2/19/2005

Evening, Morning, Resurrection, Evolution, and Entropy - and a Talmudic Reading of Shabbat 10a

Let's start with a bit of common sense: destroying is easier than creating.
It takes a lot of expertise to make a Tiffany vase, but my infant son can break one.
The processes involved in creating life - reproduction, differentiation, defense - are far more complex than those which stop life. Life is engaged in a march toward death; there are numerous ways to terminate life, but none has yet been found that will terminate death.
So much of what we see and know regresses in this fashion. Health deteriorates. Relationships sour. Peace crubles into war. Light bulbs burn out. I leave a room clean, and before you know it, it's messy - it never happens the other way around. Order must be chosen and actively pursued. Disorder is a much more natural state of affairs. As the old joke goes, Beethoven ultimately decomposed.
Dead matter becoming living matter requires effort, energy, input. Life becoming death requires nothing. This is the trend of the universe in its entirety, whether in the sphere of biology or thermodynamics.

There are two phenomena which seem to swim upstream. The first is the application of man's genius.

Human beings are unique in that they can impose order upon a disordered universe. Law and justice can defeat anarchy and violence only if humans choose it. Diseases can be cured, buildings built, climates controlled - all by humans harnessing the unbridled forces of nature.

The second is evolution. Of all things in the entire known universe, life on this planet has developed an amazingly sophisticated and diverse array of organisms. Evolution has produced a human mind which, despite it's realively slow speed and small capacity compared to contemporary computers, can still, through processes that are still now well-understood, give the best of those computers a run for their money in the game of chess. Somehow, evolution has transformed the primordial soup into a humanity capable of music, poetry, philosophy, and atomic bombs.

Granted, there are scientific explanations for the exception of evolution from the general rule that things fall apart (I'm not specifically referring to entropy, though it's an example of this trend; I'm referring to the much broader notion that anything constructive is the product of conscious choice or active input, whereas anything can deteriorate into destruction).

Chaza"l juxtaposed these two phenomena in a very jarring comparison (Shabbat 10a):
R' Chiya b. Rav of Difti taught them: "And the nation stood over Moshe from morning until night (Shemot 18)" - do you really think that Moshe sat the whole day long? When was his Torah made? Rather - this is to tell you that any judge who carries out true justice for the sake of truth, even for one hour, Scripture treats him as a partner in the creation of the universe. Here it states, "And the nation...", and over there (Bereishis 1) is written, "And it was evening, and it was morning: day One".
Not only is the comparison jarring, but the textual tether that binds the two ideas together - 'morning and evening' - is suggestive as well. The Hebrew term 'erev' has a connotation of confusion, being mixed-up, unclarity. 'Boker' is the opposite - clarity, sense, understanding. The recurrence of this movement from unclarity to clarity in the story of creation (as well as the trend of evolution) underscores that creation was a making-productive that which had been untamed.

(idea - perhaps the quintessential productive, domesticated animal - the bovine family - is called bakar in Hebrew because it's thematically linked to the notion of productivity. Also - the tension in the Torah's creation story is between unharnessed energy and productivity, not between order and chaos, which are Greek concepts. Feel free to add your constructive criticism = bikoret).

As I mentioned two posts ago, the Torah's story of creation is not value-neutral. God is modeling what he wants done with the world, both through construction (the six days) and refraining from construction (Shabbat). And God left that task incomplete, so that man can continue the task. Thus, the judge, who really and truly carries out justice, who makes the world a more just place, is really and truly continuing the work that God began, and becoming a partner in creation.

By extension, then, evolution can only pose a 'challenge' to Torah to the extent that it is deemed 'value-free'. As long as it manifests some kind of built-in striving toward greater complexity, greater productivity, and higher consciousness, even if the path it takes isn't necessarily a guided one, then it's perfectly consonant with the themes of Genesis chapter I. I'm not even advocating an Intelligent Design approach which has God pre-programming how and when mutations will take place. Rather, that the universe itself is purposeful, is somehow aware of its own purposefulness, and evolves in the direction of greater consciousness of its own purposefulness. The pinnacle of evolution to date - the human mind - manifests just that.

Personally, I am comfortable calling this underlying, universal consciousness which manifests itself in the ongoing formation of a purposeful universe, and especially in human consciousness - God.
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