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A fairly accurate, but incomplete INDEX of Posts & good overview of this blog READ SOME REASONS TO REJECT ORTHODOX JUDAISM my April 2014 post or click link above. Highlighted words lead to other posts almost all in my blog. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family (1950's) and went to Orthodox Yeshiva from kindergarten thru High School plus some Beis Medrash.Became an agnostic in my 20's and an atheist later on. My blog will discuss the arguments for god and Orthodox Judaism and will provide counter arguments. I no longer take comments. My blog uses academic sources, the Torah, Talmud and commentators to justify my assertions. The posts get updated. INDEX OF POSTS SEE MAY 2017 or click link above.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Schroeder The Science of God - Chapter 3 - section 2

Updated thru 1/14/2015

This is a continuation of Chapter 3 - section 1 and completes my non exhaustive review of Chapter 3.

Similar to my prior reviews of the book, the focus is mainly on Schroeder's use of our holy texts. {Schroeder has a newer edition - so the page numbers may not match up exactly. Most if not all of my post will probably still apply to his newer edition}

Most of my sources and supporting information is found at the bottom of the post. It would be helpful to at least skim the supporting information before reading this post. 

To keep this post focused, I am going to essentially use Schroeder’s framework and interpretation regarding Ramban’s Cosmology (from Genesis 1:1, 1:2) as summarized by Schroeder on page 56.

Page 56 of the book. According to Schroeder's summary - “Nahmanides, in the year 1250, described the process [Schroeder is referring to Big Bang theory] with uncanny accuracy: the initial creation produced an entity so thin it had no substance to it the ‘entity’ Schroeder is referring to is what Ramban writes the Greeks call Hyle, and Ramban equates Hyle to the Tohu of Genesis 1:2]. It was the only physical creation  ever to occur and was all concentrated within a speck of space that was the entire universe following it’s creation. (This seven-hundred-year-old insight could be a quote from a modern physics text book.) As the universe expanded from the size of that initial minuscule space, the primordial substanceless substance changed into matter as we know it.  Biblical time, he continued, starts (“grabs hold”, in his words) with the appearance of matter."

The above paragraph is an exact quote from the book , except for my comments inside the  [brackets]. 

This post will demonstrate Schroeder misleads us regarding both Ramban’s Cosmology and  Science. He is shoehorning Big Bang theory into Ramban, and is being intellectually dishonest if not engaging in outright deception.

On Ramban's Cosmology

1) The Big Bang starts with an immensely dense substance, not the thin no substance Hyle of Ramban.  This alone raises grave problems when trying to read Big Bang cosmology into Ramban. 

2) Ramban describes Hyle as having the power of potency, fit to assume form and to proceed from potentiality into reality. This can be a quote  straight out of Greek Philosophy ! Moreover, it is not clear at all that Hyle, or Hyle as Ramban understood is something from modern science, as Schroeder intimates. 

3) Ramban does not discuss details how the dot of Hyle becomes Heaven and Earth. Without the crucial steps, it is almost impossible to compare Ramban's Cosmology to the Big Bang. Ramban does write God imposes form on the Hyle to become Earth. This is very similar to Plato. Quoting The Cambridge History of Philosophy page 178 " Plato has a creator god (Demiurge) impose order and form upon already existing matter." Ramban differs from Plato by claiming God creates any initial substance.

Somehow Schroeder must be concluding  that Ramban's claim that God imposing form on the Hyle, is the same as  "....the primordial substanceless substance changed into matter as we know it."  But  is it 'matter' as science knows  it  ? Or is it 'change'  as science knows it ? Or 'primordial substanceless' as science knows it  ? 

A reasonable response is -  it is Hyle and imposition of form, and 'matter' as Ramban understood it thru the lens of Greek Philosophy and his understanding of Genesis. It is a kvetch (stretch) speculation on a Ramban speculation to insinuate this is Big Bang Cosmology/modern science.

