Aristotle and Maimonides on the issue of the eternity of matter vs. creation out of nothing

Our friend Turk Hill requested that I give my opinion on the subject matter. Here it is.

By |2024-04-18T08:31:18-07:00April 18th, 2024|Jewish Books|

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21 Comments

  1. Turk Hill April 24, 2024 at 11:20 AM - Reply

    The Jews did not believe the first chapters of Genisis to be fact.

    Maimonides is very explicit in ‘Moreh Nebuchim,’ upon the non-reality of the things stated in the account of the Creation in the book of Genesis.

    “We ought not to understand, nor take according to the letter, that which is written in the book of the creation (the book of Genesis), nor to have the same ideas of it which common men have. It is a maxim which all our sages repeat, and above all with respect to the work of six days…The book of Genesis, taken according to the letter, gives the most absurd and the most extravagant ideas of the divinity.”

    This is certainly a very extraordinary declaration of Mairnonides. He declares that the account of the Creation in the book of Genesis is not a fact, and that to believe it to be a fact gives the most absurd and the most extravagant ideas of the divinity. Rambam maintained that it is an allegory. Thus, Maimonides himself, tells us that the book of Genesis is not a book of facts. Taken according to the letter, especially with respect to the work of four days, it gives the most absurd and extravagant ideas of God. I agree here with Maimonides. The Jews did not believe the things stated in Genesis to be true. Thus, there is no reason to reject the view of Aristotle on the basis of Scripture alone. It shouldn’t be taken literally. It is only a parable. Thus, I have no qualms accepting the view of Aristotle that the universe is eternal.

    • Israel Drazin April 24, 2024 at 12:17 PM

      I agree with you that he says the account of creation is an allegory and so is the tale about the Garden of Eden. But I do not think he states all of Genesis is allegory.

  2. Yaaqoub Eliyyahu April 19, 2024 at 11:26 AM - Reply

    Off Topic: The Torah, Nevi’im, Ke’tuvim & all the Siddur’s, etc. were written by a bunch of guys back in the day. Most of the events just happened either by nature or never happened and or were parables. Since it was a facade. Then why doesn’t the Jewish community just be nice to fellow people in our passing and forget about the demands/requirements to be Jewish?

  3. Yaaqoub Eliyyahu April 19, 2024 at 8:53 AM - Reply

    Books on Rambam, what would you suggest? Thank you

    • Israel Drazin April 22, 2024 at 7:19 AM

      The three works/books about Maimonides that made the most impression on me were Leo Srauss’ Introduction to Shlomo Pines’ “Guide of the Perplexed,” where he analyzed the dual nature of the Guide. (Maimonides does so himself in his introduction to the Guide.) I disliked Pines’ translation and prefer that of Friedlander. Pines’ sound as if it were written in German, Friedlander’s “Guide for the Perplexed” is easy to read. (The titles of the two books are examples.) The second is “Hay ibn Yakdan” by ibn Tofayl. It does not mention Maimonides, but my professor for Maimonides taught that the book influenced Maimonides, and I agree. Third, Leo Strauss’ Maimonides. These three take the same approach that I take.
      Twersky’s “A Maimonides Reader” is full of valuable information, but he is opposed to Strauss’s view. Nevertheless, one can learn much from it. Similarly, all of Menachem Kellner’s books are filled with good information, although he, too, rejected Strauss. Once, he rejected me. He gave a weird interpretation of the requirement that prophets need a good imagination. I explained that our sages were saying that since each prophet gave their messages in different ways and examples, they needed a good imagination to help them deliver and explain it. This made him angry, and he stopped sending me his articles. Nevertheless, I think most of what he writes is very thoughtful and I read his books.
      I had about a hundred books on Maimonides in my 12,000 library. You can find many other books on and by Maimonides by going on Amazon under Maimonides. You may also enjoy my three books on him.

    • Turk Hill April 22, 2024 at 8:20 AM

      Also, a good book on Maimonides is Micah Goodman’s Maimonides and the book that changed Judaism. Rabbi Israel Drazin’s books on Maimonides are great.

    • Israel Drazin April 22, 2024 at 11:59 AM

      Thanks for the compliment.

  4. Turk Hill April 18, 2024 at 2:08 PM - Reply

    Thank you for answering my question. We agree that the Aristotelian view does not diminish or belittle the concept of God or divine power. I also think that Maimonides held the Aristotle view. Maimonides was an Aristotelian who held that the universe is eternal. I think it derogates nothing from the power and perfection of God to say that he formed the world out of preexisting matter that, like him, existed for all eternity. In fact, a rabbinic midrash says that Rabbi Eliezer held that the universe is eternal.

    • Israel Drazin April 19, 2024 at 5:08 AM

      Yes, we agree as usual.

