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[History] > 17th Century - Peh - The Scientific Revolution

Spoke 17

Esther, Malachi, II Peter

Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. For this they willingly are ignorant of, that by the word of God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished:

Spoke 17, Cycle 3
(II Peter 3.3)

The scoffers spoken of by Saint Peter appear to be asserting the doctrine known as "uniformitarianism" which arose in the eighteenth century as part of the Scientific Revolution. Here is the definition of Uniformitarianism This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window presented by the Electronic Universe This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window from the University of Oregon. Note the reference to supernaturalism and the biblical flood:

Uniformitarianism is the doctrine that existing processes acting in the same manner and with essentially the same intensity as at present are sufficient to account for all geologic change. Uniformitarianism posits that natural agents now at work on and within the Earth have operated with general uniformity through immensely long periods of time. When William Whewell, a University of Cambridge scholar, introduced the term in 1832, the prevailing view (called catastrophism) was that the Earth had originated through supernatural means and had been affected by a series of catastrophic events such as the biblical Flood. In contrast to the catastrophic view of geology, the principle of uniformity postulates that phenomena displayed in the rocks may be entirely accounted for by geologic processes that continue to operate at the present day--in other words, the present is the key to the past. This principle is fundamental to geologic thinking and underlies the whole development of the science of geology.

The Doctrine of Uniformitarianism will play an essential role in understanding the connection with Spoke 17 as discussed below. This doctrine was essential to the development of the Theory of Evolution (cf. Apemen and Evolution).

The Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution

Along with Rene Descartes, the other great mind that wrestled with the new universe opening up in the early European Enlightenment was Blaise Pascal, a mathematician and sometime theologian. The universe in the seventeenth century had expanded beyond human imagination. The century before introduced Europe to an entirely new continent, filled with a people no one had ever heard of before, who had a history spanning centuries, a history that would forever remain a mystery to the Europeans. They looked at fallen cities in Meso-America and gazed on stone stelae and books filled with a mysterious and indecipherable language and realized a wealth of human history lay beyond their grasp.

The European Enlightenment This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window by Richard Hooker

This quote is from the wonderful on-line history course from Washington State University This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window (my Alma Mater). It perfectly conveys the sense of wonder, awe, and open horizons that characterize the intellectual revolution that dominated the Seventeenth Century. Perhaps the greatest intellect of the time was Isaac Newton. Hooker discusses the main principles Newton's presented in his primary work Principia Mathematica (1687) in his article The Scientific Revolution This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window:

  • The universe could be explained completely through the use of mathematics; mathematical models of the universe were accurate physical descriptions of the universe.
  • The universe operated in a completely rational and predictable way following the mathematics used to describe the universe; the universe, then, was mechanistic.
  • One need not appeal to revealed religion or theology to explain any aspect of the physical phenomena of the universe.
  • All the planets and other objects in the universe moved according to a physical attraction between them, which is called gravity; this mutual attraction explained the orderly and mechanistic motions of the universe.

These principles are characteristic of much of the thought of the Seventeenth Century, as exemplified by Isaac Newton's principles outlined above.

Open Science

"Open science" as a practice became increasing widespread in Europe during the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. It represented a departure from the previously dominant ethos of secrecy in the pursuit of Nature's Secrets, and its emergence was a distinctive and vital organizational aspect of the Scientific Revolution. ... Foundations were thus laid for the later seventeenth and eighteenth century institutionalization of the open pursuit of scientific knowledge under the auspices of State-sponsored academies.

The above quote is from the abstract to Paul A. David's This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window analysis of the Scientific Revolution called "From Keeping 'Nature's Secrets' to the Institutionalization of 'Open Science.'" His thesis, written as an economist interested in the relation between open verses closed proprietary scientific research, perfectly encapsulates the meaning of the Letter Peh and its relation to the Seventeenth Century Scientific Revolution and the Books on Spoke 17 of the Bible Wheel.