3) Ramban may have believed something like an instantaneous process -  poof - dot into heaven and earth. God was involved after all. Or Ramban may have believed a more gradual process. Greek/Hindu Philosophers also discuss the emergence of the Universe from a ‘seed’ or ‘dot’ or ‘point’ and it’s expansion into the Universe. Interestingly some of the Hindu texts have billions of years associated with formation of galaxies (see beginning on  page 133 of Siva Sadhan Bhattacharjee's book).  Some of the Greek accounts are highly suggestive as involving  long periods of time.

Ramban explicitly writes that the first six days of creation are normal 24 hour days and does not hint that they could have been billions of years from any other vantage point.  Although Ramban writes the initial dot will with God’s intervention become the Heaven and Earth,  this  need not be associated with the continuous expansion and slow (billions of years)  of creation associated with the Big  Bang. The Big Bang has energy eventually becoming cosmic dust,  eventually coalescing into galaxies etc: because of gravity. Does that sound like a Creator imposing form on Hyle ? 

4) Now consider the following additional ancient Greek concepts Ramban adopts/adapts as part of his Cosmology. 

a) Heaven and Earth are of distinct and different substances.

b) Earth is at a stand still.

c) Earth and all things on it are  made of four things. Air, Fire, Water, Earth.

d) There are no vacuums.

If Ramban was writing from divine knowledge or secrets in the Torah, why is Ramban’s cosmology apparently similar to the Greeks, even using their exact terminology at times ? Moreover, we sometimes know this Greek cosmology to be inaccurate.

It is because Ramban had no divine secrets or secret insights. Ramban admits speculating on the Torah. He was adopting/adapting the ‘science’ of his times as he understood it and read it into the Torah. Given the volumes of speculative commentary written on the Torah, you are bound to find something that by a kvetch (stretch ), by an elaborate speculation can be shoehorned into one or more of modern scientific theories. 


Genesis 1:4 Quoting Rabbi Chavel’s translation of Ramban “It is further possible that we should say that when the heavens and the earth came forth from nought into existence, as mentioned in the first verse, time came into being, for although our time consisting of minutes and hours is measured in light and darkness, yet from the moment some substance came into existence time was already part of it.”

Page 56 - Schroeder explains Ramban as follows "Biblical time, he [Ramban] continued, starts (“grabs hold”, in his words) with the appearance of matter." 

Schroeder makes the following claims a) and b).

a)  “biblical  time” takes hold with the appearance of  "matter", this based on his own reading of Ramban. Schroeder writes this is an “extraordinary” insight confirmed by modern science.

b) “matter” takes hold at quark confinement, when protons and neutrons form. (also see page 57)

[Mr. Schroeder - 1) modern science does not discuss 'biblical time'. 
2) Ramban discusses just time within the universe. The word 'biblical' added by Schroeder to Ramban's own words is unjustified and the way Schroeder uses it is deceptive. This will be explained below.]

The “extraordinary” insight is not so extraordinary. Either time is independent of matter or it is not, lets ignore other possibilities. There is a 50-50 chance of getting the correct answer. Recall mankind measured duration or time by observing the motion of things seen from or on earth. If there was absolutely nothing existing maybe time would not exist. {eta Kleinman - Page 193 Regarding Plato “Time is not independent of the created world, since it comes into being only with the construction of the cosmos.” }

In addition, I take issue with Schroeder’s claim that modern science says time (biblical or otherwise) takes hold when “matter”  forms. Scientists speak of time periods  prior to the existence of “matter”. Including time periods prior to quark confinement. Some Scientists believe there was no beginning of time at all.

Schroeder claims that “matter” appears for the first time at quark confinement.  Lets plug that definition into Ramban ala Schroeder, but excluding Schroeder's invention of 'biblical time'. We get: According to Ramban - time starts (“grabs hold”) with the formation of protons and neutrons.

Do you see the problem ?  Ramban would now be wrong according to science, since time does exist prior to formation of protons and neutrons. This is why I think Schroeder invents something called 'biblical time' for Ramban and puts words into Ramban's text.  Schroeder can claim Ramban 'really' meant 'biblical time', not time, therefore Ramban is not in error. Schroeder knows time began before quark confinement and knows Ramban did not say 'biblical time' but he needs 'time' to begin at quark confinement, hence the invention of 'biblical time' for Ramban. 

