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Science and Religion: An In-depth Analysis

by Rabbi Dovid Dubov

  

Library » Philosophy » Torah vs. Science | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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The Definition of Science and Religion

Science, broadly defined, means knowledge. Specifically we refer to science as knowledge ascertained by observation and experiment, critically tested, systemized and brought under general principles. Being even more specific one must distinguish between empirical or experimental science dealing with, and confined to describing and classifying, observable phenomena, and speculative science dealing with unknown phenomena, sometimes phenomena that cannot be duplicated in the laboratory. The term “scientific speculation” is actually a terminological incongruity since no speculation can be called knowledge in the strict sense of the word. At best, scientific speculation can only describe theories inferred from certain known facts and applied in the realm of the unknown.

Religion means a belief in something. In terms of the Jewish religion this is belief in the Divine nature of the TorahTorah min Hashamayim; that the Torah received by Moses and given to the Jewish people is Divine in source and is the word of G–d. Being so, Torah is Divine wisdom, and since G–d is true so is his Torah. Torah is often referred to as Torat Emet meaning the True Torah. Torah reveals the truth.

From these two definitions we see that science formulates and deals with theories and hypotheses while Torah deals with absolute truths. These are two different disciplines and “reconciliation” is entirely out of place. Torah is the realm of truth of the absolute. What Torah says is true not because it has been scientifically proven to be true, rather it is true because the truth was revealed by G–d. Science does not deal with absolutes, rather it deals with the realm of observable phenomena and produces principles based on its observations.


The Science of Yesterday & the Science of Tomorrow

In the 19th Century it was the prevailing view of scientists and modernists that human reason was infallible in “scientific” deductions and that sciences such as physics, chemistry, mathematics etc., were absolute truth, that is to say, not merely accepted truths but absolute. Speaking in Jewish terms this meant the establishment of a new idolatry, not of wood and stone, but the worship of the contemporary sciences and philosophies.

In fact, in the face of dogmatic and deterministic views of science prevailing at that time, a whole apologetic literature was created by well-meaning religious advocates and certain rabbis who saw no other way of preserving Torah heritage in their “enlightened” communities except through tenuous and spurious reinterpretations of certain passages in the Torah in order to accommodate them to the prevailing world outlook. No doubt they knew inwardly that they were suggesting interpretations in Torah which were at variance with Torat Emet, but at least they felt they had no alternative.

In the 20th Century, however, and especially in recent decades, science has finally come out of its medieval wrappings and the whole complexion of science has changed. The assumed immutability of the so-called scientific laws and the concept of absolutism in science in general have been abrogated and the contrary view is now held, known as the “Principle of Indeterminism”. Nothing any more is certain in science but only relative or probable, and scientific findings are now presented with considerable reservation and with limited and temporary validity, likely to be replaced at any time by a more advanced theory.

Most scientists have accepted this principle of uncertainty – enunciated by Werner Heisenberg in 1927 – as being intrinsic to the whole universe. The 19th Century dogmatic, mechanistic and deterministic attitude to science is gone. The modern scientist no longer expects to find truth in science. The current and universally accepted view is that science must reconcile itself to the idea that, whatever progress it makes, it will always deal with probabilities, not with certainties or absolutes. Let us give two examples of the metamorphosis of scientific discovery. There is a verse in Ecclesiastes 1:4, “The earth stands forever”, that seems to suggest that the earth stands still and the sun revolves around the earth. This presentation was entirely acceptable in the early common era, especially when, in the second century, Ptolemy perfected Aristotle’s construction of how the sun and the planets revolve around the earth in circular orbits with additional rotation around certain points on these orbits.

TAGS: science

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Fossils

Posted by: Benyamin Finn on Nov 19, 2006

I understand the concept of relative dating and the fact that half-lives above 100 years are technically unprovable but fossils clearly show a progression from early man to current man. There has been no perfect connection from ape to man but what is the current Rabbinical stance on the fossils that are very similar to man but not quite man. I hope for something more than G-d may have put it there when he created the Earth.

Editor's Comment

There is no one rabbinical stand on how to explain the finding such fossils. Many explain that the Great Flood had an effect on the appearance of these fossils, making them look older. Contrary to scientific explanation, the Midrash refers to apes as being descendants of men. (During the dispersion of the nations following the Tower of Babel, one of the changes that affected mankind was that some human features became ape-like. [Midrash Hagadol]) I am personally of the opinion that, just as the world was created with age, it was created with fossils buried within the ground that appear to be millions of years old and seem to indicate an alternative explanation to the biblical creation story. Why would G-d create such fossils? Possibly, to engage the human race in this very discussion. G-d hid the evidence supporting creation, to allow man to choose to believe in G-d without coercion of indicative evidence of any sort.

God

Posted by: Anonymous, Plano, TX, USA on May 19, 2007

I think a day is reletive. God did craete the Uneverse in 6 days. But a day could be from 2 seconds to a billon years! He may have craeted in a diffrent order. age 9

Editor's Comment

That is a very good, and very common theory. However, there are two challenges with it: 1) The Torah uses the same description for each of the days of creation: "it was evening, it was morning, a xx day"; implying that all the days were the same length. And we know that Shabbat was definitely a 24 hour period, or else we wouldn't observe it as such today. 2) The Talmud (Tractate Chagigah 12a) states that the time span for daytime and for nighttime, 24 hours between them, was created on the first day of creation.

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Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.
Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Moshiach
The Messiah. Moshiach is the person who will usher in an era of peace and tranquility for all of humanity when there will be no jealousy or hate, wars or famine. This is a fundamental Jewish belief.
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The most basic work of Jewish mysticism. Authored by Rabbi Shimeon bar Yochai in the 2nd century.
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(Pl.: Chassidim; Adj.: Chassidic) A follower of the teachings of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), the founder of "Chassidut." Chassidut emphasizes serving G-d with sincerity and joy, and the importance of connecting to a Rebbe (saintly mentor).
Kabbalah
Jewish mysticism. The word Kaballah means "reception," for we cannot physically perceive the Divine, we merely study the mystical truths which were transmitted to us by G-d Himself through His righteous servants.
Rebbe
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
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One who follows the teachings of the Chassidic group which was formerly based in the Belarus village of Lubavitch. Today, the movement is based in Brooklyn, New York with branches worldwide. The Lubavitch movement is also widely known as "Chabad."
Yetzer Hara
Evil inclination. Found in the heart of all humans, and also known as the "Animal Soul"; its purpose is to deter a person from following a life of spirituality and selflessness.
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[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
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Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760), Polish mystic and founder of the Chassidic movement.
Noah
Tenth generation from Adam. Of all humankind, only he and his family survived the Flood which destroyed all civilization in the year 2106 BCE.
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