If only I could offer a definitive answer to that question! From the very beginning our Sages wondered about God’s origin. They asked: Why does the Torah begin with the letter bet, the second letter of the alefbet, rather than alef, the first letter. The explicit answer, that we cannot ask about what exists before, above or below, has to do with the shape of the letter which is closed on three sides and open only on the front. The implied answer is that we cannot go searching beyond what we can know – including God’s origins in the worlds before us or beyond us. Our concern is with what awaits us. But if our Sages thought that would resolve the question, they were wrong.
Each generation asks the question in its own way, and their answer seems to be unacceptable to a later generation. The Medieval philosophers offered proofs of God’s independent existence, but they were eventually proven to be faulty. Maimonides, the great 11th century Jewish sage, opens his magisterial work, the Mishnah Torah¸ with the axiom that there is one source behind all existence. He appeals to our rational logic to prove God’s existence before the world’s Creation. The other major code of Jewish law, the 16th century Shulchan Aruch, shares his axiomatic belief in a pre-existent God, but places the burden of proof in our body: “Be strong as a lion to rise in the morning to do the work of the Creator.” We know God through our experience.
We should not be surprised that formal philosophical proofs fall short. If the task is to comprehend that which encompasses all of Creation, then we need to admit that our human intelligence, as advanced as it is in so many ways, is limited in knowledge and experience. Our efforts to define the Infinite cannot grasp the whole of it all.
Eugene Borowitz, perhaps the premier Reform theologian today, acknowledges that classical proofs fall before modern skepticism and “many Liberal Jews have long privately thought of themselves as agnostics.” He identifies God as the “Ground of Value”, which he believes to be an “independent, existent Deity” which can make claims on our life. (Liberal Judaism, by Eugene Borowitz, pg 170-174)
Mordecai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, comes closest to the side that holds that we created a Supreme Being for our own needs when he writes in his 1934 work, Judaism as a Civilization¸ that “most rational people today … prefer to identify God with that aspect of reality which elicits the most serviceable human traits, the traits that enhance individual human worth and further social unity.” (pg 397) God seems intimately tied into our human experience.
By contrast, Abraham Joshua Heschel suggests that it in those moments when we apprehend that which is beyond ourselves that we find God. “Awe enables us to perceive in the world intimations of the divine, to sense in small things the beginning of infinite significance, to sense the ultimate in the common and the simple.” (God In Search Of Man, by Abraham Joshua Heschel, pg 75) God exists beyond human existence. Not surprisingly, for Heschel “to pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all being.” (Quest for God, Abraham Joshua Heschel, pg 5)
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner wonders if we use the right terms when we ask questions about God. He illustrates this in his book, Honey From the Rock (pg 17-18) when he tells of teaching an 8th grade class and asking if they believed in God. To his astonishment and dismay no one raised a hand. He went on to other topics, but eventually returned, asking a slightly different question: if any of them had ever been close to God. “And every one of them raised their hands. Freely and naturally.” He asked for the proof. “And one by one they described, what I believe to be, the Jewish experience of God.” It was Shabbat candles, the death of a grandparent, the experience of helping others. Their experience proved more decisive than their belief.
The philosophical answer to God’s existence may not matter as much as what it is that we do as a result of our relationship or experience of God. I cannot answer for you, the reader, whether God created humans or humans created God. Whichever side you choose you will find those who agree with you.
If you're asking from a Jewish perspecitve, the answer can only be that we are a religion that believes in a Supreme Being Who is in some sense necessary for the world to exist. There is much debate about how that works, since some readers of Maimonides' writings contend he held to an Aristotelian view, which would mean that God didn't create the world, but is necessary for it to exist. I believe that most Jewish thinkers, however, have held to views that give God a more active role in Creation and supervision of the world, such as the Platonic view that is similar to the Big Bang, or the simplest Biblical view, that God created the world out of nothing.
Whichever view one holds, however, the belief in God is deeply rooted in our tradition, going back to the assumption that our Father Abraham rediscovered God even though he lived in an idol-worshipping culture. Just as he was called Ivri for being on the "other side" of the whole world-- they believed in idols, he believed in God-- we, his descendants, are supposed to carry the banner of belief in a single, unitary Supreme Being, as it says in the Shema, "Hear O Israel, the Lord Our God, the Lord is One."
Is there a Supreme Being that created man? Or did man create a Supreme Being because of a need not to be alone in the Universe? Received on 12/07/2010
The first question is not a scientific question but a religious one -- and an important one at that. Of course, it is not an easy one to address.
I am not sure, for example, that we could all agree on what we mean by the notion that “a Supreme Being created man.” Fundamentalists might mean one thing by it and I might mean something else entirely. For example, although I feel very reverential toward the Bible, the theory of evolution makes perfect sense to me and is entirely consistent with my religious belief. I reject a fundamentalist, literal reading of the early chapters of Genesis.
The Bible is, for me, neither an historical text nor a scientific one. It doesn’t even purport to present a factually accurate history of the world. (If it did, it wouldn’t present multiple, mutually inconsistent accounts of the same events, such as the creation of the world.) Instead, the Bible is a religious text, designed to help us understand our place in the world – and our responsibilities as human beings. The Biblical notion that a Supreme Being created humankind “in His image” (Genesis I:27) or formed the first human being out of the dust of the earth and blew life into its nostrils (Ibid. 2:7) are, for me, poetic rather than literal descriptions of creation. There is truth to them, but it is the truth of spiritually sensitive poets rather than that of journalists, historians or scientists.
There are other ambiguities. For example, what exactly do we mean by a “Supreme Being” in the first place? There are huge differences, among believers and non-believers alike, in formulating such a conception. (After all, in the two texts from Genesis quoted above, two different Hebrew names for a Supreme Being are employed.)
Leaving aside these ambiguities, there is no empirical evidence for why the universe came into being. If there were, there would be no reasonable disagreements regarding the role of a Supreme Being in the process. Depending on the result, all scientists would either be religious – or not. And of course that’s just not the case. One simply cannot address this question as an empirical matter, because there is no convincing evidence one way or the other.
On the other hand, let’s consider the question, “Did man create a Supreme Being?” By that question I think you mean, “Did human beings create the idea of a Supreme Being?” Well, yes. Over time, human beings, upon reflecting on the ultimate mystery of the universe, came to believe that behind (or beyond) the world as we know it, there is some sort of existence – a “being,” if you will. “Being,” in fact, is the meaning of the root of the four letter Hebrew name for God, the name that we do not vocalize out of respect for its holiness. That “being” may not be accessible to our powers of observation, but to those who have faith in its existence it is no less real for that.
Another Hebrew name for God is “Ha-Makom,” which means, “The Place.” In the Talmud it is explained that God is called “The Place,” because “the world is not the place in which God can be located; God is the place in which the world can be located.” Such a name makes it clear that a truly “Supreme Being” is beyond the material, physical world in which we live.
So, yes, the idea of a Supreme Being is the creation of human beings. But I don’t believe that human beings came up with this sublime idea because they were lonely. I believe that they came up with this idea because it made sense to them, because they believed that it truly reflects the underlying reality of the universe.
Scientists can explain many things to us, but, as I discussed above, they cannot explain why the universe came into being. And unless and until they can (and I for one cannot imagine that this mystery will ever be susceptible to scientific inquiry), men and women who seek to understand our place in the world will be forced to employ their intuition and to speculate. There’s just no getting around that. And among those speculations will be religious ones, which some men and some women will choose as their guiding principles. As the Bible teaches, “The righteous shall live by his (or her) faith.” (Habakkuk 2:4)
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