Maimonides writes in his “Guide to the Perplexed” about the Ancient World philosophy. (part 2, Ch.25)
“You should know that we don’t rule out the possibility of an ancient world merely because of the verses in the Torah that write that man was created from naught. For those verses aren’t clearer than the verses in the Torah that describe G-d as having a body. We can and sometimes must explain the Torah in a manner different than the simple understanding. So you shouldn’t say the verse tells me that G-d created the world from naught and that He doesn’t have a body. For in truth, if we wanted we could understand the verses in a manner that is consonant with the belief in an ancient world. (For example we could say “In the Beginning, G-d created the world from ancient material”)
When it comes to the verses that describe G-d with “a strong arm and an outstretched hand” we don’t talk literally for we must stay clear of describing G-d with any physical attributes. In a way it’s far easier to explain that the world is ancient (we’d avoid all fights with the philosophers!) and we could even explain the verses to be understood that way. But we don’t interpret verses as we see fit!
There are two reasons we don’t believe in an ancient world and consequently don’t read the Torah verses that way. The first reason is, logically speaking; we understand that G-d is not physical. Therefore we don’t explain the verses to be understood that G-d used ancient materials to create the world. The second reason is, the belief in an ancient world was never scientifically or empirically proven. Therefore we have no need to explain the verses in a different manner just to suit the philosophers and scientists. In other words, we don’t look for alternate explanations for Torah verses as long as logic and science don’t force us to understand those verses differently.
Maimonides explains an important point that sheds light on our approach to questions dealing with Torah and science. In the eyes of Judaism what is worse, that G-d created the world with an evolving process or that G-d didn’t create the world from naught at all? Clearly the idea that G-d did not create the world and that it always was is far worse and it flies in face of the very first verse of the Torah! “In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth”. The claim that the world always was is worse than evolution and even worse than an ancient world that was one time created millions of years ago. A world that always was is the most extreme antithesis to the description of G-d creating the world in Genesis.
The war Maimonides waged was far greater than the war we wage today. Heresy in his time was based on No G-d Period! Evolution and an ancient world that had a creator are child’s play compared to this. Even so Maimonides had no trouble to explain the verses in the Torah according to what science had to say at the time. He could have agreed with the philosophers and scientists that espoused an Ancient G-d less world and fit it in to the verses. We could read into the verse that G-d used ancient material, primal matter and created the world and fashioned it as He saw fit.
Maimonides even explains that if science would prove that the world was ancient and primal we would be able to understand our verses in the Torah and find viable interpretations. We’d still believe in G-d and His Torah. So if we can read that into the Torah why don’t we? Why didn’t Maimonides? Scientists for over 2,000 years believed this, even Einstein believed it! Is this not sufficient reason to explain the Torah according to the prevailing wisdom at the time?
Maimonides said that indeed we want to understand how science and Torah fit together and find common ground when possible. But that is only when true analytical science is in play. True science and empirical evidence proved by experimentation and observation is science that intelligent thought can accept. The Torah wants us to be learned and not ignorant, to walk around with our eyes open. But the blind following of unproven theories and hypotheses is not warranted by the Torah, nor by common sense! Maimonides explains that we do not change our understanding of the Torah for unfounded theories.
To be continued…