Perspectives, Myths and Fact

Popular Misconceptions about Torah and Science

Although simplistic statements based on obsolete science can create the impression that there are irreconcilable contradictions between Torah and the natural sciences, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, teaches us that a careful analysis of the findings of modern science and their philosophical meaning shows a convergence and harmony of science with Torah. He shows that certain fundamental conclusions of modern science can help Jews to even better understand certain basic Torah concepts. Furthermore, he teaches us that the Torah-observant scientist who understands this convergence can help accelerate the coming of the Moshiach by clarifying his position to other Jews.

The Torah versus science dispute, as an either/or issue, is millennia old. Among the many chapters in this conflict are, in a sense, the events which led to the Chanuka miracle more than two thousand years ago. The Mityavnim or Jewish Hellenists admired and worshipped the culture of Greece, including its philosophy and science. They were ready to sacrifice the Torah in favor of Greek philosophy and science (or to "adjust" the Torah by denying its Divine origin) in order to embrace Greek culture. The revolt and victory of the Maccabees led to the resolution of the conflict between the Hellenistic and the Torah-observant Jews. After the restoration of the Temple service in Jerusalem and the miracle of the single vessel of pure oil burning for eight days, the hellenized Jews returned to the authentic wisdom of the Torah.

Another golden chapter in the Torah-science dispute was written by Maimonides, a little over 800 years ago. The confusion between Torah and the current science and philosophy for some Jews was so great that Maimonides found it necessary to write his Guide to the Perplexed. Maimonides based his solutions on both an uncompromising acceptance of the eternal Torah and the unchangeable halakha (Jewish law) and a profound knowledge of and respect for the sciences.

Even more so today, many Jews are perplexed about their responsibilities to G‑d because of the amazing advance of science and technology rapidly pervading our lives. The staggering advance of science and its technological applications actually began more that two centuries ago, but has accelerated in the past one hundred years. This advance is especially impressive in the fields of communications, transportation, and manufacture of new synthetic materials. Space travel, the use of nuclear energy, and the penetration of computers, electronics, and a vast array of the "clever" appliances into our private lives propagate the illusion that we have unlimited power.

Modern man is in danger of believing that (in the words of Deuteronomy 8:17) "It was my own strength and personal power that brought me all this prosperity." The theoretical and experimental sciences— particularly physics— have achieved such astonishing results that most people view the scientist as a high priest. Many vital personal decisions have been made based on misconceptions of what science is. All this has precipitated stormy changes in our way of life.

Many Jews have become alienated from Torah and the Jewish way of life because of the tremendous, almost hypnotic effect of a seemingly omnipotent science and the omnipresent products of technology. Thousands of Jews who studied science, and even more who know about science only from the media, have justified their secularism by the "fact" that they are "more enlightened" than past generations. How could participants in the era of computers, space flights, and nuclear energy live like their grandfathers who didn't even know about electricity? Thus, the Torah and science debate (or pretext) is playing a leading role in the catastrophic mass assimilation of Jews.

It is no wonder that in non-Torah educational institutions a false understanding of modernism is infiltrating the consciousness of young Jews. This misunderstanding remains embedded in their minds for the rest of their lives. Furthermore, even some educators in Torah institutions are confused about this issue.

Regarding Torah and science, the perplexed Jews of our generation can be divided into two groups:

1) The first group either ignores or bans discussion of the development of science and technology.

2) The second group attempts to adjust the Torah to modern thought. (This distorts the very basis of the eternal truth of the Torah.)

Both approaches leave their adherents stripped of any defense against the pressures of secularism.

Further complicating this issue is the fact that during the current as well as the previous century scientific theories have become substantially more complex, diverse, and technical. They are accessible only to those who have been trained in specific scientific fields. As a result, many great rabbis did not feel equipped to enter the Torah-science conflict and to draw clear conclusions. Some simply ignored the existence of the conflict. Other rabbis have been inclined to compromise the Torah point of view in order to alleviate discomfort in the minds of young Jews. Only the Lubavitcher Rebbe, armed with a commanding mastery of the sciences and infused with boundless concern and love for the Jewish people, entered this arena purposefully, over 50 years ago, in order to give unequivocal answers to the numerous problems which have been disturbing the observant and secular student, scientist, and layman.

