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Torn Between Torah and Science

Torn Between Torah and Science

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Question:

I am deeply perturbed by the conflicts between Jewish beliefs and science. My heart and at times my mind, too, lead me to Torah, but at other times, my minimal understanding of science causes me to wonder about it all.

Answer:

You speak of a conflict between science and faith and how this rips you apart in two directions at once. Let me provide a simple way to make this much easier for you:

The conflict really has nothing to do with science, nor with faith. The conflict has to do with purpose.

The standard materialist, empiricist, reductionist view that many scientists take has nothing to do with purpose. The trinity of this faith is Chance, Necessity and the Human Mind. From these supreme deities arise the demigods of Matter and Energy.

I call it a faith because not only has science itself never provided a logical basis for belief in this pantheon, but has demonstrated many times over the absurdity of it all. As the esteemed British theoretician of science, Alfred North Whitehead wrote in the 1920s:

"The state of modern thought is that every single item in this general doctrine is denied, but that the general conclusions from the doctrine as a whole are retained. The result is a complete muddle in the scientific thought, in philosophic cosmology and in epistemology. But any doctrine which does not implicitly presuppose this point of view is assailed as unintelligible."

I'll detail it out a little:

1. Prove to me that everything in the universe must make sense to the human mind? On the one hand, the scientist tells us that our mind evolved through the challenges of survival. On the other hand, he claims that this jelly-like grey-matter device that so evolved is capable of explain the basic truths and origins of all things. Could anything be more absurd?

2. Explain to me what is chance and what is necessity? The cosmologist chooses at whim which elements of existence are so because they must be so and which originated at the outset of the universe.

3. Explain why we cling to this anachronistic notion of energy and matter in the mechanistic, Cartesian sense after a century of scientific probing and discovery has demonstrated again and again how inadequate these notions are in explaining the phenomenon of the quantum world.

So science is also a religion of faith. But it is faith without purpose. It is faith that we are simply artifacts of a cold, indifferent universe. Nothing has meaning, other than being material to write yet another doctoral thesis.

The ancient faith of the Jew, on the other hand, is a belief that life itself is nothing but meaning. Reality is personal. The focus of life is my decisions, what I choose to do with life. Those decisions and their consequences are more real than any star or subatomic particle, any fact in Wikipedia or news on your TV screen. Whereas to the contemporary scientist, life is a phenomenon, to the traditional Jew, life is real.

As I promised, I've tried to simplify the matter by deconstructing the common terms in which we generally couch this conflict.

I hope this helps--mainly because I don't see why any of this conflict should get in the way of you adopting the entire beauty of Shabbat and bringing our rich heritage into your life with a complete heart.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, a senior editor at Chabad.org, also heads our Ask The Rabbi team. He is the author of Bringing Heaven Down to Earth. To subscribe to regular updates of Rabbi Freeman's writing, visit Freeman Files subscription. FaceBook @RabbiTzviFreeman Periscope @Tzvi_Freeman .
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Amanda Southampton May 14, 2017

Thinking of Lag BaOmer and the rainbow. Science is so busy trying to tell the world that at a rainbow is just the refraction of light at varying frequencies (yes l am a physicist), that they tend to overlook one essential point. That rain was created by and is a gift from HaShem. Reply

Dovi J NYC January 13, 2016

There is no contradiction between the Torah and the scientific facts. Evolution is all speculative. It has never been proven. Scientists take theory A and theory B, prove that they are true, and therefore decide that theory C is true without actually proving it. An example: Climate adaptation has been proven (it's actually mentioned in the Zohar), so people decide that this is a proof that we come from monkeys. It hasn't been proven, and in fact it has been disproved hundreds of times. For example, the Sea's Missing Salt. (You can find an article about it online) Reply

Chris Leicester May 10, 2017
in response to Dovi J:

Of course it's been disproved that we don't come from monkeys, because no evolutionary scientist has ever claimed we do. Reply

Saul FC May 12, 2017
in response to Dovi J:

Good points. It might be more exact to say:

Scientist A claims theory X is true, subsequently derives theory Y from X.

