Monday, October 31, 2005

Duck duck, Gosse

The theme developed by Gosse, that the physical evidences of an old earth were but a plant by God making the earth look old while it really is young, recurs often in the blogosphere. The usual rebuttal is that God didn't/ wouldn't fool humans. Why should God have created a universe that looks 15 billion years old if it's really 6000 years old, and worse, we're required to believe that its 6000 years old? Furthermore, there is no indication in Tanakh that God operates in this manner.

Well there is. One word: anthropomorphism. At least according to the Rambam. Whether on dogmatic or philosophical grounds, most Jews today over age ten probably do consider the physical references to God in the Torah to be non-literal, as per the Rambam. But the facts are that the Torah gives the impression of God having a face, back, hands, emotions, speech etc. Rabbinic literature develops this even more, with God wearing tefillin, for instance. The skeptic will say that the Torah does in fact mean these things literally, but that isn't the point. Jews don't take the anthropomorphism literally today and Orthodox Jews certainly tend not to believe that the intent of the Torah is to assert that God has a finger or nose or gets angry.

Le-shitaso, doesn't this demonstrate, at least in principle, that Orthodox Jews like myself who are doubtful that God would create a universe looking old while requiring us to believe that it is young can't really claim that God wouldn't do that? That's like saying God wouldn't say that He has a face if He didn't have one.

Obviously there are ways of side-stepping the issue entirely, for example by claiming that the Torah doesn't say or assert that the universe is presently about 6000 years old. If so, the appearance of the universe isn't a matter of fooling anyone, only a matter of beliving a flawed chronology to be a required dogma. That may be true, but my point is specifically about Gosse and the easy dismissal of him that everyone has given.

Update: Mark reminded me of the parsha about nabhi sheqer in the Torah. Here, the Torah specifically says that God uses the medium of false prophets (without obviously sending them) to test us. Another good example; probably a better one.

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