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I left you last time with the idea that we are going to look at the Adam and Eve story, and kind of ask these big questions that anybody who looks at the story freshly would be bothered by.
But, I want to sort of refine that. And ask yourselves in particular, what kinds of questions we are looking for? And I want to make two distinctions with you. The first is the distinction between what I call ‘big questions and little questions’, and the second a distinction between what I call ‘internal verses external questions’. Let me tell you a little bit of what I mean by that. Let’s start with big questions and little questions.
There is this book written a little while back by Thomas Kuhn, about the history of science in particular; how scientific revolutions unfold called “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”. And in the book, he talks about the “Copernican Revolution”, and he talks about the “Einsteins Revolution”, theory of relativity. Copernican’s Revolution was about the sun being at the central of the universe instead of the earth.
And he says, you know, how do these revolutions actually unfold, what made scientists changed their mind. Scientists are sort of stubborn a lot and they don’t change their mind that easily. What did it? Was it that there was this one, huge, big question that came along and said, boy, I can’t deal with that!
For example, Galileo, right, Galileo comes and Galileo makes himself a telescope, alright? Here is our really crummy rendition of Galileo’s telescope. And Galileo is looking at the stars, and Galileo sees that there is actually this moons that are orbiting Jupiter. And it looks like a big problem, big question for this idea that the earth is at the center of the universe and everything revolves around it, because there was supposed to be this crystalline sphere, the solid sphere that the stars and the plants were in, and how can there be this moons orbiting something that was encased in a solid glass kind of sphere. But, this question alone didn’t destroy the geo-central of the universe, the view that the earth was the central of the universe.
It took, what Kuhn says, is an accumulation of small questions. The whole bunch of little problem is with the theory, little problem 1, little problem 2, little problem 3. And for each one of these problems, you can answer with an ad hoc kind of way. You can come up with, oh, or maybe there is this, maybe there is that. And that is what scientist did for a while. But, after a while when there is like 5, 10 of this ad hoc solutions, somehow it just doesn’t seem to be reasonable anymore.
The community of scientists comes together and says it doesn’t seem to be except there is all this different kinds of answers to all this small questions. Maybe there is a paradigm shift, maybe there is a whole different way of viewing it. If we just shift our assumptions, we can make one shift of assumption in a kind of big way, and all these little questions go away. And, ultimately, Kuhn argues that little questions are more powerful. And I agree that in some sense, little questions are more powerful. But, I think when you look at the story, it’s helpful to begin sometimes with asking, are there any big questions in the story? Even if those big questions might not completely lead us in the direction of the answer, they are still helpful to kind of get out on the table.
Well, I will tell you a story about big questions. Actually, some back when I was in Yeshiva, I was in Talmud class, and every once in a while I will ask this, you know, what I think is big question, that, you know, completely destroys the theory that the lecturer had put forward. And every once in a while, he was just sort of…! I will go to my teacher about this and he will just sort of stroke his beard and say in Yiddish “shtarb nicht fun a kasheh”which basically, roughly translates in English is “You don’t die from a question.”
And, um, I was very upset about this. You know, I would say, how could you walk away and say you don’t die from a question? I have this huge question and you are telling me I don’t die from a question! What does that even mean? And, I understood, ultimately, latter in life when I became more matured. What he was really saying is, you give me a bunch of little question, that can destroy my theory; but just one, big question, ok, you don’t die from a question. That having been said that there are certain questions which if you don’t die from, they should at least keep you up at night. And those are the big questions.
I will define a big question as the kinds of question which if you don’t have a solution to, you really can’t say you have a theory, a way of understand the story that works. It’s not like, I don’t understand why the verse added the extra word; I don’t understand why the phrase is this kind of phrase instead of another kind of phrase. It’s a question which gets in the way of your understanding of the whole story. It’s one of those big thematic questions.
And, I think when we look at the story of Adam and Eve; we want to ask ourselves before we get to the small questions; what are some of the big questions in the story? Are there any big questions in the story? I think there are.
Let me get to the second distinction I was talking to you about, what I call internal questions verses external questions. And Let me look at the book of Jonah with you. It’s a way of, kind of, flushing out what it is I am talking about. You all know the story of Jonah and the whale, right? Jonah gets swallowed in the whale. This is where the Pojoaque story gets it from. And, imagine you are teaching the story of Jonah, and some students raise their hands and says, I don’t understand, like, how could Jonah survive in the fish for three days? I cannot really get that. How would you answer that question? Well, it’s not so easy to answer that question. And, as a matter of fact, I would argue there is no answer to that question. Basically, what’s bothering him, what’s bothering your students is the idea of miracles. This guy is a 21st century guy. The whole idea of miracle is a problem for him. But that’s not really a question about the book of Jonah. It has very little to do about the book of Jonah. It’s actually an external question. It’s a question about miracles, not about the book.
An internal question is the question which requires you to enter into the word of the book, to accept its preconception. The book believes in miracles, accept that idea. Are there any other questions that bother you? And, of course, there are some big internal questions in the book of Jonah. You know, verse 1 in the book of Jonah says, “once upon a time the word of God came to Jonah and says, go to Nineveh.” Verse 2 in the book of Jonah says, “Jonah ran away from God and he went to Tarshish.” Why did he run away? I mean, you know, why would he go into the prophecy business and decide to become a prophet if he is just going to run away when God tells you to go? There is a missing motivation; the motivation doesn’t seem to be there. Why is he running away? That is an internal question. It is a question the book wants you to ask. That question is really kind of a window into the meaning of the text. If you open up that window, it’s going to tell you something about what is going on in the book, which is why I think internal questions are more interesting than external questions. They are more interesting because if you open the window, if you grapple with the internal questions, then you will find some answers. They are actually going to tell you something about the story.
So, going back to the story of Adam and Eve, I want to ask ourselves, what are the big questions in the Adam and Eve story? And by big questions, I mean, what are the big internal questions in the Adam and Eve story?
So, I want to come back and get your thoughts on this. I think there is at least 1, 2, maybe 3 of this kind of questions. What do you think about it? We will come back and share notes and see who we will come up with.
1. The Lullaby Effect
2. Kinds of Questions
3. The Mystery of the Pre-Tree World
4. The Tale of Two Trees
5. Heisenberg and the Uncertainty Principle
6. The Primal Serpent
7. A Perplexing Temptation
8. A Naked Paradox
9. A Snake in the Garden
10. Beasts of the Field
11. Beauty and the Beast
12. What Does It Mean to Know?
13. A World of Broccoli and Pizza
14. Are All Dilemmas Created Equal?
15. The Phantom Boxer
16. The I of the Beholder
17. The Filter of Desire
18. Friedrich Nietzsche and the Disc Jockey
19. Epilogue: God as Knower of Good and Evil (Premium)
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