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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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Avrohom Monsey May 10, 2017

Great article/insight! Reply

Anonymous NYC Metro March 22, 2017

re distant starlight, etc. How and where was it peer reviewed? Reply

Roger M. Pearlman s. cal 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 Reply

Tzvi Freeman 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". Reply

P L 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. Reply

M Katzenelson 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. Reply

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. Reply

Barry Wicksman saipan February 23, 2016

SCIENCE AND TORAH. Nice answer on how scientific the Torah is . So let me ask you, how old is the universe? Reply

Anonymous Winter Park, FL 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. Reply

Simon Y. New York, NY 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! Reply

roger m pearlman 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. Reply

Anonymous May 2, 2014

void Actually, a child would say a void. I certainly did when I was a kid. Children don't know about particles and low density mass etc. All they know is that the same word for the universe "space" is used when you have space for something in the fridge. From that they understand space to mean an empty place, or a void. Point is, when civilization was in its childhood (israelites) they didn't know about particles. However, G-d did and hid it within the text for when civilization grew up. And that is now what we are so clearly finding. Reply

barry wicksman saipan November 11, 2013

Evolution Rabbi , doesn't the torah deny evolution, a theory universally accepted by the scientific community and overwhelming supported by archaeological evidence? The arguments of creationism and intelligent design have been clearly disproven. Reply

Michoel Katzenelson Somewhere USA November 7, 2013

Re In writing the post in answer to "let's get torah specific", i neglected to mention another point that the Rebbe often emphasized in his letters, as follows:

Naaseh v'nishmah (do, and then, hear). This was the answer of children of Israel at Mt Sinai. The Rebbe often urged that these questions not interfere with the performance of mitzvohs; T'fillin, Davening, Shabbos, Kashrus, Study, and so forth. Reply

Michoel Katzenelson Somewhere USA November 5, 2013

Re You have asked a good question, and it deserves a good answer. It will likely be a very long discussion and probably controversial. Lets begin:

While the simplest most literal understanding (“young earth creationism”) is common among orthodox Jewish scholars, it is not unanimous. For example, see Aryeh Kaplan's "Handbook of Jewish Thought", that He creates time and he does with it what he wants. There are explanations that break up creation into potentia and emergent states, including those of time and space (there are current scientific theories that do similar). There are texts from Maimonides to the effect that we do not understand the first portion of Genesis and that as a general principle one has to check understanding against observation. (Apologies for not having the exact cites with me).
That said, the Rebbe's position as best as i understand it, is the literal one. The book "The Letter and the Spirit" has several long letters on this subject. The letters I am thinking of are dated in the early 60's. What is most interesting to me about this, is that (a) the Rebbe goes to lengths to refute dating and evolution, and (b) it seems to very clear that he regards 6 days of creation as literal and an article of faith, and (c) he urges orthodox Jewish scientists to champion that cause. Reply

barry wicksman saipan November 5, 2013

let's get torah specific doesn't the torah deny evolution and claim the world was created 6,000 years ago? Reply

Shirra Las Vegas July 4, 2013

To life Thank you, it was specific and cleanly written. Reply

S USA March 14, 2013

Void Neither a physicist, and certainly not a child would say that outer space is a void. Some scientists describe it as "not completely empty", but state that it consists of a hard vacuum containing a low density of particles: predominantly a plasma of hydrogen and helium, as well as electromagnetic radiation, magnetic fields, and neutrinos. Reply

Elliot USA March 12, 2013

Although not as spiritually close to the main message as Moses and the Israelites, we are a generation of connecting our declining spiritual essence to our expanding human wisdom. But just as the woman is the understanding who puts the wisdom of her husband into the world, so to is spirituality the understanding and driving helper of our wisdom on this world. And I think it's counterproductive on both sides to accept one and not the other. So we understand spirituality in this world more than ever with the help of the sages and rebbes, but our spiritual believe is what is in decline. It doesn't have to be. Through science we discover g-d. I hope we all find the parallels soon enough. Reply

Elliot USA March 12, 2013

To the void comment, I'd like to say this :g-d uses imagery to appeal to the ancient people's who actually received the torah, to say it was made of particles and electrons and protons would be counterproductive. When you say to a child what is outer space they would say a void, so to is Israel the child of g-d and the torah the simple explanation. It is through interpretation of those simple lines that we grow closer to g-d and the hidden meanings, this is where science comes in, science isn't a contradiction, but the deeper explanation that the child couldn't grasp before 3000 years of not physical but spiritual growth. Reply