The Uniqueness of the Lubavitcher Rebbe's Approach

The Rebbe possesses an unprecedented combination of abilities enabling him to resolve Torah-science issues. Indeed, since Maimonides there probably has not been another Torah scholar with an encyclopedic knowledge of the sciences and the philosophy of science comparable to that of the Rebbe. This is only partially related to the fact that in the 1930's he studied science, philosophy, and engineering at some of the best universities in Europe— the Sorbonne, the Polytechnic Institute of Paris, and the University of Berlin. This academic background, combined with mastery of the nigle (the "open," talmudic meaning of the Torah) and the nistar (the secret meanings of the Torah) and the special vision of a tzaddik (righteous man) enables the Rebbe to resolve the Torah versus science argument and put it into proper perspective.

I have tried here to summarize the Lubavitcher Rebbe's position on science and technology. It is an immense undertaking to condense the Rebbe's innumerable essays, major public addresses, and letters dealing with this subject by simplifying the great depth, complexity, and range of material. Even when exercising the greatest care to precisely convey the essence of his ideas, the very attempt to popularize can cause inaccuracies. Therefore, the reader is asked to view my efforts as a general perspective rather than a complete study of the Rebbe's views in this specific area. I hope that nevertheless they reflect the Rebbe's teachings in this field. Yet even the collection of material in the rest of this volume represents only a portion of the Rebbe’s writings on these matters.

In addressing both Jews who ignore the development of science and technology and Jews who try to adjust Torah to modern thought, the Lubavitcher Rebbe's message is clear and systematic. He presents two basic principles:

1) Science in itself is neutral, neither good nor evil. A Jew, however, is obligated to elevate the entire creation and make it serve sacred purposes. This includes science, which — if objectively understood— can help strengthen faith.

2) There is no reason for Torah adherents or educators to be frightened by the science and technology explosion or to take an apologetic position.

Let us now explore the essence of these principles in more detail.

1) Science is neutral.

All science-based machines and instruments also are neutral, neither good nor evil in themselves. However, the midrash cited by Rashi in his commentary on the first verse of Genesis says that the world and everything in it was created "for the sake of Torah and for the sake of Israel;" and The Ethics of Our Fathers (6:11) says, "Everything that G‑d created in the world was created only to honor Him."

Therefore, a great deal depends on how the Jew, through the free choice given him by G‑d, uses technological innovations and scientific theories. G‑d wants them to be used for holy purposes, to strengthen our bond to the Torah, to better understand His creation, and thus to better comprehend Him and His instructions to us. But the free will of each individual decides how one actually utilizes scientific knowledge and technological means.

For example, the Rebbe says that there are ascending levels of understanding with which to approach the discovery of electromagnetic waves and the invention of the radio. Radio can be used to strengthen faith and good deeds. A radio broadcast can greatly extend the number of Jews simultaneously participating in a Torah lesson. Further, the actual diffusion of electromagnetic waves carrying words of Torah throughout the world very tangibly realizes the vision of Isaiah (11:9) that "the Earth shall be full of the knowledge of the L_rd."

Finally, one who investigates electromagnetic phenomena in depth can better understand the unity of creation. Indeed, formerly, science treated electricity and magnetism as two different kinds of phenomena (and forces). But experimental data indicated a close connection between the two until Maxwell's Theory of Electromagnetism and Maxwell's Equations showed that they are in effect one. Electromagnetic waves continuously manifest the transfer of energy from the electrical field to the magnetic field, and vice versa, so the unity here is especially evident.

