An Exploration of the Jewish and Scientific Perspectives on Creation
by Sarah Yehudit (Susan) Schneider
This article can be viewed in pdf format.
This article was published in B’or Hatorah: Science, the Arts, and Problems of Modern Life in the Light of the Torah. #4, Summer 1984 (Shamir: Jerusalem, Israel). p. 15-38.
It is a popular misconception that Torah and science present two competing and mutually exclusive accounts of the Creation story. However, if Jews of opposite outlooks would overcome their prejudices against such terms as G‑d and natural selection and would carefully delineate the content and context of each scenario, they would see that the two sources provide compatible—even complementary—descriptions of the origin and unfolding of life.
The first step in resolving this dispute is to diagnose the points of conflict and to clarify the limits of each account. From a Torah perspective, using the language of classical metaphysics two macrocosmic tendencies appear to be operating in the universe.
Torah is primarily concerned with consciousness, soul, mortality. (While the history it contains is accurate, this is not its central purpose.)
Scientific theories of the origin of the species are solely concerned with the historical development of form on this planet.
Torah begins with the absolute unity of the infinite Ain Sof and describes the subsequent process of Creation and the unfolding of the diversity. It goes forward in time, from “above” to “below”.
Scientific theory on the origin and propagation of life takes our present experience of diversity and extrapolates a hypothetical origin and process. It goes backward in time, from “below” to “above”.
Torah is premised entirely on the assumption of One G‑d as Architect and Creator of the universe.
Science is a-religious. Proposing no theory of first cause, it neither affirms nor refutes the concept of Deity.
The Torah Creation narrative begins in the super-conscious, supra-rational omniscience of G‑d (called HaShem in Hebrew).
Evolutionary theory originates in the experience and rational mind of man.
There is contention as well regarding the definition of “evolution” itself and the particular range of phenomena described by that term. From a Torah perspective, using the language of classical metaphysics this paper sees two macrocosmic tendencies operating in the universe.
The Creation process whereby multiplicity emerges from the essential and indivisible unity of G‑d, called yesh m’ayin (meaning literally “something from nothing” or Creatio ex nihilo). It is the means by which the apparent substance of the universe arises from the primeval incorporeality of G‑d.
The process of returning to the Source, called t’shuva (meaning “return”). This is the effort whereby man—and through man, all creatures— are reunified with HaShem. T’shuva is accomplished by cleaving to G‑d, fixing one’s thoughts firmly in His unity and performing the 613 mitzvot—the Commandments, laws and statutes outlined in the Torah.
Thus, according to the definitions used here, G‑d initiates involution; man initiates evolution. “For creation, heaven was prior, for perfecting earth was prior.”