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Science and materialism claim that everything about this world can be explained in terms of materialism. Stuff, and the maths that governs the rules of that stuff, basically, is all there is.

Does Torah at least confirm that this is possible? Can we envision a world with matter, planets, animals and humans all existing purely physically, without any need for a spiritual, above-the-physical soul? Or do our sources claim emphatically that this world cannot exist without the spiritual?

Answers from across the board are sought.


Note: I am not asking if Hashem can make a physical universe without needing Heaven. I am asking if this physical universe can exist without Heaven. I would also like to state that this question does not assume that God is "spiritual". Therefore I am not beggin the question "can the world exist without God".

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    As a sweeping general statement I would say that Plato held that there is a higher realm of forms which is truly real which kabbalists typically adopt with Aristotle arguing that form is not separate from matter which is what the rationalist rishonim seem to adopt
    – Nahum
    Mar 1 at 15:48
  • @Nahum Thank you. To keep it simple, I've included that in the "maths that governs the rules", like the materialists. So can the world exist with only the physical and the platonic, or does it need a spiritual element as well. Or even simpler: are materialists making a fundamental mistake, or are they simply lacking information?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 1 at 15:53
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    רמב"ם יסודי התורה א':ב' ואם יעלה על הדעת שהוא אינו מצוי, אין דבר אחר יכול להימצאות. If one would imagine that He does not exist, no other being could possibly exist.
    – Nahum
    Mar 1 at 16:03
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    Math is descriptive. Platonic forms are the true underlying essence of stuff.
    – Nahum
    Mar 1 at 16:52
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3 Answers 3

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I think there is an epidemic in our modern world. All science is empirically based upon sensory observation, however, our modern science is an extreme empiricism that is anti-metaphysical in nature. Our modern science says that nature is all there is. Yet, there are scientific assumptions, such as the law of nature, that nature is uniform, or the existence of the mind, which are non-empirical in nature. The mind is incorporeal. It cannot be measured or observed. We can observe a brain and a nervous system, we cannot observe the mind. Why do you assume that there is such a thing as mind. Yet we maintain that we have minds.

To answer your question. I can't think of any classical Jewish sources that could allow for a materialistic conception of the world other than the philosophy of Spinoza. I will attempt to explain the difference.

In a classical Jewish conception God creates nature and is completely outside of nature in transcending nature. God and nature are not identical. They are not the same thing.

For Spinoza, however, God is nature and nature is God. God and nature are identical as reflected in Spinoza's famous statement "God or nature". God is not outside of nature. We perceive only two attributes of the infinite number of attributes of God - thought (mental) and extension (physical-material). Everything in our world that we experience, which is only a small part of God (as God is infinite), is a mode of God.

If you want to call Spinoza a Jewish source then there is a Jewish conception that nature is all there is (allowing for a pantheistic conception of God) but I can't think of a single Torah source that would allow for such a view.

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  • Thanks, the first paragraph is excellent and yes, thanks for explaining what Spinoza says on this.
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 4 at 16:33
  • @RabbiKaii I’m glad I was able to help. Your welcome.
    – Turk Hill
    Mar 4 at 17:54
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The Ramchal writes