Modern science tends to search for the unity of nature and a single source for all forces acting in the world. In Part Two of this Overview, I shall give additional examples of how the Rebbe relates to other more recent developments in science which will help us better understand the unity of the Creator through observation and comprehension of the unity of His creation.

2) There is no reason for Torah adherents and educators to be frightened by the science and technology explosion or to take an apologetic position.

Just like all other events in history, this deluge of knowledge was foreseen in the Torah.1 The Zohar (volume 1, page 117a) states that: “…in the sixth century of the sixth millennium the gates of wisdom will open above and also the wellsprings of wisdom below.”

This means that between the years 5500-5600 in the Hebrew calendar (1740 to 1840 in the Gregorian calendar), new developments in Torah study ("above") preceding the messianic era will trigger2 new developments ("below") in the external wisdom of the nations. Thus, both the rise of Chassidut and the Age of Science were foretold.

In Part Three, I shall discuss the Rebbe's second principle in greater detail. In particular we shall see that especially in our time when basic ideas of modern science are converging with those of the Torah, there is no reason for Torah scholars to take an apologetic position. First, however, we have to scrutinize fundamental questions related to the so-called contradictions between Torah and science. For this purpose we have to take a deeper look into the epistemological value of scientific theories.

Do Torah and Science Conflict?

Torah Establishes Truth but Science Does Not

The Rebbe explains that since the Zohar (volume II, 161b) says, "G‑d looked into the Torah and created the world," the finished product (the universe) cannot contradict the blueprint (Torah) by which it was designed. The Torah constitutes the only ultimate source of true, complete, and definitive knowledge about everything, including the objects and phenomena which science examines. Torah knowledge stems, so to say, from a perspective from "above." This is the asymptotic value of any knowledge.

Scientific knowledge, in contrast, is obtained by the rational processing of empirical information perceived by the mind through the aid of the senses. Scientific knowledge stems from a perspective from "below." Such knowledge is limited and subject to change. Therefore, the Rebbe concludes, the term "truth" cannot be appropriately ascribed to it.

This does not lessen in any way, however, the importance of science and its capability in practical matters such as engineering, medicine, and agriculture. Indeed, serious science especially applied science, is mainly concerned with the interaction of different physical entities and not with their essence. In other words, science is interested in how things act not in why they act a certain way; in what their structure is, not in what they are. Therefore the currently best possible description of certain kinds of interactions gives a good lead to their practical applications even if the available theory trying to "explain" the nature of this interaction is far from being "true."

This fundamental, non-apologetic approach to Torah and science constitutes the basis of all further teachings of the Rebbe in this area. Incidentally, a number of distinguished philosophers of science have relatively recently come to realize that science does not establish "truths," but engages in finding the best operational theories, based on the best possible generalization of the empirical data available at the time. A scientific theory is always in a state of transition. It is acceptable only until a better one is found and so on indefinitely. This is particularly the approach of the great British philosopher, the late Karl Popper and the followers of his school of thought.

There Are Different Types of Scientific Theories, Some more Reliable than Others

The Rebbe points out that there are different types of scientific theories. Some are more reliable than others. The most reliable type is:

Group 1. Theories on objects and phenomena with which the researcher is in direct, immediate, and intimate contact while he is developing his theory.

The researcher is able to interfere with and influence the processes in order to reveal hidden factors. This is the case with theories of light, of the structure of matter, and of electromagnetic phenomena. Although these theories have high reliability, they in no way constitute an absolute, final truth. As we have already indicated, it is the nature of science to change opinions and theories with the discovery of new phenomena and features which do not conform to a previous theory or which even contradict it.

