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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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Discussion (89)
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)
Dovi J
NYC
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
David Rankin
New Zealand
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".
Susanna
Omaha
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
doreet
Eugene Oregon
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.
A
Miami Lakes
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.
David Rankin
New Zealand
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.
Josef I Friedman
Hillsborough, NJ
myjewishcenter.org
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.
Anonymous
Henderson, NV
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
David Rankin
New Zealand
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!
Kolyah
Pasadena, CA