NOTE: The following message was sent by T. It was forwarded by Dani Rabinowitz, a South African who is completing a doctorate in philosophy at Oxford.
Thank you for this article [i.e. Genesis and the Big Bluff]. This is a very clear and careful presentation. Your friend is to be greatly commended.
For what it’s worth, he has convinced me of his position. I don’t care much for the debate on evolution though. Even if there is a lot of evidence, the tradition tells us this is misleading.
I did wonder about the criticism made from pages 80 to 82, criticism that may also apply against the Hertz Chumash. I have two questions about this.
First, the generation of the Exodus was greater, but did this involve their having the concepts of contemporary biology or physics?
I did not make the claim that the generation of the Exodus actually understood modern biology and physics. The discussion is about whether they were capable of understanding certain concepts.
Dr. Schroeder made three statements about the intellectual level of the Exodus generation.
On page 129 of Genesis & the Big Bang:
Because it would have been unrealistic to expect a mass of newly freed slaves 3400 years ago at Sinai to grasp the meaning of bacteria and microalgae…
This is a specific statement about the ability of the Exodus generation to grasp the meaning of very small forms of life i.e. bacteria and microalgae.
On page 157 of Genesis & the Big Bang:
Can mankind comprehend billions of years? Not likely today and even less likely at the time of Moses.
This is a specific statement about the ability of the Exodus generation to grasp the meaning of long stretches of time.
On page 175 of Genesis & the Big Bang:
It [the Bible] had to be meaningful to the just-freed slaves standing at Sinai, while retaining the depths of meaning intended for generations yet to be born.
This is a vague statement about meanings in the Bible.
I am addressing only the specific claims made by Dr. Schroeder. The vagueness of the third statement precludes any specific criticism.
Is it self-evident that the generation of the Exodus would not have been able to understand bacteria and billions of years? I do not think so. If so, on whom does the onus of proof rest? Dr. Schroeder does not provide a shred of evidence for his contention. Furthermore, he does not describe what would count as evidence.
Secondly, does not the Rambam (Guide 1:26) say that the Torah uses strictly-speaking improper language because people who don’t have proper understanding would be misled otherwise?
This might mean later generations, and not the generation of the Exodus. But then, could Schroeder not similarly make his claim about later generations?
In The Epistle Regarding the Resuscitation of the Dead (אגרת התחיה, Kappach edition, section 9), Maimonides states that the reason that Resuscitation of the Dead is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah is that the notion of Resuscitation of the Dead would not have been grasped by earlier generations.
I do not think that this constitutes support for Dr. Schroeder’s position. Resuscitation of the Dead is a far cry from the concept of bacteria or long stretches of time. It violates the natural order in a dramatic fashion. I do not think that this can be compared to the notion of minuscule organisms or long periods of time which, though unknown at the time, are merely extensions of concepts which were understood.
You should read what the Guide says here anyhow because this anticipates and answers the criticism Aquinas (Summa Theologica 1, 13, 2) levels against the Rambam. You can tell your professors :).