Correspondence between the prediction and later measurement gives tentative support to the theory; however, it still does not make it "true" because in order to prove truthfulness, an infinite number of experiments must be conducted. Obviously, no individual researcher— or several generations of researchers, or even all of mankind together— can perform an infinite number of experiments. The British philosopher David Hume made this point more than two centuries ago. Hume reasoned that no theory can ever be strictly proven by empirical data, regardless of how many experimental results and observations supporting the theory have been collected. However, he pointed out, any theory can be refuted by a single observation contradicting it

Group 2. Theories on objects and phenomena located at very great distance from the observer

The type of theory dealing with very distant objects, such as stars and galaxies, is substantially less reliable. In this case, before the theory is developed, its researchers must clarify and interpret the significance of the signals they have received from their observation of the distant objects. In most cases, the results of such clarifications are not very conclusive.

This reservation applies, to a certain degree, also to the study of tiny particles of matter, so-called elementary particles, where analysis of their behavior is achieved indirectly through observation of their interaction with matter, with other particles, and so forth. However, here the researcher is at least able to interact and affect the observation — which he cannot do with the stars — and also repeat the experiment.

At any rate, this group of theories has a lower reliability than Group 1 described above. Nonetheless, theories from this second group can still be evaluated by comparing predictions derived from them with future measurements. If the measurement contradicts predictions, the theory will be changed.

Group 3. Theories based on backwards extrapolation

Finally, there is a third group of theories, which appear scientific, but in reality can hardly even be called hypotheses. This third group tries, by extrapolation, to reconstruct natural phenomena and processes which supposedly happened in the remote past.

Extrapolation is a method used in experimental studies and statistics, where in order to make rough estimates, an empirical curve (function) is approximately continued beyond the interval of parameters at which a certain phenomenon has been empirically researched and measured. However, in serious science nobody claims that extrapolation is a precise method that can be confidently relied upon. Moreover, usually it is permissible to extend the empirical curve only slightly beyond the interval of actual measurements, since the extension becomes less and less reliable the further it continues from the actually researched interval.

In solid scientific research it is always assumed that the results obtained through extrapolation ultimately will be corroborated by direct measurements or observations. If the process under observation is a time-dependent process, then extrapolating a curve based on past observations can provide an estimation of the value of the parameters of the process for a future point in time. However, the result will remain only an estimate, a guess up to the moment when this specific point in time occurs and the parameters can be actually measured.

Example of Group 1: The theory of light. Is light a flux of particles, a wave, or both?

A good example of an ever-changing theory is that of light. The ancient Greeks developed a "corpuscular" theory of light, i.e., they accepted the idea that light is a flux of tiny particles emanating from a source and moving linearly in all directions. The theory of geometrical optics was developed on the basis of this assumption. This theory successfully served mankind for centuries in designing and building lenses, prisms, flat and curved mirrors, vision aids, and later— microscopes, telescopes, and other optical systems.

Eventually, however, it was observed that two light beams could interfere in a way that can be explained assuming that the nature of light is a kind of wavy motion similar to the spread of waves on the water surface when a stone is thrown into a pond. This assumption, however, necessitated an additional one concerning the substance that carries the waves, or in other words, the medium in which the waves propagate. The result was the idea of ether — a very thin, intangible form of matter presumed to permeate the entire cosmos. Still later it was proven that the ether does not exist and light was reinterpreted as electromagnetic waves of very short wavelength. Electromagnetic waves do not need a mechanical carrying media and can propagate in a vacuum.

It is remarkable that despite the radical difference between the electromagnetic wave theory and the ancient corpuscular theory of light, optical systems could still be successfully constructed based on corpuscular theory such as the linear propagation of light and the laws of reflection (geometrical optics). The wave theory of light, however, led to further substantial refinement of optical instruments.

Everything looked perfect until the beginning of the twentieth century, when some observations made by Albert Einstein and other investigators of light — on one hand — and of electrons and other particles — on the other hand — led to the conclusion that light could not be only a wave, just as electrons could not be only particles. Light has to possess features of a particle also; and an electron has to possess also features of a wave. This "dual nature"— the unification in one entity of two opposite concepts of a particle of matter and of a wavy motion— was a little too much for the human mind and defied even the most active imaginations. A number of experimental results together with their theoretical analyses, however, not only secured the acceptance of this "wild" idea but also made it the basis of the new fundamental theory of quantum mechanics. As will be shown below, the philosophical impact of this theory is profound. The convergence of some of its implications with Torah views will be discussed further on in this article.

