Creation: Did it Happen?
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim
How do we define “reality”? Does reality refer to only the physical world, like what we see or hear, or does it refer also to our mind and what we think? Maimonides wrote that we accept as true (what is real), only 1 of 3 matters: 1) what we sense, 2) what our minds determine, and 3) what is learned from the prophets or the righteous (Letter to Marseilles). Therefore, we accept the tree exists which we sense with our eyes, we accept the equation 2+2=4 which our minds determine is accurate, and we accept what Moses taught us, i.e., Torah.
However, is it possible that any of these 3 truths can contradict another? It would appear that such a contradiction is impossible, as such a contradiction means that reality can contradict itself: that something is and isn’t true. (I’ll explain shortly.) For example, if a science suggests that flowers cannot exist, that science must be wrong, as our senses override that theory. Senses provide facts, and facts override theory. But can mind override senses? Our minds say 2+2=4. Now, what would we accept as true, if we see 2 rocks placed on a table next to another 2 rocks, and we then see only 3 rocks on that table? Do we trust senses or mind? Unlike the debunked theory of flowers not existing, 2+2=4 requires no corroboration; it is a most simple formula with no margin of error. So we explain this phenomenon as some sleight of hand which removed 1 rock. Here, our minds determined an absolute truth, and therefore our senses must have missed something. Both—mind and senses—can assess absolute truths, but both are also subject to error.
Now, why can’t our senses accurately assess that which conflicts with ideational truths, or natural law? It is because true natural laws determine physical reality. Physical reality is not operating in its own sphere, while nature operates unrelated to it. No. Nature is the very blueprint determining how all physical reality exists. Maple trees produce only maple leaves and not pine needles due to a law guiding is continues identical nature. The law exists not “in” the tree, but outside the physical world. This applies to all creations. Thus, there cannot be any contradiction between what is true ideationally (laws) and what is true physically. We can deduct laws by studying creation, and we can also determine how creation must exist, if we arrive at a true law with our minds.
What determines when mind override senses (proving a false sensation), and when senses override mind (disproving a decision)? In the case of the 4 rocks, we don’t deny our senses, or our mind: we first saw 4 rocks, and then we saw 3 rocks. We trust that what we now see—3 rocks—is accurate, but we deduce that we did not see all the motions of the performer: he must have covertly removed 1 rock. There is no contradiction between senses and mind. And we can easily explain what we did not witnessed: the 4th rock is up his sleeve. In the flower case, again, our minds and our senses are not in contradiction. For the theory was only a theory, and as many theories go, it was proved false. It was not that we held something definite as 2+2=4 which was subsequently disproved. As that equation cannot be disproved, just as one cannot suggest a circle is a square.
When a sensation conflicts with an idea, one or both must be wrong. But both cannot be correct, as the totality of all truths—physical and ideational—are in compliance. That is what we call “reality”: what exists as physical entities, their properties, their moments of existence and all their abstract governing laws. For other than God, angels and metaphysical knowledge (i.e., justice, righteousness, morality), our ideas relate to the universe: they either refer to the physical world or to its governing laws. Again, reality refers to all which exists in substance and its properties. So when we say a diamond is the hardest substance, that idea refers to its capacity to scratch all else. The physical world complies fully with ideational truths. There is 1 reality. From the physical world we derive these truths. And inversely, if we accurately arrive at natural laws using our mind, the world will comply.
We answer our question by saying that senses don’t override mind, or vice versa, as true sensations and ideas are complimentary.
What is Proof?
Proof for ideas is attained when the physical world complies with a given idea, thereby validating it. Thus, scientific theory is provable. But subjects like justice and morality are not subject to proof, as nothing in the physical world relates to—nor can validate—murder, abortion, robbery being right or wrong. Morality can only be determined by life’s Creator. Morality is authoritative and not scientifically subject to experimentation. This covers mind and morality.
Are sensations provable? There is no need, as sensation is the very validation: if we sense something, there is a something. Senses are more accurate than ideas, since human thought is diluted with imagination. Man has a difficulty separating truths and reality from his subjective wishes and fantasies. Human emotion clouds and distorts one’s thoughts. But pure sensation in healthy beings, by definition, is fully accurate. All healthy people will see blue skies, not red skies. And they will hear thunder as loud, and birds chirping as softer.
In another measure, mind is superior to senses, as man can arrive at conclusions without continued sensation. Einstein correctly forecasted astronomical phenomena. Following a line of thought, building laws upon other laws, deducing and inducing, Einstein grasped new true principles without observation.
Is the Universe Eternal?
