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.