As already mentioned, the Rebbe often points out how the most advanced areas of contemporary science are coming closer to the views of our Sages. I have already discussed his idea of seeing the unity of the Creation through the unity of the created universe. In this context the Rebbe notes the unity of matter and energy, as well as the unity of different forces in nature, derived from modern physics research, particularly Einstein's. The two thousand year history of turns and jumps in the theory of light and its present convergence with Torah views is another very important example.

Example of Group 2: The theory of the structure of our solar/plantetary system

In the second century BCE, 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. About 1600 years later, Nicholas Copernicus made a revolution in astronomy by describing the Earth as going around the sun. A little later, Johannes Kepler described the orbits as elliptical, and by a century after that, Isaac Newton had reinforced this picture with his law of gravitation. In the 20th Century, Albert Einstein's theory of relativity eliminated the idea of absolute space and absolute movement. According to Einstein, science in principle cannot decide whether the Earth stands still and the sun revolves around it, or whether the sun stands still and the Earth revolves around it. Were the Torah adjusted to agree with each current theory of the structure of our solar system, then certain passages from Scripture, the Talmud, and the Mishna Torah of the Rambam would have been rewritten at least twice!

For practical purposes, it is simpler to calculate astronomical events if we assume that the sun is standing still and the Earth is revolving around it. Copernicus' main motive was to make calculation easier. But this is not a good enough reason to ascribe "truth" to this concept. The Creator never promised to create the world in that way with which we would have the least trouble in calculating natural events. The flight calculations for a rocket or spacecraft can be based on accepting either the Earth or the sun as the center of our solar system. The particulars of calculation for each of these assumptions are different, but the accuracy of the results is not affected.

Almost seventy years ago, in The Philosophy of Time by Hans Reichenbach, a disciple of Einstein, all the following concepts are clearly shown possible from a scientific point of view:

1) The Earth stands still, and the sun revolves around it.

2) The sun stands still, and the Earth revolves around it.

3) Both are revolving around a certain point.

There is no way to prove which of the above is correct or preferable.

Even though the theory of relativity was published over 80 years ago and is universally accepted today by scientists, its fundamental principles and conclusions have not yet been properly incorporated into high school textbooks, nor have its basic ideas penetrated the mind of the public. The philosophical ramifications of its conclusions have been even less publicized. As a result, many professional physicists, who have certainly learned the theory in depth, often do not use it in analyzing philosophical issues concerning the structure of the universe. Strangely, on one hand in their professional capacities they accept relativity theory. Yet, on the other hand, they ignore it entirely when contemplating the views, goals, and capabilities of science, such as in the context of the Torah-science dispute. Instead, they support old-fashioned ideas of absolutism.

These scientists continue to be governed by ideological preconceptions blindly opposed to Torah which have been absorbed into their consciousness since childhood. They are blinded even when these preconceptions contradict professional knowledge.

This problem is most clearly seen in issues involving the structure of the universe and the orbit of the sun. Such people find it difficult even to consider the fact that it is a perfectly acceptable concept in science today to consider the Earth as the stationary center of our planetary system. Hence, when Scripture, the Talmud, or the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides describes the Earth as being at rest in the center of the universe with the sun revolving around it (such as in Ecclesiastes 1:4, "the Earth stands forever"), we must accept the literal meaning. Although this description is dramatically different from what is still taught in high schools (and even kindergartens!), it should not make us feel uneasy.

Example of Group 3: Meteorological extrapolation into the future and backwards extrapolation in “theories” of evolution

A good example of extrapolation into the future is the method used in meteorology. To a great extent, weather forecasts are predictions of weather parameters— temperature, wind velocity, atmospheric pressure, cloud development and movement— through extrapolating actually measured curves forward. It is commonly accepted that a weather forecast is no better than the best possible guess, and its reliability decreases as the period of time of the forecast increases.