We now address Maimonides’ third category of truths: historical tradition, or Torah transmission. When in conflict, do the 2 other methods of sensation or intelligence override history and Torah? Maimonides says yes:
Owing to the absence of all proof, we reject the theory of the Eternity of the Universe: and it is for this very reason that the noblest minds spent and will spend their days in research. For if the Creation had been demonstrated by proof, even if only according to the Platonic hypothesis, all arguments of the philosophers against us would be of no avail. If, on the other hand, Aristotle had a proof for his theory [the eternity of the universe], the whole teaching of Scripture would be rejected, and we should be forced to other opinions. I have thus shown that all depends on this question. Note it. (Guide for the Perplexed, book II chap xxv)
Maimonides says that proof overrides Torah. The reason for this rejection is based on the nature of these 3 methods of determining truth. Sensation inherently validates phenomena and mind too can arrive at truths. But transmission refers to “events”—i.e., if and when the universe was created—and relies on neither first hand knowledge (sensation) nor principles (mind). No one witnessed creation (and certainly not an eternal universe), and there’s no principle deciding between an eternal or created universe. Without proof, we trust Torah. But proof—either physical evidence or a principle—will override any transmission.
Is Man Left in Doubt?
We have no question regarding Maimonides’ 1st principle: God is the cause of all else. But a cause, as Aristotle maintains, can be simultaneous with the result. For example, one causes a shadow by his mere existence, and not by his will. So too, one can view the universe as God’s shadow, as a result of His being. But Maimonides 4th principle is that God preceded all else, meaning that God willed the universe in to existence. Maimonides determined that the universe is not a natural result of His existence, but that God preceding all else is one of the most vital truths. What compelled Maimonides’ acceptance of this idea and its vital nature? This question is strengthened by Maimonides’ acceptance of an eternal universe, had Aristotle provided a proof. Clearly, Maimonides must remove his 4th principle if Aristotle had proof. This principle is only vital within a Torah system.
Accepting Aristotle, Revelation at Sinai too must be rejected. For if the universe and all natural laws were eternal and not arranged by God’s will, God could not interfere with that which he did not set in motion. This is not Torah’s view, but that of the philosophers. In other words, Sinai is not “proof,” since Maimonides says had Aristotle offered a “proof” for an eternal universe, Torah would be rejected, including Revelation at Sinai. Aristotle’s proof would be greater than Sinai, for as we said, Sinai is based on transmission, not sensation or a principle. The latter 2 can provide 100% proof.
But I believe God did not leave man without proof for this most vital question…
The sapphire Tablets God gave Moses upon Mt. Sinai contained God’s 10 Commands which naturally developed within the stone’s grain during Creation. As sapphire is translucent, one could see the internal text. This internal writing could not be the work of man, as they were inside the sapphire, not etched upon the surface. This miracle proved that God controls—and created—the universe. God’s control of the universe allowed Him to create a few sapphire tablets that naturally grew 10 statements internally. Both, the Tablets and their script are 2 of the 10 miracles which Pirkei Avos 5:6 says were created at the close of Creation.
As God could have informed Moses of these 10 Commands prophetically just as He informed him of the other 603, what demanded the creation of these miraculous tablets? It is to teach that God did not leave man without an answer: the universe is not eternal. As God created sapphire and embedded statements in side them, God demonstrated His control of the universe. So, although Maimonides says, “the noblest minds spent and will spend their days in research,” this does not apply to the Jewish nation who are in receipt of truths derived outside creation: through prophecy. When learning truth, Jews are not limited to the physical world. And not only did these tablets teach that God controls the universe and created it, but that Earth’s purpose is that man study God through His creation and His Torah. Creation and Torah—sapphire and commands—are synthesized in the tablets. The purpose of Earth is man’s study of the Creator (Rashi on Pirkei Avos 2:8).
God intended man to observe these tablets as indisputable proof that He created the universe, and that the universe serves to display God’s wisdom. But Moses saw that the Jews were not ready to accept such a blunt and clear reality. Moses broke the tablets. Perhaps in the future we will once again be given a similar proof in some other form.
Perhaps Torah commences with the teaching that God created the universe, since man cannot apply his mind using his senses or intellect to time prior to creation. We can’t answer the question of an eternal universe based on science. Our senses and thinking work only from creation and forward. And while science has discovered that the universe is expanding from some point of origin—Big Bang’s location—from which all was hurled at great speeds away from that center 14 billion years ago, we can’t posit anything prior to that Big Bang. Was there something else in existence prior, or as Judaism holds, did all come into existence from nothingness? Maimonides’ great honesty is that he would accept a proof for an eternal universe and reject Torah, since God designed the human mind to accept what is proven, over tradition. But as no proof exists, we accept Moses’ prophecy that God created the universe.