Posts Tagged ‘Creation’

HOOPS, GENESIS AND CANCER

Last Monday, Boston Celtics basketball star Kyrie Irving apologized for saying that the earth is flat. A plethora of questionable beliefs challenge science. They threaten our individual and national health.

The Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky dismisses evolution. Its website states, “The Creation Museum shows why God´s infallible Word, rather than man’s faulty assumptions, is the place to begin if we want to make sense of our world.” Its exhibits include the Garden of Eden. Adam is seen only from above the waist—and he’s ripped! Down I-75 in Williamstown, Ark Encounter offers a life-size Noah’s ark and all the animals—including dinosaurs.

Dinosaurs? Despite the work of paleontologists, creationists believe the world is 6,000 years old. This is consistent with the Rabbis of the Talmudic era, whose math included the lifespans of the first humans, Abraham and his descendants plus various events and later monarchial reigns. So this past Rosh Hashanah, the world turned 5,779.

But other than perhaps some ultra-orthodox sects, Jews don’t take Genesis literally. Maimonides (1135-1204), the great Spanish physician/philosopher, even declared Torah to be metaphor.

The first chapters of Genesis (B’reishit) pose question after question that delineate Torah as mythos, not science. The sun was created on the fourthday. What constituted days one through three? A different concept of “day.” It required no sunrises and sunsets. “There was morning and there was evening” because God created light apart from the sun and separated it from darkness.

And who were the people Cain feared after he killed his brother Abel? Where did his wife come from? This puzzled the Rabbis, too. Some posited that Cain and Abel each had twin sisters, although the biblical text doesn’t mention of them. Adam and Eve conceived Seth, from whom all humanity descends. Did Seth have incestuous relations with one or more of his aunts? His uncle’s daughters? Or did God create other humans right after Adam and Eve and keep them in reserve? Beats me. But it’s fascinating.

Questioning has been the key to studying Torah for two thousand years. I deeply appreciate the scholar Richard Elliott Friedman (Commentary on the Torah) writing of Gen. 1:17 (“in the image of God”), “Whatever it means…” and of Gen. 5:24 (“and he [Enoch] was not”), “I do not know what this means.”

That’s precisely because Torah involves something other than science. According to Friedman (on Gen. 2:1), the biblical creation story “…conveys a particular conception of the relationship between humans and the cosmos, of the relations between the sexes, of the linear flow of time, of the Sabbath.” This provides lots to think about, which is why I’ve read the weekly Torah portion for the past 25 years and attended Torah Study at Congregation Sherith Israel for the past 20.

Science also thrives on questioning. Theories evolve. They must be proved. They can be disproved. New theories take their place. Empiricism, not faith, guides critical decisions. That’s why, despite the recent outbreak of global anti-vaccine hysteria, Australia just announced it could eliminate cervical cancer in the next two decades by vaccinating children against the cancer-causing papillomavirus.

Faith need not make apologies. It has its place. But faith should render unto science what is science’s. As when creationist theme parks harness computer science to advertise on the Internet.

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E PLURIBUS ECHAD

At President Obama’s public inauguration last Monday, Richard Blanco read his poem, “One Today.” Blanco’s theme of unity really resonated. “One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores.” We are a single people joined together. “My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors.”

Each inauguration prompts good feelings roused by America’s tradition of peacefully passing on the presidency every four years. Regrettably, those good feelings often quickly dissolve as partisan disagreements resume. But if we focus on Blanco’s words and some earlier words that perhaps inspired them, we might hold our more negative passions in check and find ways to break through the bipartisan deadlock that so afflicts the nation.

I cite Deuteronomy 6:4: “Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad. Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” We are instructed that God is one and indivisible. So too, Genesis 1 reveals that the created world, complex as it is, is a single entity following on from a single Creator. We see Adam and Eve as humanity’s common parents, and Noah and his unnamed wife as our post-Flood ancestors. Diverse we may be, but ultimately we are all one family.

In this regard, the Mishna (Sanhedrin 4:5) provides a quite beautiful teaching. A person can stamp out many coins with one die, and all the coins look alike, whereas God created humans from a single set of parents yet each of us is unique. We know from our own experiences that members of a family remain individuals yet are bound together.

I appreciated as well Blanco’s choice of greeting that Americans use as the morning sun rises—“hello, shalom,/buon giorno, howdy, namaste, or buenos días.” By all means, add additional favorites. All are valid, because all reflect the many ethnicities, which form and reform the complex America nationality.

So where might this take us? Let’s play off the Mishna’s coin analogy. Every coin has two sides. Yet each is a single object with a single recognized value. So, too, our public debates have two sides. Often more. Yet those debates consider the wellbeing of a single nation. More than one way exists to legitimately approach a particular problem.

At the end of the day, Blanco writes, we head home “always under one sky, our sky.” We are a diverse lot to be sure. But diversity offers us many experiences and points of view—and more opportunities for meeting our challenges. We do better to listen to each other and seek common ground than exploit differences in the certitude that we, and we alone, have the answers.

Blanco concludes that hope awaits us—“ a new constellation/waiting for us to map it,/waiting for us to name it—together.” My thoughts return to the Sh’ma then drift to the nation’s motto, E Pluribus Unum—out of many, one.

A mash-up of words strikes me. E Pluribus Echad. By meshing basic truths both religious and civic, and adding a reasonable measure of humility, we can give the American Dream more than lip service. We can give it new life.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.