The various cosmological "theories" as well as the "theories" of the evolution of geological, plant, and animal structures extrapolate backward in time. The proponents of such "theories" attempt to explain how and within what kind of time span the world reached its present state. They base their arguments on the current state of nature and on contemporary research in physics, chemistry, and other fields. In order to establish the state of the Earth many years ago and to reconstruct its assumed gradual development up to the present, they have no alternative but to extrapolate currently observed phenomena backward in time on the basis of estimations, premises, and intuition.

When extrapolating backward, the reason or cause is determined from the result or effect, even though it is well known that any single effect can be brought about by many different causes. Moreover, in the case of evolution, the extrapolation goes from observations carried out during the past one to two hundred years back to speculation on millions and billions of supposed years. The worst drawback here is that since the extrapolation is done backwards, there will never be a point in time when the guesses can be corroborated by direct measurements and observations.

In the "theories" of evolution, in general, there is no trustworthy information on the conditions which prevailed during the hypothetical period about which the extrapolation has been made. This fundamental methodological inconsistency in the various "theories" of evolution are, by far, more serious than even the numerous specific shortcomings discovered in these "theories" during the past decades. The latter include the absence of "missing links" between clearly distinguished species in the fossil records; contradictions in the periods of time during which a certain development is assumed to have taken place; analytical results of the almost zero probability of such developments; and many others.

The Rebbe emphasizes that the proponents of these "theories" are often prompted by atheistic motives and never reveal that they are advocating only an unprovable guess, a speculation that cannot even be evaluated in terms of its possibility in principle. Instead, they "sell" these "theories" as truth.

The Rebbe also explains the psychological appeal of evolutionary "theory." One who forgets (or does not know) that "no thought can grasp and understand G‑d," as the Zohar says, approaches the question of Creation unaware that his own human understanding is necessarily limited. He thinks, "If I had to create the world and all that is in it, I would have two alternatives. One would be to create every organism separately. The second would be to create the raw material, establish the laws of nature, and let the universe develop by itself. Certainly, I would choose the second alternative. No amount of time would suffice, and creating billions of billions of creatures separately is unthinkable!"

This person, of course, does not realize that he is ascribing human physical and mental limitations to the Creator of the universe Whom "no thought can grasp" (to repeat the Zohar citation above).

Another psychological factor is the tendency to believe in "my own strength and personal power." Indeed, one who does not feel the vast difference in proportion between himself and the Creator is drawn to believe that he, the measure of all things, had found a better explanation for the emergence of life than the record given in the Torah.

Convergence of Science and Torah Thought

The Rebbe has discussed the ideas presented in this part in letters to the former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Dr. Yitzchak Halevi Herzog, to former NASA exobiologist, Professor Velvl Greene, and very systematically in two letters to the editor of Intercom (the journal of the American Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists) in 1973. He also discussed this subject with the author in several personal meetings.

The Determinism of Classical Science and the Indeterminism of Contemporary Science

Newtonian Determinism

The doctrine of determinism (or absolute causality) was advanced by the founder of classical science, Sir Isaac Newton and the followers of his school of thought. It dominated science for more than two hundred years, until it was rejected during the first decades of our century. The premise of determinism is that there is an unequivocal connection between cause and effect. If the present state of a system of objects is known, then the future state of this system at any moment is predictable by using scientific methods.

Belief in this premise and in the omnipotence of science was so strong that the great French scientist, the Marquis Pierre Laplace wrote that, if given an exact and complete description of every atom in the universe and its place and state at a specific instant, he could, in principle, calculate the future of the universe and of each individual object for an unlimited number of years to come.