Schroeder’s selection of quark confinement as when "matter" first makes its appearance leads to Ramban being wrong on science. Moreover it is an arbitrary selection of when ‘matter’ first comes into being. We could have selected when quarks first form, or when electrons first form or when Hydrogen/Helium nuclei form, or when Hydrogen/Helium atoms form or when earth like atoms form etc : etc:  {ETA 1/7/2015 See   it says 'energy is converted into 'matter' - quarks and leptons. Which are the basic building blocks of matter.  Schroeder could have used quark formation to start his Biblical time.} Selecting these other starting points would cause Schroeder’s reconciliation of Big Bang time lines with the six days of Genesis to explode into nothingness. 


Genesis 1: 1 In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2 Now the earth was Tohu  and Bohu, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the spirit of God hovered over the face of the waters.

Page 57 Schroeder tells us a fair translation of Tohu is unformed or chaotic. 

Schroeder fails to mention Ramban writes Tohu is what the Greeks call Hyle - see my previous discussion of Hyle.

Schroeder claims Bohu is translated as ‘filled with the building blocks of matter’. Page 57 footnote 30, 31 he cites Ramban on Genesis 1:1, 2 and Hagigah 12A as support.

I found no support in Hagigah 12A for Schroeder’s translation of Bohu. However, the  Talmud does write Bohu are the slimy stones that are sunk in the deep out of which the water flows.
Levy’s commentary interprets it as being stones sunk in the primal mire, chaos. Are those the building blocks of “matter” ? Stones. I can hear the Apologetics now. It does not mean ‘stones’ what it really means is...

Recall according to Ramban: God gives form to Hyle after which it is Bohu. Ramban elaborates Bohu is a thing that has ‘substance’ in it. It is not at all clear  Ramban’s ‘substance’ is equivalent to the scientific building blocks of matter. But that is what Schroeder insinuates. It is also not clear what we should consider as the building blocks of matter.


In  order to fit Big Bang Cosmology into the first creation story of Genesis 1,  Schroeder cherry picks holy texts, cherry picks science sources, cherry picks from within those same Jewish and science references he cites, and sometimes misreads and misleads with his translations or interpretations. 

Next up is Chapter 4

Some related posts Genesis and the Big Bang , A series on Chapter 9 begun here , Chapter 1 , Chapter 2 , Proof of God from Secrets in Holy Texts 


Sources and support

Jewish Texts

Ramban commentary on Genesis - Translated by Rabbi Chavel 1971.

Talmud Hagigah  - Soncino edition

On Kabbalah; Jewish use of Greek Philosophy

1) From Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2006, D. Borchert editor.

Regarding Kabbalah - it's sources are found in Jewish literature and traditions; Persian influences of Parsi and Zoroastrian; Neo-Platonic ; Neo-Pythagorean;  'Christian and Gnostic themes' -these added a bit later;   Muslim sectarianism.

2) Page 32 in Jewish Philosophers 1975 Edited by Stevan Katz.  “Saadiah (Goan) belongs to the school of Mutazilites, but it is evident that he was influenced by Aristolianism, Platonism and Stoicism.”

I will add - It is obvious Rambam and some other Jewish commentators were influenced by Greek Philosophy.

3) From the book History of Jewish Philosophy Editors Frank and Leaman 1997 we read the following:

Page 119 “The large majority of the Mutakallimtied tied the proofs for the createdness of the world Ex-Nihilo to a rather complex theory which they may have derived from both Ancient Greek and Indian philosophies.”

[My point is there was almost certainly a cross pollination of ideas between India and Greece, and others. Some of these ideas were eventually adopted/adapted/modified by people in Islamic territories and Europe. Jews also would become exposed to some of these ideas both in ancient times and while living in Islamic territory or Europe. They to would do the same. Philo and Rambam are good examples.]

Page 171 Neoplatonic motifs can be found in the works of Medieval Kabbalists, Ibn Ezra, Rambam and Gersonides.

