Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

Wisdom in Nature: Thoughts for the New Month

Today and tomorrow are Rosh Chodesh, inaugurating a new month in the Hebrew calendar — the lunar month of Iyar. 

In Jewish liturgy, there are various additions special to the day but my favorite is the conclusion of the morning prayer service with Psalm 104. It’s included because of the reference to the moon: “He made the moon to calculate the festivals; the sun knows its time of setting” (v. 19). But apart from that, the whole thing is just such a gorgeous, charming, panoramic evocation of God’s wisdom manifest in nature. “Intelligent design,” if you will.
Contemplating this wisdom “is the most direct way to verify [God’s] existence and the surest path to a true conception of Him,” writes the medieval Spanish sage Rabbeinu Bachya in Duties of the Heart. He identifies the famous seven pillars of wisdom in Proverbs with seven distinct “marks of wisdom in creation”: “Wisdom has built her house, she has sculpted her seven pillars” (Proverbs 9:1).
Rabbeinu Bachya explains that “the whole world is made up of the material and the spiritual, so intimately mixed and fused that each of them sustains the other, like body and soul in living creatures.” In some mysterious way, Torah, God’s wisdom, pervades, guides and shapes the natural world: “the forces of nature, in governing the world, operate in accordance with the Torah.” (See Gate of Reflecton, Introduction, Chapters 3 & 4.)
If this all sounds spooky and mystical, it’s also increasingly confirmed by science. That’s the nutshell summary of a fantastic new book I’ve been reviewing in a 5-part series at Evolution News & Views. It is British physician and historian James Le Fanu’s Why Us? How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves (Pantheon). I hope you have a chance to take a look at Parts I, II, III, IV, and V.


Le Fanu’s point is that in brain and DNA research especially there emerges the strong sense that the material reality we observe with our senses is not all there is guiding the development either of ourselves as a species or as individuals.
Excerpt from my review:

Consider the Hox “master” genes that determine the spatial configuration of the front and back ends of creatures as diverse as frogs, mice, and humans. The Swiss biologist Walter Gehring showed that “the same ‘master’ genes mastermind the three-dimensional structures of all living things….The same master genes that cause a fly to have the form of a fly cause a mouse to have the form of a mouse.” Stephen Jay Gould admitted the “explicitly unexpected character” of this discovery.


Unexpected is right. The physically encoded information needed to form that mouse, as opposed to that fly, isn’t there. Instead, “It is as if the ‘idea’ of the fly (or any other organism) must somehow permeate the genome that gives rise to it.”

Biologist Rupert Sheldrake puts a little differently, hypothesizing “the existence of some ‘field’ by which an organism knows itself, and its parts, in their entirety.” But neo-Darwinism’s proposed mechanism of evolution can only, even in theory, affect a physical entity — the genome. How could it produce an “idea” or a “field”?

Same goes for the brain. Again, physical explanations of how it gives rise to the mind consistently explode upon takeoff. The brain is no computer, where every operation can be traced to physically describable events: “Neither the findings of the PET scanner nor Professor [Eric] Kandel’s scientific explanations can begin to account for the power of memory to retain…visual images over decades and retrieve them at will, any more than they can account for remembering the words of a familiar hymn or recalling a telephone number.”


That’s just for starters. The brain-computer analogy utterly fails to clarify how “just a few thousand genes might instruct the arrangement of those billions of neurons with their ‘hardwired’ faculties of language and mathematics.”

Such an understanding, of nature driven by a force outside nature, was dominant in biology before Darwin:

Baron Georges Cuvier (1769-1832), who served as director of Paris’s Musee d’Histoire Naturelle, held that there was an unknown biological “formative impulse,” an organizational principle of some kind, that directed the formation of diverse kinds of life. 


He was right. What Le Fanu calls an “idea” or a “field” guiding the production of bodies and minds, what Cuvier called the “formative impulse,” was called, by the masters of the ancient Biblical tradition, simply God’s “wisdom” or His “Torah.”
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posted April 25, 2009 at 1:19 am

David write: “Le Fanu’s point is that in brain and DNA research especially there emerges the strong sense that the material reality we observe with our senses is not all there is guiding the development either of ourselves as a species or as individuals.”
What? What does he mean? Does he mean that an intelligent being poofed some organisms and/or some parts of some organisms into existence? That didn’t happen. Here is a quote from Mayr:
“Astronomical and geophysical evidence indicate that the Earth originated about 4.6 billion years ago. At first the young Earth was not suitable for life, owing to the heat and exposure to radiation. Astronomers estimate that it became liveable about 3.8 billion years ago, and life apparently originated about that time, but we do not know what the first life looked like. Undoubtedly, it consisted of aggregates of macromolecules able to derive substance and energy from surrounding inanimate molecules and from the sun’s energy. Life may well have originated repeatedly at this early stage, but we know nothing about this. If there have been several origins of life, the other forms have since become extinct. Life as it now exists on Earth, including the simplest bacteria, was obviously derived from a single origin. This is indicated by the genetic code, which is the same for all organisms, including the simplest ones, as well as by many aspects of cells, including microbial cells. The earliest fossil life was found in strata about 3.5 billion years old. These earliest fossils are bacterialike, indeed they are remarkably similar to some blue-green bacteria and other bacteria that are still living” (p. 40).

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