Judi's Journal 08-19-2011

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Did God create the Universe?

By Judi Siegal

It is a question that has puzzled humans for eons. How did our world come into being and who or what was responsible for its creation?
From humankind’s earliest times, there have been attempts to answer this. Ancient peoples believed in many different gods who were responsible for the various natural occurrences. There was a god for thunder, one for rain, one for the sun, another for the moon and so on. When earthquakes, floods, eclipses, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions occurred, these things were attributed to the various gods because people had no scientific knowledge of their workings in the natural world. What people did not understand they feared and attributed to the gods.
As history evolved, there were those who gave a more scientific approach to cosmology. Aristotle, the Greek philosopher studied the heavens and its movements and concluded that the earth revolved around the sun. It was Galileo whose telescope literally opened up the heavens, which gave us a concrete view of the heavenly bodies. He reinforced Aristotle’s idea that the earth revolved around the sun, a heretical view in the 1600s which led to near excommunication from the Catholic church and house arrest.
What is known today is that the universe is governed by natural laws, earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, floods and the like the contribute to the building up or the wearing down of our planet. According to renowned physicist, Stephen Hawking, these natural laws are part of our world, the way things are arranged and that a big explosion, called the Big Bang started our universe. It is his belief that when this explosion occurred, time had not come into being therefore God did not exist and did not create the world. He considers the existence of God as a “fairy tale” and dismisses any divine intervention in our world.
As a Jew, all I can say is oy vey; we have a lot of trouble here. For all his scientific theories, one thing stands very clear to me: who created the laws of nature and who caused the Big Bang? When asked that very question, Dr. Hawking was evasive and could provide no answer. This, to me, seems to be the crux of the problem. I see a creative pattern here, not a haphazard throwing around of stars and let’s –see- what- will- happen. There is a harmony and balance in nature which we humans seem to love to disrupt and destroy. I believe in a divine creator because I can wonder at the marvels of God’s handiwork.
Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, sees God as one who works through nature and human beings. It is belief in God, which inspires people to work for justice, equality and mercy. The divine forces, which make for freedom, for example, spur humankind to work for freedom for those in oppressed countries. If one were to follow Dr. Hawking’s views, there would be none of this and the spiritual would not enter into the picture at all.
Most scientists would agree that faith and science are compatible. I know that when I look at a rainbow, it is the light passing through raindrops acting as a prism that causes the phenomenon but I also like to think of the brit or covenant God made with Noah that a flood would never again destroy the world. Having given birth twice, I can attest to being a partner with God in creation and I see that wonder of creation in the faces of my grandchildren.
Belief in a creator gives us the feeling of God’s presence in the world. We are not alienated from one another for we have a connection to a Higher Being who created us all, the universe included.
Science uses empirical methods to derive at answers; religion depends on faith. Science cannot explain everything, therefore some things we take on faith. Some things may always remain a mystery and maybe that is a good thing. History has shown us what can happen when human beings possess too much power.
In a popular hymn sung at the end of services, Adon Olam (Lord of the Universe) states in poetic form that God was there before creation. i.e., before time. This hymn was written in the 11th century, years before the Big Bang theory. As Jews approach the High Holiday season starting next month, they will be reminded that Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, also celebrates the birth of the world. For us, and many other people of faith, God created the universe. Amen.
Judi is a former teacher and Jewish educator.  She lives in Sun Valley with her husband, Phil.