The integration begins with the literal and symbolic meanings of the Seventeenth Letter. Literally, Peh denotes the Mouth. God used it this way in three of the Peh Alphabetic Verses. From this, its symbolic meaning as "opening" naturally follows, which also appears in the form of many of its KeyWords, most notably pic (Petach, Opening). God used this word in two of the Peh Alphabetic Verses. The whole force of the letter Peh has to do with the ideas of opening, bursting, and breaking forth (cf. Where is the Promise of His Coming?). This all integrates with the theme of Open Science, and more generally, the entire intellectual revolution that dominated the Seventeenth Century. These ideas are all profoundly integrated with the content of the books on Spoke 17. I begin with a Rabbinical commentary on the Book of Esther.

Unveiling the Hidden

There is a profound Rabbinic tradition surrounding the Megillat (Scroll of) Esther which interprets it as The Revelation of Things Hidden. The reason for this is explained by Rabbi Dov Ber Weisman in his article Revealing the Hidden This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window:

In Hebrew, the word "megillah" shares the same root as the word "reveal". By contrast, the name "Esther" comes from the root word meaning "hidden". Megillat Esther (the Book of Esther), therefore, translates to mean: "Revealing the hidden." It teaches us a powerful lesson about cause and effect that we can carry with us wherever we go. We must not be satisfied with superficial evidence. Rather, we must delve into the root cause of the issues that we face.

The "superficial evidence" refers to the way things seem on the face of things, at the surface. This then links directly to the Peh KeyWord Panim), and leads to the profound Rabbinical understanding that relates the Book of Esther to Rationalism and Natural Law.

Rationalism and Natural Law

Can a logical person see the hand of God and deny its existence? Certainly. God wears a glove called Nature. The Divine Name pic [Elohim] which signifies God's mastery over the universe, had the numerical value of n86, the same as that of pic, the laws of nature. Nature truly exists; it is God's way of exercising control over creation. Can one find natural causes for events? Yes' almost always there are good causes for every effect. When God dispatches angels to do his bidding, they take the form of fires, winning lottery tickets, business upturns, winds that push balls over goal posts, aggressors - the entire panoply of causes and effects that make headlines and history books. So we are always challenged to see the Hand inside the glove.

Rationalism and the belief in Natural Law are two of the most obvious hallmarks of the Scientific Revolution. It is the essence of the question posed by scoffers in II Peter at the head of this page. The above commentary is from Rabbi Nosson Scherman's introduction to Purim - Its Observance and Significance This link takes you off the Bible Wheel site and opens a new window, with the subtitle "A presentation based on Talmudic and Traditional Sources." It is primarily an explanation of the Book of Esther. Rabbi Sherman's concern with Natural Law and the apparent hiddenness of God is based on thousands of years of traditional insight into Esther, whose very name means "I will hide" and in which there is not a single explicit reference to God. This is very rare for a book in the Bible, and it begs and explanation. Here is part of the answer provided by the ancient tradition:

The man or woman of genuine faith, the human being who elevates himself above the mirage of cause-and-effect, merits a Divine response. For God's behaviour towards people mirrors their own actions. In the famous homiletical interpretation of the Baal Shem Tov, the Psalmist's declaration that Hashem is your shade (Ps 121.5) can be rendered as Hashem is your shadow. If he is kind to others, God will be generous with him; if he is tightfisted to others, God will not be gracious with him. If he believes that God is everywhere and in control of everything ... then God will shower His personal attention on him.

And conversely, if someone is convinced that every occurrence has a natural reason that is its only true cause, then he is the person that God speaks of in that chilling refrain in the Admonition: our casualness toward God's message to us, a message that is delivered by motley agents, will beget a wrath of casualness on His part.

This means that if we find the reason for everything in natural causes, then God, our 'Shadow' will treat us in kind. He will abandon us to chance, remove His Provindence from us, and leave us to the mercies of our enemies and the vagaries of uncontrolled nature.

Remember, all of these ideas are part of the traditional rabbinical analysis of the Book of Esther - the seventeenth Book of the Bible. Note the profound integration with Peter's question, as discussed at length in Where is the Promise of His Coming?. And now for the clincher - all of this is characteristic of the attitude that was prominent in the Scientific Revolution, which was based on the utter rejection of supernaturalism and the demand that everything be explained in terms of natural cause and effect, as noted above in relation to both the Doctrine of Uniformitarianism and the work of Isaac Newton.

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