Scientist B, improperly quoting scientist A, derives theory Z from Y, claims it is proved because of X, (which remains still a theory by the way...)

Ever hear of error propagation in Engineering and Mathematics?! If X was partly wrong, and Y was derived from it, then Y is exponentially more wrong than X, and if Z is subsequently derived from Y, then Z is geometrically more wrong than X!!

Humans did not evolve from apes. Apes have more chromosomes than Humans. No other species on the planet have evolved in a way where they lost chromosomes from their ancestors! Reply

Saul FC May 12, 2017
in response to Chris:

Actually they all make that claim.

Interestingly, however, Darwin never did. But no evolutionary scientist has actually ever read his book! Darwin simply said that the theory of evolving organisms could be studied by looking for similarities between animals, and he proposed that a starting place for humans "might" be to look at apes. He also added that the resulting study may find that looking at apes was incorrect. Reply

David Rankin New Zealand March 12, 2014

Genesis 1, 2. "And the spirit of G-d moved upon the face of the waters." That is a very important part of the Creation narrative, but is seldom thought about. The spirit is the witness to the whole episode, and the story is told from that viewpoint - what you would have seen if you had been sitting there in a boat. The scriptures are the Word of G-d. They record the message He spoke to the ancients. Science is the study of the world He made, and pronounced "very good". Genesis 1, 31. G-d cannot lie. His word is truth and His actions are also true. The scriptures are is words and the cosmos is His work. Neither of them can lie either. That does not mean that the ideas humans draw from them is always true, but it does mean that there is no friction between the truth of the scriptures and the truth of the cosmos. Any friction is caused by either the individual's mistaken perception of scripture or the individual's mistaken perception of science. G-d makes order, not chaos Reply

Susanna Omaha March 11, 2014

The Creation stories in Genesis are not myths.

A myth is more than merely a story of beginnings. A myth involves the personal life of the gods. If you look at standard creation myths, you may find that a goddess gave birth to the universe, or that a god killed the goddess, cut her in half, and made the heavens of one half and the earth of the other half.

Gd doesn't have a personal life. Gd's "personal life" consists entirely of the fact that Gd IS and that Gd continually CAUSES everything to be.

When we compare the Genesis creation narrative with creation myths, we find that the version of Creation in Genesis is totally demythologized.

The only ones who want to call it a "myth" are those who (1) disbelieve it and (2) think that "myth" means anything that is believed but is not true.

But, first, we don't really understand what the Genesis narrative means, so we are not in a position to decide whether to believe it or not.

Second, "myth" doesn't mean "false". Reply

doreet Eugene Oregon March 10, 2014

Thank You very much!Torah and Science You are very brillant.My father, who was a scientist and an engineer, was also very religious and had strong faith.He told me, scientists who studied how the world was made, the stars, and all the intrecent facets of very molecule, most often were more assured of a Creator, or God, or a vast "'something" by seeing all the evidence before them.Science does not really destroy faith, it shows us all the wonders of life and the universe even more! We humans are PART of it,and we have our own personal reality.That is as REAL as the universe is.Thank you so much! :) :D Reply

A Miami Lakes October 11, 2013

Try reading about quantum physics and then read Tanya and Kabalistic writings and the similarities will amaze you, keep in mind which was written first.
Reply

David Rankin New Zealand December 16, 2012

Josef Friedman, My comments are addressed to anyone who will ask questions and seek answers. I believe the Bible to be true in all respects. I also believe that G-d created science, which is the study of the world which G-d created. Noah's flood happened. Science has discovered the physical evidence of it. However, science also shows that while the scriptural record is accurate, some of the popular interpretations of that record do not bear close scrutiny. Re creation ex nihilo. Creation had to be 'from nothing', or it could not have been 'in the beginning', there would have been something before it. The big problem for those who try to use the Big Bang theory to advance the cause of atheism is that the theory cannot start from nothing, which rather contradicts your claim. Big Bang theory needs G-d to kick-start it. The first human language started with Adam, not Babel. However I fail to grasp your association between that fact and Karen's comment on balance. Reply

Josef I Friedman Hillsborough, NJ via myjewishcenter.org November 29, 2012

Boundaries of Science Dave, it is odd that your comments are addressed to the more secular contributors when the majority of people here are biblical literalists who think that the earth is 6000 years old and the Flood actually happened, etc.

