THE "Y" FACTOR

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Chapter Nine

THE ELEMENT OF PARADOX

In short," the article said, "the works of modern science, taken one by one, seem enough to dampen a personís hope for higher meaning. If religionís stock-in-trade is the inexplicable, the coming years donít look like boon times. This is half of the giant paradox, and itís one reason why the average scientist today is probably less religious than the average scientist of 50 or 100 years ago."

And then the article added:

The other half of the paradox comes from stepping back and looking at the big picture: an overarching pattern that encompasses the many feats of 20th century science and transcends them; a pattern suggesting, to some scientists, at least, that there is more to the universe than meets the eye, something authentically divine about how it all fits together. (TIME Magazine, December 28, 1992; "What Does Science Teach Us About God?")
There is a difference between paradox and contradiction. A contradiction is when at least two ideas, by their very definition, cannot coexist. For example, it is impossible for it to naturally be daytime and nighttime simultaneously in one location.

Paradox, on the other hand, is when two ideas do coexist, when in fact one would have thought that they should not and could not. The basis of a paradox, therefore, is usually a lack of information that, more than likely, is the result of a faulty assumption.

For example, one of the most profound paradoxes today is the one concerning the age of the world. Modern science through carbon testing and other methods have put the age of the world in the billions of years. Torah, on the other hand (according to Nachmanides), teaches that the world is under 6,000 years old.

Assuming that the scientific data is accurate, and assuming that the world has always aged according to the same pattern, and assuming that time has always flowed according to the same measure, there is a paradox. How can the world be both billions of years old, and yet under 6,000 years old?

Until recently the paradox was viewed as a contradiction. How then does one resolve a contradiction? They merely dismiss what seems to be the least credible side of the contradiction (for some that was Torah, and for others it was science), and accept only one viewpoint.

But as science compiles more and more test results to support their viewpoint, it becomes increasingly difficult for many to hold on to the Torahís concept of creation. After all, is not seeing believing? Science has the evidence - where is the Torahís?

Nevertheless, there is a handful of scientists who, rather than simply assert their point of view, instead question the very assumptions of the paradox. The result: intellectually sound evidence that there is indeed a way to "marry" together the Torah understanding and the scientific understanding of the age of the universe (see "Follow-up").

Is paradox a by-product of life, or an integral part of it? If you consider that the Torah says that life is for maximizing oneís capacity to make free will decisions, it would seem as if paradoxes make that possible, as the story of Abraham teaches.

Abraham was the forefather of the Jewish people. In Genesis 12:1, Abraham is contacted by God, who commanded him to migrate west to the land of Canaan. The rest of Abrahamís life, as recorded in the Torah, seems to be one test of faith in God after another.

The climax of the testing came with the command to bring up his son Isaac as a sacrifice (Genesis 22:1). But God had already promised him that Isaac would be the seed that would give rise to a whole nation (ibid. 15:3). How could that happen if he is killed on the altar? It was a paradox.

Instead of abandoning the hope of a son who would have his own children, an heir for the spiritual legacy Abraham had sacrificed so much to develop and maintain, Abraham obeyed God without losing any hope. How would God make it work? That would remain to be seen, but in the meantime, Abraham thought, I choose to accept the will of God, and believe in His ways wholeheartedly.

But when did God ever say slaughter Isaac? God only said to bring him up as a sacrifice. Abraham had assumed that bringing him up was the same as saying slaughter him, and that assumption gave rise to the paradox that tested Abrahamís trust in God. God, in staying the hand of Abraham from carrying out the slaughter of his son, revealed to Abraham his mistaken assumption.

This quality, the ability to live with paradox and still choose to be moral, became the foundation upon which the Jewish people were built. History is full of paradoxes, and as we steam ahead into the twenty-first century, they rapidly increase.

Perhaps the greatest paradox of this century was the Holocaust: how can there be a God who professes to love the Jewish people, yet allow them to suffer as they did? A paradox, a very difficult paradox, but a paradox nonetheless.

We presently lack the information to understand how to resolve both sides of the paradox, but Abraham taught us that itís not always easy to understand Godís ways until after the moment of the test. But he also taught us, until the time that we gain that information, we have to believe in both parts, and go on believing in God.

Happy is the person who can step outside his or her slice of time, and realize that the paradox that plagues him or her has a solution, a very logical solution, which will become apparent at the right time. Clever is the person who appreciates that in life, very little is as it appears to be on the surface, and is without need of investigation. This too was Abrahamís lesson to mankind.

A certain woman once owned an antique. So proud was she of her antique, that she decided to have the entire room in which it sat painted the same color. She called in painter after painter to try to mix the exact color, but not one was able to come close enough for the womanís taste. Finally, one painter showed up and claimed he could mix the paint to match the antique. Sure enough, the painter succeeded, and went on to become famous as a result. Years later, when the painter was about to retire and hand the business over to his son, his son asked him, "Dad, how did you get the paint to match the antique when no other painter could?" The father answered, "My son, I just painted the vase."
Sometimes our minds make too many assumptions for our own good, and as a result create problems, or at least cause us to overlook simple solutions. Realizing this is the first step in resolving many of the paradoxes that seem part and parcel of life in this world.

© by Mercava Productions

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