators to some degree with scientists at the top as those most dedicated to knowledgably predict the future. Agreeing that God exists then we have uncovered a law whereby He may be able to do His work undisturbed.  
How great is that?  Every fraction of every second He has the opportunity to make His hand felt without being detected such that we may be able to discover Him piece by piece as we see fit. 
Best regards,


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