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How Scientific is Torah?

How Scientific is Torah?

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Question:

So we hear all the time about how Torah and science don't really contradict. But can you give me at least one or two examples where they actually coincide?

Answer:

  • The most outstanding example: For millennia, we were ridiculed for believing the world began. Only in the latter half of the 20th century did the evidence come out overwhelmingly on our side. As Dr. Arno Penzias (one of the three who received a Nobel Prize for identifying the "background radiation" that became one of the pillars of the current Big Bang cosmology) writes, "creation is supported by all the data so far."1

  • Abraham was a maverick for believing that all the forces of the cosmos are really a single force. This is the contention of science for the past 100 years and the driving force behind the search for the Unified Field Theory.2

  • The Torah's account of Creation and of events that defy the laws of physics -- and even defy logic -- implies that the laws of logic are not absolute -- i.e. it is not impossible for those laws to have been created otherwise, and even now, the Creator could adjust them or supersede them at whim. An inkling of this kind of thinking opened the way for modern mathematics, breaking away from the Euclidian view that the axioms of geometry are absolute "self evident truths," and laying the ground for Einstein's relativity. Indeed, later attempts to demonstrate that mathematics is based on logic have all failed. Thinkers today question the absoluteness of logic itself.3

  • Torah, by presenting the concept of Divine Providence within nature, requires a universe that is only loosely linear, rejecting the determinist concept that cause and effect are inherently linked. This is an outcome of the Principle of Uncertainty, first enunciated by Heisenberg in 1928.4 Over the past 30 years, experimentation has repeatedly affirmed this concept.

  • Torah does not talk in terms of matter as a self-contained substance, but as an event, a 'word'. Today we understand matter as simply a dynamic of concentrated energy, as in the familiar formula E=mc2. Or, in physicist David Bohm's definition, "That which unfolds, whatever the medium."5

  • Torah relies on witnesses and observation over intuition. Today we call this objective empiricism. It is what distinguishes the scientist from the Hellenist or medieval philosopher.

  • Torah recognizes the role of human consciousness as an active, rather than passive, participant in forming reality.6 This outcome of the standard model of quantum mechanics was first enunciated by John von Neumann in 1932.7

  • Torah consistently relies on the concept of synergy: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This has become an essential principle in many modern disciplines, from sociology to chemistry.

  • Torah, in many halachic applications, relies on "quantum" -- smallest possible increments of change within space and time. This was the postulate of Max Planck that opened the field of quantum mechanics.

  • The Torah describes all of humankind as descending from a single man and -- earlier -- a single woman.8 The overwhelming genetic evidence concurs, although the dating is still somewhat skewed. They're still catching up.

  • Torah understands the human psyche as being multi-layered and multifaceted -- there isn't just one person inside. Welcome to modern psychology.

  • Torah describes planet earth and the entire cosmos in holistic terms. Science today is moving sharply in this direction, in life sciences and in physics and cosmology.

  • Torah provides inference to many of the customs, beliefs, politics, technologies, etc. of ancient times at which historians once balked and archeologists have only recently confirmed.

  • Torah presents and rigorously develops the chazakah: An event must occur repeatedly under identical conditions to be considered the most likely outcome in the future (such as the case of the consistently goring ox). This is the basis of the scientific method.9

  • Torah prescribes public education, popular involvement and constitutional governance. Sociologists describe how these elements generate stability and productivity in a society.

  • Torah prescribes a responsible stewardship of our environment. Today we have demonstrated that such an approach is the only one possible for sustainable life on the planet.

Many of these examples may seem obvious and trite, however none of them were accepted as such until recently. I'm sure there are more -- if you think of some, please fire them over.

Acknowledgement is due to Dr. Moshe Genuth for his valuable suggestions and assistance with this article.