  5. Turk Hill April 18, 2024 at 11:58 AM - Reply

    I agree with you entirely that the Aristotelian view does not diminish the concept of God or divine power. The axiom, that from nothing, nothing can be made, here applies.

    • Israel Drazin April 19, 2024 at 5:13 AM

      We agree that the Aristotelian view does not diminish divine power. But it is still possible that God has the power to create something from nothing. We simply do not know anything about God who may have powers we cannot concieve.

    • Turk Hill April 19, 2024 at 12:25 PM

      We agree that it is possible that God could have the power to create something but, isn’t it true that from nothing, you get nothing? Out of nothing, nothing can come. The axiom, that from nothing, nothing can be made, here
      applies. Parmenides said, “Nothing comes from nothing” (Latin: ex nihilo nihil fit).

      I am more inclined to say that God formed the world out of pre-existing material but I am human and could err.

    • Israel Drazin April 21, 2024 at 5:53 AM

      We agre. In regard to creation out of nothing, since we know nothing about God other than what creation/science has revealed, it is possible that God can create something from nothing even though here on earth it is impossible. Therefore, I think Aristotle may be correct or he may not be. I am simply not smart enough to know what everbody else does not know, what powers God has.

    • Israel Drazin April 21, 2024 at 6:12 AM

      Even if halakhah, Jewish law derived from the Torah as interpreted by our rabbis, is ispired and not spoken directly by God, it is still holy because it contains wisdom and requirements that not only make adherants all they can be, it also prompts them to treat strangers as they want to be treated themselves, and treat animals and inanimate objects similarly. It is no surprize therefore that Jews have percentage-wise contributed much to science, medicine, and litrature far more than people in other cultures. I and all sensible Jews love the Torah. Without it, we would be devestated, more than other cultures would be hurt if their laws were nullified.

    • Turk Hill April 21, 2024 at 2:48 PM

      I agree with you entirely that we know nothing about God other than what creation/science has revealed, although it is also possible that God can create material from nothing. I like the Aristotle view better but I will be open-minded and share your view that creation ex nihilo is nonetheless possible. I think you wrote somewhere in another post that both views are rational. I think your idea that God may be more powerful than we can even imagine (including the power to create something from nothing) is what makes creation ex nihilo also rational. The Aristotle view is aso rational because, at least on earth, everything created needs materials.

    • Israel Drazin April 25, 2024 at 7:17 AM

      I like that we agree, but I would still like you if we had disagreed.

  6. Yaaqoub Eliyyahu April 18, 2024 at 11:44 AM - Reply

    Hi Rabbi: In regards to the Rambam, would you suggest The Rambam Chumash book by Steinberg?

    • Israel Drazin April 19, 2024 at 5:21 AM

      It may be interesting, just a fictional novel is interesting. With an open mind,it may prompt one to discover the truth. However, personally, I am not a fan of books by Artscroll. I think they distort Judaism by giving interpretations that are not rational but that fit their mystical exterme-pious agenda.

  7. Stephen J. Ternyik April 18, 2024 at 10:26 AM - Reply

    https://philpapers.org/archive/TERECV.pdf
    https://philpapers.org/archive/TERTCP.pdf

    Imo only, the assumption of Aristotelian eternal matter does not fit with the assumption of a creation out of nothing, which is a uniquely philosophical concept of Judaism. The Greek language of that time had not even a word for a creation out of nothing, but uses the word ἐποίησεν (epoiēsen), to make something out of something (https://www.septuagint.bible/-/genesis-1, ΕΝ ἀρχῇ ἐποίησεν ὁ Θεὸς τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν).
    As the temporal moment is decisive here, I am in support of Moshe Carmel, i.e. cosmological special relativity,
    e.g. extra-temporal causality. In this sense, dear Rabbi Israel Drazin, Talmud Torah and science are compatible, but that excludes Aristotelian eternal matter and logic per methodological reason. My own works (e.g. pdf) on this cosmological issue are mainly based on our B’OR HA TORAH journal, which is unfortunately no more existent. Maybe, this helps a bit to clarify the query of Turk Hill.
    Best: stephen

    • Turk Hill April 25, 2024 at 10:53 AM

      Thanks, Stephen. I appreciate your help. I will check out your PDF essay. Thank you for sharing your work with us. I am sure Rabbi Drazin will appreciate it as well.

      It is interesting that the Greeks didn’t have a word for creation ex nihilo but ἐποίησεν (epoiēsen), something out of something. Parmenides said, “Nothing comes from nothing” (Latin: ex nihilo nihil fit).

    • Israel Drazin April 26, 2024 at 5:31 AM

      It is good to talk to one another. We learn by doing so.

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