Sunday, May 17, 2009

Torah - The Repository of All Scientific Knowledge

"The myriads of petrified Remains which are disclosed by the researches of Geology all tend to prove that our Planet has been occupied in times preceding the Creation of the Human Race, by extinct species of Animals and Vegetables, made up, like living Organic Bodies, of "Clusters of Contrivances," which demonstrate the exercise of stupendous Intelligence and Power. They further show that these extinct forms of Organic Life were so closely allied, by Unity in the principles of their construction, to Classes, Orders, and Families, which make up the existing Animal and Vegetable Kingdoms, that they not only afford an argument of surpassing force, against the doctrines of the Atheist and Polytheist; but supply a chain of connected evidence, amounting to demonstration, of the continuous Being, and of many of the highest Attributes of the One Living and True God."

So says Reverend William Buckland in his introduction to Treatise VI of The Bridgewater Treatises on the Power, Wisdom and Goodness of God As Manifested in the Creation. The title of this treatise is "Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology", written in 1836. Buckland was an English geologist and a proponent of creationism, but he was an Old Earth Creationist. Even at a time when geology was in its infancy, he rejected so-called "Flood Geology", recognized that large scale extinctions had occurred many times in the past, and was the first person to describe in depth a dinosaur fossil - Megalosaurus. In short, he was an early Gadol Hador of Geology. (As an aside, one of his hobbies was zoophagy, and he claimed to have eaten his way through the entire animal kingdom - he found mole particularly disgusting!)

What is especially fascinating about Buckland's attempt to reconcile geology and religion, is that it clearly demonstrates that the science of stratigraphy and its correlation with fossil assemblages was not invented by Darwinian dogmatists in an attempt to prove their case. In fact, Buckland shows quite the opposite: many of the early naturalists interpreted what they clearly saw as legitimate scientific observations in such a manner as to support theological beliefs. But Buckland and others did not take the intellectually dishonest approach that many modern day anti-evolutionists are guilty of - claiming that scientists have resorted to a kind of circular reasoning whereby the fossils date the rocks and the rocks date the fossils. Google, for example, evolution OR stratigraphy "circular reasoning" and you'll see that such ludicrous claims are common amongst the Intelligent Design/Creationist propagandists.

Buckland continues:
It may seem just matter of surprise, that many learned and religious men should regard with jealousy and suspicion the study of any natural phenomena, which abound with proofs of some of the highest attributes of the Deity; and should receive with distrust, or total incredulity, the announcement of conclusions, which the geologist deduces from careful and patient investigations of the facts which it is his province to explore. These doubts and difficulties result from the disclosures made by geology, respecting the lapse of very long periods of time before the creation of man. Minds which have long been accustomed to date the origin of the universe, as well as that of the human race from an era of about six thousand years ago, receive reluctantly any information, which if true, demands some new modification of their present ideas of cosmogony; and, as in this respect, Geology has shared the fate of other infant sciences, in being for a while considered hostile to revealed religion; so like them, when fully understood, it will be found a potent and consistent auxiliary to it, exalting our conviction of the Power, end Wisdom, and Goodness of the Creator.
Throughout the book, Buckland recognizes the immature state of the science of his day, yet this is never a reason to doubt its findings. He also repeatedly states that no longer is it appropriate to date the origin of the human race - much less the universe itself - to 6000 years ago. And that it is foolish to look to the Bible for matters of science.
The disappointment of those who look for a detailed account of geological phenomena in the Bible, rests on a gratuitous expectation of finding therein historical information, respecting all the operations of the Creator in times and places with which the human race has no concern; as reasonably might we object that the Mosaic history is imperfect, because it makes no specific mention of the satellites of Jupiter, or the rings of Saturn, as feel disappointment at not finding in it the history of geological phenomena, the details of which may be fit matter for an encyclopedia of science, but are foreign to the objects of a volume intended only to be a guide of religious belief and moral conduct.
Some extreme fideists like to reference such sources as Ben Bag Bag's aphorism in Pirke Avot 5:22: "Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it." or Bereshit Rabbah / Zohar: "God looked into the Torah and created the world" to claim that yes, all knowledge - including all scientific knowledge - is indeed in the Torah, but hidden and/or encoded. This would include many adherents of Jewish mystical traditions, such as Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, as well as some Torah-code advocates. A prime example of those who promulgate an expansive interpretation of "everything is in the Torah" is the radical OrthoFundie that runs FrumTeens, an expert at handpicking quotes from select rabbanim to support his viewpoint to the exclusion of all other legitimate interpretations within Orthodoxy. When it comes to demonstrating the veracity of such a claim with specific examples, however, such individuals can only come up with very generalized and often vague statements from sages of yore (typical lame one: eretz means "running" so the Torah clearly knew that the Earth rotates and revolves around the sun. Although FrumTeens is so wacky that he doesn't even admit to this and falls back on the bogus "The earth revolving around the sun is only relative" claim.) In this they are no different from those who use the same technique in an attempt to prove the divinity of the Koran.

Let us close with the following passage of Buckland's. Rather than twisting the overwhelming evidence that fundamentalists find contrary to their deeply held beliefs, those who believe the Bible to be the inerrant, infallible word of God would do well to consider it.
We may fairly ask of those persons who consider physical science a fit subject for revelation, what point they can imagine short of a communication of Omniscience, at which such a revelation might have stopped, without imperfections of omission, less in degree, but similar in kind, to that which they impute to the existing narrative of Moses ? A revelation of so much only of astronomy, as was known to Copernicus, would have seemed imperfect after the discoveries of Newton; and a revelation of the science of Newton would have appeared defective to La Place: a revelation of all the chemical knowledge of the eighteenth century would have been as deficient in comparison with the information of the present day, as what is now known in this science will probably appear before the termination of another age; in the whole circle of sciences, there is not one to which this argument may not be extended, until we should require from revelation a full developement of all the mysterious agencies that uphold the mechanism of the material world. Such a revelation might indeed be suited to beings of a more exalted order than mankind, and the attainment of such knowledge of the works as well as of the ways of God, may perhaps form some part of our happiness in a future state; but unless human nature had been constituted otherwise than it is, the above supposed communication of omniscience would have been imparted to creatures, utterly incapable of receiving it, under any past or present moral or physical condition of the human race; and would have been also at variance with the design of all God's other disclosures of himself, the end of which has uniformly been, not to impart intellectual but moral knowledge.
The full on-line text of Volume I of Buckland's work can be found here. Volume II, which consists primarily of fossil illustrations and descriptions can be found here.

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