Footnotes
1.
See his Creation is Supported by All the Data So Far, page 78 in Margenau and Varghese, Cosmos, Bios, Theos, Open Court, 1992.
2.
As the Lubavitcher Rebbe once put it to a group of scientists, "So let's just say we already know there is a Unified Field Theory and we'll call it G‑d."
3.
See Tzvi Saks, On the Nature of Truth in Mathematics, in B'Or HaTorah vol 9, pp. 95-103. In the inimitable style of George Burns (playing G‑d), "Mathematics! Another one of my mistakes!"
4.
For an intelligent exposition of this concept for the rest of us, see John Gribbin, In Search of Schrodinger's Cat, Bantam, 1979. Gribbin dismisses the common misconception that Heisenberg et al are talking about our inability to measure precisely. Rather this is an inherent characteristic of the universe, that there are no perfectly knowable ("discrete") states. As Heisenberg himself put it to the philosophers of his time: Without discrete causes, there are no pre-determined effects -- and determinism is out the window.
5.
In Wholeness and the Implicate Order, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980
6.
See Tzvi Freeman, Knowledge and Reality, Chabad.org., 2001
7.
In Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics. Eugene Wigner later became the major proponent of this idea, the only coherent competition being the "Multiple Worlds Model". That's not so original, either.
8.
Men (y chromosone) from Noah. Women (mitochondrial DNA) from Eve. The women on the ark were from various families, while the men were from a single father and mother.
9.
See responsum of Rabenu Asher ("the Rosh" 1250-1328 ) 68:23 for a very modern exposition of this concept.
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 (181)
March 22, 2017
re distant starlight, etc.
How and where was it peer reviewed?
Anonymous
NYC Metro
March 20, 2017
distant starlight
Spiral cosmological redshift hypothesis explains why the overwhelming amount of empirical evidence that is distant starlight not only aligns with but attests to the Torah testimony narrative and YeC timeline.
Reference 'distant starlight and the age, formation and structure of the universe'
after surviving valid peer review challenges, Spiral has held up well and is stronger science than ever Baruch Hashem.
22 Adar, 5777 AM
Roger M. Pearlman
s. cal
June 16, 2016
Re: I'm not sure how much I like this article, but...
Thanks for the feedback. All I can say is, keep searching. There are many more articles on our site on the topic. Just use the keyword "Torah and Science".
Tzvi Freeman
June 6, 2016
I'm not sure how much I like this article, but...
I don't like all the proofs that this article brings. Many of them can apply to other religions as well. That being said, I personally don't feel that science contradicts religion. I believe in evolution because it has been proven conclusively, however I see nothing to discourage the idea that evolution was a part of the mechanism of creation. I only have a college degree so far, so I haven't really studied science in-depth yet, but in all the classes I've taken I haven't seen any real contradictions.
Truth be told, I read this article, as well as the entire conversation since 2009, because I am having a bit of an existential crisis. I was hoping that conclusive scientific corroboration of the Torah would make me say, "oh wow" and reconcile me with my place in the Jewish community. While this article raised some interesting points, it unfortunately didn't have the effect I was hoping for.
P L
February 23, 2016
re: re: Evolution, additional remark
There is a well known comment from Einstein, that G-d does not throw dice. Less well known is Bohr's reply, "Einstein, stop telling G-d what to do".

I feel that the arguments, G-d exists and there is no evolution, or there is evolution and no god, both fail in this way. There is hubris on both sides.

Rambam's approach seems more productive; knowledge of G-d by honest inquiry, contemplation and negation. Also, some feel Ramban's perush on to-hu vo-hu is helpful.
M Katzenelson
February 23, 2016
re: re: Evolution
The description of Meyer's book on Amazon claims that there is no explanation for where the species came from during the Cambrian explosion, and implies that at the end of Darwin's treatise this creates doubt for him regarding the whole of it.

So, why would he publish it if he harboured such doubts?

DFor those who have not read it, Darwin's treatise begins that breeders (plant and animal) report that lifeforms are extremely plastic under the influence of deliberate selection over some finite number of generations. Would not the influence of the environment work in a similar way over a larger number of generations?

It is quite impressive that he was able to work out so much of how evolution works without the tools that we have today. That one or two questions remain does not cast doubt on the whole. And indeed, these areas are filled in eventually.

You can see from that, that any "God of the gaps" argument is going to be fragile.
M Katzenelson
February 23, 2016
SCIENCE AND TORAH.
Nice answer on how scientific the Torah is . So let me ask you, how old is the universe?
Barry Wicksman
saipan
February 19, 2016
re: Evolution
See Darwin's Doubt: The Explosive Origin of Animal Life and the Case for Intelligent Design by Stephen C. Meyer.
Anonymous
Winter Park, FL
February 12, 2016
False Quote/"Facts"
If this article is going to attempt to convince people that it can argue its points/beliefs intellectually, it probably shouldn't create fake/false quotes to mislead its readers. In the first paragraph of the Answer, the following is quoted: "science has finally vindicated Moses and Maimonides over Aristotle.", and the reference its linked to says that its from Page 78 of Cosmos, Bios, and Theos. However, no such quote exists on that page, or any other page for that matter. You can read that referenced work by simply googling "Creation is Supported by All the Data So Far" and it will be the first result.
If you can't fight for your argument with the truth, then you're probably wrong. Please refrain from fabricating facts in an attempt to manipulate your readers. Thanks!
Simon Y.
New York, NY
October 8, 2015
Pearlman Spiral: how distant star light aligns with Torah 5776 year timeline,
The Pearlman Spiral cosmological redshift hypothesis and cosmology model explain how the natural observations (science) align with the Torah time line, and not with any deep time hypothesis.
roger m pearlman