Karen et al seems to have more balance than many others. Wouldn't a plea for balance to people who believe all human languages originated at Babel be more appropriate?

Regarding creation ex nihilo - it is quite unlikely that the author of the Genesis creation myth was referring to creating something from nothing. As Gersonides asks, when did God create water? Like many other things in Judaism, the concept is probably borrowed from the Greeks, but in any case, it is not universally accepted among Jews.

Moreover, creation ex nihilo is probably mistaken. Currently, the big bang is often considered confirmation of creation ex nihilo, however this is does not follow from the evidence. Reply

Anonymous Henderson, NV November 29, 2012

Science and Scripture This is very simiple. It is a matter of faith in G-d and what he has laid down in His word. You either have faith in the science of mere men or the one who is all science and knows everything. I choose the one who is scienc, understands and knows everything. Reply

David Rankin New Zealand November 28, 2012

Science and scripture. Karen, Kolyah & Rob. Much of the confusion over these two results from not understanding what they are. A dictionary definition of science defines the boundaries of science. This proves that there are things outside of those boundaries - for instance, science cannot prove that a sunset is beautiful. G-d creating heaven and earth from nothing is outside of the boundaries of science. Science cannot visualise nothing - no time, no space, no matter, no energy. G-d exists but science cannot detect Him - He does not eat, He does not age, He does not breathe, He cannot be measured or weighed. It is like trying to get a train ticket from Israel to Canada. Both places exist, but that mode of transport cannot fulfill the task. "Believing in BOTH the Bible and science is like believing in both your dentist and gynecologist. (Karen)." I would say it is more like having food and drink. They are two sides of the same coin and we need both to be truly balanced. David Reply

Kolyah Pasadena, CA April 3, 2012

Hi Rob... B"H
Sometimes, we must listen with the heart rather than the head and the noodle soup inside it. Not saying that you aren't already, the problem is not a problem to be solved rationally. Reason is of the conscious mind which in all probability accounts for aprox 7 - 9% of the brain's power. Thereby the conscious mind, the ego, and the id get in the way when we try tapping into the greater power G-d has already given us, the 90% world. Sciene has assisted us in accessing the G-d consciousness within ourselves to some extent. But when the sub-conscious is speaking a different language than the conscious mind things come to us in confusing thoughts, and images. meditation can help alleviate this. The kabbalah tradition has plenty of tools to do just that. You could contact you local Chabad and talk to your Rabbi about. Blessings and Chag Sameach al Pesach! Reply

Mr. Rob Lena April 2, 2012

Strange I seem to have the opposite problem, I see the design in science. I understand that for multiple creations there must be a creator. My problem is for everything to work as it does then everything must have a function. For the life of me I can't seem put find what that function is or the designer who wants to put me there. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA via jewishriverside.com November 11, 2010

Thank you, Kolyah. Your post made me smile. Interesting thoughts. Reply

Kolyah Pasadena, CA November 9, 2010

Hi Karen I would say that I've enjoyed many of your posts. What I meant was no disrepute to modern science, and modern scientific method. However, today's sciences originated from older disciplines. Many of which can be found in the literature of kabbalah. Astronomy from astrology, Pharmacology from Alchemy, Health sciences from Wicca, and the ancient rites of aboriginal witch doctors, etc. I did not intend to suggest that the 'Sod' (Hidden meanings) of the Bible, would equate to modern science. The origins of science can be found there. In fact, among some circles, Moses is called ' the Master Architect', and 'The Master Scientist' [ Ever seen the movie; "What the#@*&!% (bleep) Do We Know?" statements in it can be verified]. Peace to you. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA via jewishriverside.com November 4, 2010

