Towards A Jewish Natural Theology

By Tsvi Bisk

I want to investigate the notion that the Jewish worldview is essentially natural; that the Jewish idea of God is not so much a supernatural ‘being’ as it is an intimation of a central organizing principle of an ever-changing, evolving natural reality; that the supernatural concept of God is a late accretion in response to the Neo-Platonism that conquered primitive Christianity and turned it into a ‘sophisticated’ theology. Surveying certain aspects of Cabalistic and Buberian thinking has reinforced this notion.

My interest in this idea derives from my decades’ long collaboration with the late Israeli thinker, Mordechai Nessyahu, as he was formulating his Cosmotheistic Hypothesis, which posited that ‘not in the beginning God created the Universe but in the end the Cosmos will have created ‘God’; not so much ‘knowledge’ of God (the literal meaning of theology) but rather the growing ‘knowledge’ of the God-creating process inherent to the Cosmos – i.e. if, as some Cabalists claim, God is a verb, then we are really worshiping the process of the Godding of the Cosmos. The late British Jewish philosopher, Samuel Alexander, had a similar view: his Emergentist Theology held that in the future, ‘deity’ will emerge as a quality of the entire universe; a deity-world emergence similar to mind-body emergence. In his Space, Time, and Deity, Alexander argued that we should not identify God with space-time, but rather that space-time is in the process of “engendering” God. This is similar to the theology of the Jesuit, Teilhard de Chardin, who postulated that a higher degree of ‘Godness’ is the Omega of a cosmic evolution that is deeply rooted in the physical and metaphysical laws of nature. In The Phenomenon of Man he wrote: “evolution is an ascent towards consciousness…Therefore it should culminate forwards in some sort of supreme consciousness.”

 These hypotheses can now be examined with a greater degree of rigor as current thinking in science has increasingly been giving credence to a neo-teleological view of ultimate reality; that existence per se is evolving and has purpose. Books with names like The Cosmic Code, The Cosmic Blueprint, The Unfinished Universe etc. written by reputable scientists lend authority to Nessyahu’s fundamental insight that human inquiry has brought us to what he called “the border between physics and metaphysics“. He noted that science is now dealing with such a vast largeness on the cosmological scale and such a minute smallness on the quantum scale as to be approaching the infinite. Science cannot deal with the infinite. Mathematical empiricism can only deal with the finite – with a bordered order; with a cosmos. The infinite is by definition un-bordered; it is by definition not cosmos but chaos.

 Moreover mathematics, no matter how sophisticated and arcane, can only deal with quantity and movement; it cannot deal with qualitative change. Hence, there is no E=MC2 for life, certainly not for conscious life and certainly not for deity. Mathematical empiricism replaced medieval scholasticism as the central organizing intellectual instrument of civilization. It liberated the human race from ignorance, superstition, grinding poverty, disease and suffering, but has now itself become a new ‘scholastic’ barrier to the further enlightenment and spiritual progress of the human race. Physics subsumed medieval metaphysics. Now a greater metaphysics must subsume physics in order to at least attempt to formulate the outlines of a new central organizing intellectual instrument of civilization.

I envision my project as formulating the outlines of a Jewish Natural Theology that correlates the intimations and insights of Jewish sources and Jewish thinkers with the growing body of neo-teleological thinking in the scientific community. The assumptions to be examined in this investigation will be:

  1. In the beginning the fundamental process of the infinite universe created a singularity which exploded (Big Bang) and created our cosmos – the same process created an infinite number of cosmoses within the infinite universe.
  2. This cosmos evolved and eventually created complex elements, which eventually created life, which eventually evolved into conscious life, which eventually evolved into the ever-evolving ‘God’.

My investigation will draw, amongst others, on the thinking of Mordechai Nessyahu, the Emergentism of Samuel Alexander, the Process Philosophy of Whitehead, and the Personalism Philosophy of Rabbi/Professor Leon Stitskin, which “focuses on the centrality of man’s developmental higher regions of being in the cosmic scheme as the ultimate in biblical thought…”  It will attempt to correlate this thinking with the modern scientific neo-teleological speculations mentioned, as well as with Jewish tradition – following the example of Rambam’s Aristotelian synthesis.

 Understanding Godness as a process provides a better understanding of the ethical concept of being a partner with God in the ongoing act of creation, exemplified by the Hassidic concept that every human act, no matter how trivial, impacts on the fate of the entire cosmos. This aspect of the investigation will draw heavily on the ‘I-Thou’ thinking of Martin Buber

 I want to explore how this evolving Godness obligates the particular social and political ethos that has been anticipated in the Bible and Talmud – a philosophy of life that requires action and activity in the concreteness of social life and which eventually gave birth to science and constitutionalism. Monotheism can be interpreted as an ‘Occam’s Razor‘ of theology, without which Occam could not have conceived of his scientific razor and hence no scientific revolution. Without the concept of all human beings being created in the image of God and thus equal in God’s eyes it is doubtful that the notion that all human beings should be equal before the law could have been imagined. Moreover, without the belief that all human beings are descendents of Adam and Eve and thus are all brothers and sisters, it is doubtful that equal opportunity and social ethics could have been imagined. The genome of constitutionalism is, therefore, biblical.

 In the Jewish tradition, metaphysics, politics and ethics are interrelated and I would passionately embrace the opportunity to attempt to formulate a modern coherent Jewish synthesis based on the new thinking of philosophy and natural philosophy.