Greek Philosophy

1) Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion by William Reese 1996

Under Time - "Time appears through the agency of the Demiurge, embodying forms in the receptacle of space."

Aristotle - time had no beginning.

2) From the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy 1999 Editor Robert Audi

Hyle - Aristotle used it in Philosophy to contrast the term for form. He usually means - “that out of which something has been made.” In Aristolean Philosophy Hyle is sometimes Identified with potentiality and with substrate.

3) Hyle - The stuff of material things. Thought of by Aristotle as needing a form to make up a thing. From Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy - Simon Blackburn 1994.

4) The Greek Cosmologists Volume 1 David Furley 1987

Page 18    “Milesian Theories - Hylozoism - the view of the world having grown to its present form from a kind of seed. The seed a Homogeneous material substance.  (Anaximenes took it for air), ( Thales that it was moist). It was in an undifferentiated state , spontaneously having the capacity for life in it, it grew by stages into Earth, Sea, Sky which then give birth to vegetable and animal life. 

5) Cosmology in Antiquity by M.R. Wright 1995

 Page 23 “Anayagoras was a pioneer in having an indefinitely expanding universe (as the ripples from the vortex ever widen) rather than one which had reached it’s limits in an enclosed system.”

Page 62 Anaximenos and Diogenes - ‘all that exists are modifications of the same thing, and in fact are the same thing.”

Page 83 Anaxagoras - “All things were together at the beginning, and then at some indefinite moment and for no given reason an omnipotent and omniscient mind (nous) causes a vortex to start in the cosmic mixture.”

6) From Understanding the Heavens 2001 - Jean Claude Pecker and S. Kaufman

Page 140 All schools believed in the existence of Hyla.  Aristotle believed Hyla existed for all time. Plato - Basicaly God creates it out of nothing and transforms it into matter as we know it.

Page 50 Empedocles spoke of four elements air, fire,  water, earth as basic to material creation. Aristotle expands on this Idea, but it is also present in Plato’s Timaeus.

7) From The Four Faces of the Universe by Robert Kleinman 2006

Page 193 Regarding Plato “Time is not independent of the created world, since it comes into being only with the construction of the cosmos”

Hindu Philosophy

1) Module  11, page 64: There is not much difference between the Indian Hindu theory of Bindu Vishpot and Big Bang Theory of the West, according to book Hinduism by Dr. S.S. Kapoor 2005.

2) The Hindu Theory of Cosmology by Siva Sadhan Bhattacharjee 1978

Beginning Page 89 “The Kurma Purana says that the first created object was a million times brighter than the sun; so this Hiranya-Garbha is similar to the primordial Atom of Lemaitre and the Ylem of George Gamow’s Big Bang Theory of Creation.”; “The material egg is the Hiranya-Garbha or the budding universe (Brahmanda) so we find here a categorical statement of the expanding nature of the Universe. This also in keeping with the modern view of expanding universe.”

 3) From

“Brahmanda (Cosmic Egg) Universe - The Hindu Rigveda, written in India around the 15th - 12th Century B.C., describes a cyclical or oscillating universe in which a “cosmic egg”, or Brahmanda, containing the whole universe (including the Sun, Moon, planets and all of space) expands out of a single concentrated point called a Bindu before subsequently collapsing again. The universe cycles infinitely between expansion and total collapse.”

4) From

The Bindu (dot) in Shaivism is the Few Millimeter Long Primordial Seed.

The Kashmiri cult of Shaivism is more explicit in its account of creation. The whole universe was at first concentrated at one point or dot (Bindu). It is the Primordial Seed of creation. After a period of germination it undergoes an explosion (Sphota) resulting in the sound (Nada) of creation (OM). (Sound is used in the scriptures for all kinds of vibrations.) All creation (Kala) proceeds from this sound. Thus the doctrine of Nada, Bindu, and Kala is but an implied reference to the Big Bang theory of creation. (Source: Excerpts from The Big Bang and the Bhagavad Gita by R.A.S. Kocha Published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai)

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