Kingdom of Priests

Kingdom of Priests

A Division of Labor in Creation

When we say that God created life and all the rest of the universe that serves as its backdrop, if we try to think of what this actually means, then how direct should we imagine God’s intelligent design to have been? We know that natural forces, not directly but only generally manifesting God’s will, play a role in creation. But do they do all the work? This is a question that divides theistic evolutionists, who see no direct role for God as “intelligent designer,” from others who find that idea impossible to reconcile with traditional theism. 

Last night I came across an interesting distinction that Jewish philosophy offered some four centuries ago. The Maharal in Be’er ha-Golah asks about the Talmudic teaching (Makkot 23b-24a) that assigns a correspondence between the number of positive commandments in the Written Torah and the number of parts in a human body. By tradition, the number in both instances is 248. 
But there are many more components to the body than that, just as there are many more commandments — specifically, rabbinic commandments. The Maharal answers that just as the body parts uncounted by the number 248 serve as appurtenances or accessories, protecting and otherwise ensuring their vital functioning, so too the rabbinic commandments are not found written in the Torah but instead are legislated by the rabbis to protect and serve the Torah’s commandments. The parallel goes farther.


Just as the rabbinic commandments were not directly authored by God in the same way the text of the Torah was revealed directly by him to Moses, yet they nevertheless enjoy the general designation of “Torah,” so too certain aspects of creation are the product of God’s indirect, mediated design, in contrast to other features of the natural world that were designed in a direct, unmediated way. The former, the products of mediated design, are generated through natural processes. Yet they too fall under the general designation of God’s “Creation.” The rabbis, in other words, in the legal context serve as deputies to God in the same way natural forces do in the context of creation. 
And I would add that just as there are ideas in rabbinic legislation that seem faulty, so too features in nature appear suboptimal. And maybe what I’ve just said is a step in the direction of understanding why.
By the way, for anyone interested in accessing the Maharal, I highly recommend Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein‘s adaptation of the Be’er ha-Golah, which I’m using and find very helpful as I grapple with the original.
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ken teaff

posted January 18, 2010 at 9:33 pm

Huh? What did you say? I didn’t follow at all.
Just as well, I suppose. You lost me in the first paragraph, when you said that “natural forces…play a role in creation.” How, exactly, does that work, since those natural forces are a PART of creation? That’s like saying a baby played a role in its own inception. Kinda hard to do.
Anyway, though I didn’t understand your point at all, I find it arrogant to the point of hubris for you to close your essay with, “maybe what I’ve just is a step in understanding the direction…” Do you think you’re the first person who’s said what you just said (whatever it was)?

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posted January 19, 2010 at 8:33 am

Ken, instead of the baby analogy, think of a computer analogy. Imagine yourself writing an advanced computer program that can actually edit and improve its own code and the purpose for which the code was written. I think that’s the kind of “creation” Mr. Klinghoffer may have had in mind.
“And maybe what I’ve just said is a step in the direction of understanding why.” is arrogant? I’m sure if you considered this statement a few more times, in a more favorable light, you’ll give a more charitable interpretation.

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Paul Burnett

posted January 19, 2010 at 11:41 am

How do we know that the Intelligent Designer and the Creator are the same entity? The creator, as project owner, could have contracted out the design – or vice versa. The designer and creator could even both be contractors to a third party, or the creator contractor could have had a bunch of specialty subcontractors – this is done all the time in the building trades.
Intelligent design proponents make a lot out of design, but don’t mention a creator very much – creationists make a lot out of creation, but don’t mention a designer very much. They could be two (or more) different entities. Maybe that’s why Genesis seems to use a plural form for God – it’s not the “royal “we”” but a plurality of contractors and sub-contractors.

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posted January 19, 2010 at 6:56 pm

David, doesn’t it say in the commandment of keeping the sabbath, that God “abstained from all the work that He created to make.” It’s as if He created the universe to make itself, at least starting off at some starting point.

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