Rhi, this is sometimes true. Sometimes, people find spirituality through Torah. Other people have spirituality and THEN go looking for Torah. I believe that I had spirituality within me even before I learned to read and write. It began, as a very small baby, with feelings of nice and not nice, right and wrong, and expanded from there. Then, little by little, I learned a little here, a little there about G-d and what is required of me and what G-d can do. I learned NOT JUST from Torah, but also from EVERY experience I had, from every person I met along life's path, from every religion of which I studied. I took the best of all and incorporated it into my sense of spirituality. I don't feel as though I am CONFINED to Torah. There is so much more out there! At 64 years old, I am STILL in the process of learning. Never in my life have I been torn between Torah and science. Never. I learn science facts, and they are facts. Torah to me are stories, legends, morals and philosophy. Both help me live happily. Reply

rhl November 3, 2010

karen i did not express myself well with my post.
what i was attempting to express is that all around the world people accept spiritual realities and religious practises as being true and beneficial yet trying to get a non religious jew to see any spirituality is often one of the hardest tasks a Rabbi can face. Jews will deny Torah until they completely run out of options, until they have tried every other spiritual path under the sun, read every philosophy book written etc etc. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA via jewishriverside.com November 2, 2010

Rhi, how do you see intelligence as fighting? Some people use their brain instead of their wishes to believe a written word without thought. Do you think G-d would have us be robots? G-d forbid. One reason our world is in such TERROR is because the Christians, the Muslims, etc. BELIEVE without question ANYTHING written or preached about by their pastors. ONLY Jews traditionally ARE ABLE to question, debate and consider all aspects of Torah. HOW MUCH we believe is VERY individual. Thank G-d I do not have any rabbi breathing down my neck and forcing me to obey every word literally without question. I think YOU are fighting against being open minded and accepting of differences. Nu? Reply

rhl November 2, 2010

only Jews fight tooth and nail against Torah and against G-d. Only Jews find it so hard to accept religion and spirituality. Astounding. Christians, Buddhists, etc. they have no problem with these ideas but for some reason Jews see it as a threat to everything to accept the Torah. Reply

Chris Leicester May 10, 2017
in response to rhl:

There's a difference between Jews and Christians, though. We're born Jewish, but that doesn't mean we necessarily accept the tenets of the religion. Nobody is born Christian; even if they got baptised that doesn't make them Christian, they have to "confirm" their religion - so someone brought up in a Christian family who doesn't believe will simply label themselves atheist or agnostic, but a Jew who doesn't believe will still label him or herself Jewish.

Besides, most Christians in the UK do *not* believe the bible literally (though some do), and Buddhists do not have a specific book that they are expected to believe literally. Even bishops and archbishops have stated that they don't believe thing like Jesus's virgin birth literally, or the creation story in Genesis is literal.

It is possible to accept spirituality without believing that the Torah is a science textbook. Reply

Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell Riverside, CA, USA via jewishriverside.com November 1, 2010

Anon in Pasadena, please. SECRETS in the Torah are NOT scientific knowledge. They are interesting, but not scientific. Cryptograms re not scientific. Written backwards, the word god is dog. So you can't count on numerology or cryptology or the stars or the moon to give knowledge. You can BELIEVE it, but don't call it "knowledge". It is not. there are ALLUSIONS to science and ALLUSIONS to knowledge in the bible. Not synonyms. Believing in BOTH the Bible and science is like believing in both your dentist and gynecologist. Both have meaning in your life, but they are not the same. Reply

raziela October 29, 2010

LeChaim Well said Rabbi Freeman.
10000000000000 points Reply

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