ראשי הנבראים הם כחות שמהם משתלשלים כלם: הנבראים הגשמיים ידועים הם אצלנו וחוקותיהם ומשפטיהם הטבעיים בכללם מפורסמים אך הרוחניים א״א לנו לצייר ענינם היטב כי הם חוץ מדמיוננו ונדבר בהם ובעניניהם רק כפי המסורת שבידנו. והנה מן העיקרים הגדולים שבידנו בענין זה הוא שכנגד כל מה שנמצא בנמצאים השפלים נמצאים למעלה כחות נבדלים שמהם משתלשלים ויוצאים בסדר א׳‎ של השתלשלות שגזרה חכמתו ית׳‎. השפלים האלה הם ומיקריהם ונמצאים הכחות ההם שרשים לנמצאים השפלים האלה והנמצאים השפלים ענפים ותולדות לכחות ההם ונקשרים זה בזה כטבעות השלשלת. עוד מסורת בידנו שעל כל עצם וכל מקרה שבנמצאים השפלים האלה הופקדו פקידים מן הסוג המלאכיי שזכרנו למעלה ומשאם לקיים העצם ההוא או המקרה ההוא בנמצאות השפלות כפי מה הוא ולחדש מה שראוי להתחדש בשפלים כפי הגזירה העליונה:
ואמנם עיקר מציאות העולם ומצבו האמיתי הוא בכחות ההם העליונים ותולדת מה שבהם הוא מה שבגשמים השפלים וזה בין במה שמתחלת הבריאה ובין במה שמתחדש בהתחלפות הזמנים והיינו כי כפי מה שנברא מן הכחות ההם וכפי הסידור שנסדרו והגבולים שהוגבלו כך היה מה שנשתלשל אח״כ לפי חק ההשתלשלות שרצה בו הבורא ית״ש וכפי מה שנתחדש ומתחדש בהם כך הוא מה שנתחדש ומתחדש בשפלים אכן המציאות המצב והסדר וכל שאר ההבחנות בכחות הם כפי מה ששייך בהם לפי אמתת ענינים והמציאות והמצב והסדר וכל שאר המקרים בשפלים משתלשל ונעתק למה ששייך בהם לפי אמתת ענינם:
ג׳‎ תנועות כלליות בבריאה: והנה לפי שרש זה תחלת כל ההויות למעלה בכחות העליונים וסופם למטה בשפלים וכן תחלת כל הענינים המתחדשים למעלה וסופם למטה. אמנם פרט א׳‎ יש שיוצא מן הכלל הזה הוא מה שנוגע לבחירתו של האדם כי כיון שרצה האדון ית״ש שיהיה היכולת לאדם לבחור במה שירצה מן הטוב ומן הרע הנה עשהו בלתי תלוי בה בזולתו ואדרבא נתן לו כח להיות מניע לעולם עצמו ולבריותיו כפי מה שיבחר בחפצו

The physical creatures are known to us, and their axioms and their general natural properties are well-known. However it is impossible for us to have a proper picture of the spiritual [beings]; as they are beyond our imagination. So we will only speak about them and their makeup according to the tradition in our hands. And see that among the great principles in our hands about this matter is that there are ethereal powers above, corresponding to everything that is found among the lower beings. It is from them that things unfold and proceed in a single line of cause and effect decreed by His wisdom, may He be blessed. The lower beings - they, their occurrences and their existence - are rooted in these powers; so these lower beings are extensions and effects of these powers. And one is connected to the other, like rings of a chain [of causation]. Another tradition in our hands is that for every essence and every event among these lower being, supervisors from the angelic category we mentioned above are appointed. And their task is to preserve that essence or that event among the lower things, according to what it is, and to renew that which is appropriate to renew among the lowly beings, according to the Supreme decree.
In truth, the main existence of the world and its true state [occurs] through these higher powers. And the effects of that which [occurs with] them is [what occurs] to the lower physical beings. And this is whether it is beginning its creation, or it is developing as time passes. And this means that according to what is created from these powers, the order in which they are set and the limits that have been set up, that is what unfolds afterwards according to the axiom of unfolding that the Creator, may His name be blessed, willed. And according to that which develops and will develop among them, is what develops and will develop among the lower creatures. Whereas the existence, condition, arrangement and all of the other distinctions among [the higher] powers are according to that which is appropriate for them in accordance with their true makeup; the existence, condition, arrangement and all of the other occurrences among the lower beings, unfold [from the spiritual beings] and are applied to that which is appropriate in them according to their true natures.
Three general processes in creation: See that according to this root concept, the beginning of all events is above with the higher powers and their end is below with the lower creatures. And likewise, the beginning of all developments is above and their end is below. However there is one component that is an exception to this rule. And that is that which relates to man's free choice. For since the Master, may His name be blessed, wanted that man have the power to choose what he wants of good or evil, He made him independent of others. And just the opposite, [God] gave him the power to actually move the world and its creatures, according to that which he chooses with his will.

In other words, the universe is a series of linked worlds, each one deriving its existence from the one above it, all the way up to the first world created by Hashem.

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Chazal has said that the world stands on Torah, Avoda, Gemilut Chasidim. (2nd Mishna in pirkei avot)

In this question, we see that it is theoretically possible to have something stand on one leg, but it will be shaky. Why would Moshe's new nation have been considered a one legged chair?

Thus this world could survive with just one of chazal's legs. Avoda probably won't work without Heaven to review the prayers but the other two might.

Edit: Torah alone wouldn't work. In your quest to destroy amalek you could declare war on everyone and nuke them. If your bombs use the principle of grama (indirect action), you're not chayiv for killing extra people and destroying the ecology.

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  • I like the way you think
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 4 at 16:32

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