I recently heard a radio program about Stephen Hawking's new book, The Grand Design. Written together with physicist Leonard Mlodinow, the book accounts for why things in our universe are so beautiful ordered. Why the laws and conditions of our universe are suited for the development of life and human life. Everything can be explained by the current state of theory in physics, without any recourse to a divine creator. Though, the authors hasten to add, nothing in their theory refutes the idea that there might be a God.
I listened, but to tell you the truth, I yawned.
My own faith has nothing to do with whether the universe is expanding or contracting, whether there is life on other planets, whether the four basic forces in physics can be unified, whether quantum physics and general relativity can be integrated. Or, for that matter, whether the six days of Creation in Genesis represent six metaphorical epochs, whether the "great sea monsters" of Genesis actually refer to swimming dinosaurs or ancient reptiles whose fossil remains have been discovered.
And each time a new observation arrives from Hubble, or a new bit of data emerges from a supercollider, I don't have to adjust spiritually.
I just don't think that the Torah is in any kind of quarrel with the physicists about the origins of the universe. All the medieval Jewish commentators said, in one way or another, that the opening of the Torah is general, that it clothes deeper mysteries, that it is not a literal history. To me the opening chapter is poetry and geometry, with its placid and unemotional description of the architecture of heaven and earth. Then comes poetry and drama, as the humans spring into action and immediately change everything!
I do listen to the programs about physics and the origin of the universe. I do think the discoveries that come from the atom are profound. They are triumphs of the mind. They lead to applications that, we pray, are useful for the good of humanity. So I endorse the quest.
And I'm intrigued by comparisons between the Big Bang and the kabbalistic view of the universe emerging from a point of nothingness (Ayin). Intrigued, but if the parallels weren't there I wouldn't lose any sleep. The new book by Stephen Hawking, or new discoveries or theories, don't alter my foundation.
I experience Creator through the lens of this line in the morning service, right after Barchu: Ham'chadesh b'tuvo b'chol yom tamid maaseh breishit. We speak of "the One Who renews out of goodness, every single day, always, the making of the beginning." More fascinating to me than the Big Bang is: today. We wake up, and the whole universe is here! More mysterious than the atom are life, and awareness.
Science can describe them, model them, but the experience of them is beyond those descriptions. The pulse of existence, awareness, aliveness, consciousness -- these are Creation. The poetry of Genesis doesn't explain them, but it connects them. The goodness we attribute to God: that is the spiritual Big Bang, the first fact of our universe and each new day.