Michael Dallen writes:
[September 9, 2005. Scientists discover a "brain-building gene" in human beings and calculate that it "arose about 5,800 years ago." According to the ancient Hebrew calendar, the first man began to walk the earth 5,765 - now almost 5,766 - years ago. This just reported today in two "very well-done" University of Chicago-sponsored studies appearing in the journal Science, and then in The New York Times (p. A-14) and other newspapers.]
Many first-rank scientists, scholars, and brilliant, highly educated people of all stripes love the Bible* and consider it truly holy. At the same time, many first-rank scientists, scholars, etc., think of the Bible as nothing much more than a collection of old myths, poetry, and odd, outdated rules.
I used to count myself in the second group. When I eventually came to think that the story of the Exodus was the story of a revolution - of a great, radically liberating revolution, which, despite any mythic elements to the contrary, seems to have actually happened historically in some way - my faith in the utterly non-sacred character of the Bible faltered.
Religion has certainly played a major role in human affairs. Even after deciding that some things in the Bible might be true, I still had so little interest in religion personally, in the sense of wanting any for myself, that I couldn't account for its importance to others. That made me curious. And, as I looked into the mystery of religion more, over the years, I came to appreciate the Bible more.
Before you read much further, you should understand that I'm not speaking for the foundation in this essay, nor for any of my fellow trustees. I'm speaking of my own concerns and doubts - in the hope that they may help answer yours. What follows is a summary narrative of what and how I believe, and why:
My immediate predecessors, my relatives from the generation that fought World War II, were taught from the time that they first entered college that the so-called Old Testament was largely myth. They had learned to read and pray in Hebrew as children, but their own elders hardly ever took the trouble to tell them why that mattered. Accordingly, the knowledge they valued most was secular knowledge, about law, literature, science, business, medicine and art. They were good students. I've had the chance to look at some of the textbooks they used. Those books come from a very different age: they are, in places, not just wrong (according to the science and assumptions of today), they are absurdly, comically over-confident when they are most wrong.. The experts who wrote them lived when the world's leading experts had never heard of the Big Bang, the creation of the Universe ex nihilo (in Hebrew, yesh me-ayin) - from nothing. The idea of the eternality of the Universe pervaded the "best" scientific thought, as it had since Aristotle's time. "Science," it was said, proved that the account of the Creation in Genesis - which really involved a big bang! - was mere myth. To believe the Bible, according to their thinking, was simply superstition.
"Science" also tried to teach my elders that the Universe had no room in it for God. He had practically nothing to do, supposedly, nothing to occupy Him. In terms of physics, they lived in a clockwork universe, basically, a Newtonian universe. My elders' teachers knew of Einstein but nothing of quantum mechanics. No one had told them that a particle at a subatomic level might leap this way or that way, randomly, as it seems. The Torah-concept, that God sustains every particle and atom in existence and directs them for His purposes, as quantum mechanics allows, didn't fit into the worldview of their physics teachers. My predecessors lost out on other things, too - remarkable archaeological discoveries, for instance, demonstrating that great parts of the Bible were historically true - that came along only later, after their minds were fully furnished.
History kept unfolding in the meantime - very dramatically and substantially in their lifetimes. They lived, for instance, through the Great Depression, the Holocaust in Europe, the creation of history's Third Jewish Commonwealth in the land of Israel, and the Six Day War of 1967, when Jewish armies re-took Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria. But they were too adult and busy, by the end of World War II, to think deep thoughts about all that or fully incorporate it in a philosophy or worldview..
One thing they didn't get that I, coming along later, got while I was still fairly young: the sight of increasingly well-developed patterns in history, including the apparent historical realization of many Biblical promises.
These promises - call them prophecies, if you prefer - particularly stood out, at least for me:
* The promises, in Deuteronomy, about the cycles of Hebrew history and its causes. Especially, that the land of Israel would remain barren, almost deserted, and unwanted, for ages - in fact, as long as the Jews weren't there to make it productive and desirable again.
* That the people of Israel do indeed function as the Torah says they must: as a force in the world, as a spark-plug or turbo-charger of histor, hurrying civilization along, as it were. Not just as a nation of priests, a light to the nations, as the Bible says, but as something more elemental, more a part of the world than that. The Jews challenge people to be more than they were. So they have given the world people like - well, the list is extremely long. It includes Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Paul and Peter and the other early Christian apostles, the Macabees, Maimonides, Einstein, Steinmetz, Heine, Freud, Spinoza, Marx, Engels, great physicists and scientists, chess masters, mathematicians, poets, builders, physicians, engineers, soldiers, sailors, philosophers, photographers, musicians, fashion designers, movie tycoons, labor leaders, financial leaders, comedians, actors, and department store moguls. It includes countless anonymous or nearly anonymous Jewish men and women who made "priestly" contributions (i.e., unusually literate, fluent, brighter than average, sober, imaginative, dedicated, sensitive, passionate about justice, peace, cleanliness and learning, charitable, spiritual, self-disciplined, etc.) to the world while they lived in it . . . The story, if one only knew the half of it, would be almost unbelievable. Especially when one considers that, when one speaks of the Jews, one is speaking of no more than about 1/4 of only one percent (1%) of the human race! They are literally one of "the fewest of all nations," as the Bible says, fewer than two or three of every thousand people alive today.
* The promise that, when the Jews fail to follow Torah precepts in the land of Israel, "a non-nation, a cruel nation," as the Bible says, would rise up to function as "pins in the eyes and thorns in the sides" of the Jews in the land - and, if allowed to persist in the land, would eventually drive the Jews out of the land into another exile.
* The promise that those who bless Israel are blessed, in some sense, while those who curse the Jews - one thinks immediately of Nazis, Communist anti-Semites, Cossack pogromists and the Spanish Inquisition's torturers, and now the modern enemies of the State of Israel, including people willing to make bombs out of their own young children in order to maim and slaughter Jewish children - are themselves cursed, even though they may sometimes flourish briefly.
Finally, after years of watching my fellow adults in committees and meeting rooms and their own offices, in courtrooms and legislative chambers and the like, I began to realize how easy it is for people to get things terribly, terribly wrong. One should consider Moses' comments about the value of the Torah's statutes, judgments, commandments and ordinances: that the people of other nations would hear of their greatness, their superhuman wisdom and righteousness, and cherish them accordingly (Deuteronomy 4:5-9). As I learned more about those statutes, etc., I began to appreciate them that way too.
Finally, after years of reading and listening to people's best thoughts on all manner of subjects, and compared them to the Torah, the "Guidance" or "Teaching," I concluded that the Torah is far too great to be just a manmade work. Mere humans don't get things right like that. Then I found out about the First Covenant, the Universal Covenant and the Seven Noahide Commandments. That made a big difference to me. I saw that the Bible's "kingdom of priests" has a priestly doctrine that it's meant to share with others.
I also discovered this principle, which is recorded in The Rainbow Covenant: If anything about the Torah ever strikes you as wrong, perverse or cruel, you are either misunderstanding it or it isn't genuine Torah. Or, as the great sages of Israel teach, if one finds a conflict between the Torah and the truth, either that "truth" is untrue or one is getting the Torah wrong.
For more on this matter, about things in the Bible that may appear fanciful or impossible, click here: Biblical Riddles.
* One refers here solely to the Hebrew Bible, from Genesis to the end of Second Chronicles. The Christian Bible, the New Testament - the word testament coming from the Latin testamentum, or covenant - as it's called, is another book, outside the scope of this article. The focus of this article, and of "Biblical Riddles" too, is the First Covenant and the Covenant of Sinai.