It was assumed that this prediction could incorporate everything that would happen to mankind, in general, and to individual human beings, in particular. This is because the Newtonian school of thought upheld that not only inanimate matter but also animal and even human behavior could be explained by the laws of natural science. Laplace thought that all physical and social aspects of human behavior can be deterministically derived from physical and chemical processes.

From the Torah point of view, the problem was that Laplace's declaration did not allow room for human free will. Moreover, determinism denied the Creator's intervention in daily events and the possibility of human prayer influencing them.

Quantum Indeterminism

Yet, as early as the 1950’s, the Rebbe was elaborating extensively on the fact that since the development of quantum mechanics, the concept of indeterminism (i.e., the opposite of determinism) has penetrated all areas of science and has cancelled the entire basis of Laplace's argument.

Although quantum theory deals with micro-objects, there are a number of reasons why its conclusions regarding indeterminism are applicable also to macro-objects. One such reason was given by the Nobel Prize laureate physicist Richard Feynman: An atomic bomb can be triggered by a single electron. Since the electron behaves indeterministically, the explosion also becomes indeterministic. In addition, the much more recently developed Chaos Theory has given evidence supporting macro scale indeterminism, albeit for reasons substantially different from those considered in quantum mechanics.

The Dual Nature of Matter

As discussed above, quantum theory was developed by examining various phenomena of light as well as the behavior of electrons and other elementary particles. The conclusion of quantum theory is that light is simultaneously a flux of small particles and the expansion of short electromagnetic waves. That is to say: Light has a dual nature. And all elementary particles — the "building blocks" of matter, such as electrons, protons, and neutrons - have a dual nature as well.

A Free-Willed Human Observer Impacts the State and Behavior of Matter

Quantum theory establishes Werner Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle, according to which there is an intrinsic limit of accuracy with which the location and momentum (the product of mass times velocity) can be simultaneously measured. The error cannot be reduced below a certain quantity regardless of whatever advances are made in measurement techniques. Quantum theory leads, therefore, to the conclusion that it is not possible to accurately predict the behavior of any individual particle. Only degrees of probability of location or momentum for different future moments of time can be calculated.

All this is extremely difficult to comprehend. That is why Niels Bohr, one of the founders of quantum theory, wrote that whoever is not astounded by its strangeness simply does not understand the theory. However, the strangeness does not end here.

It is possible to say that the behavior of a particle and even its actual existence is determined only after a human being (possessing free will not bound to nature) has observed it. Without the observer, a particle (or any quantity of matter composed of many such particles) simply does not exist (from a rational scientific point of view). Indeed, because of the uncertainty in the initial condition of a particle, an infinite number of states with different degrees of probability is possible for this particle at any future time. Since an existing object cannot be simultaneously in two or more different states, the existence of a particle is suspended up to the time when an observer will "see" it in a specific state. Thus, observation determines the existence of a particle. Without the observer, research can deal only with waves of probabilities.

Here, the new physics converges remarkably, in its most general conclusions, with some important elements of the Torah point of view. Indeed, emphasizes the Rebbe, the Talmud tells us that the testimony of witnesses accepted by a rabbinical court according to the laws of the Torah not only establishes the psak, or final decision, of the halakha but determines the condition of a natural object and even its actual existence. In other words, the physical state of nature is dependent upon the testimony of free-willed human witnesses. As we saw above, now with the development of quantum theory physicists are beginning to approach a similar concept.3

Statistical and Probabilistic Approaches in Classical and Modern Science

Although quantum theory has most clearly raised the issue of the fundamental indeterminism of nature, the fact is that even long before quantum theory was developed, it had become evident from a practical point of view that science should not speak in the language of absolute conclusions. For instance, the study of matter in its solid state and of thermal phenomena, especially in liquid and gaseous states, is possible only by using statistical methods to calculate probabilities. This is because it is literally impossible to follow the movements and changes occurring in any one of the numerous atoms or molecules of which matter is composed. Therefore methods of statistical averaging are applied. Laws derived from statistical methods would have absolute meaning only in relation to systems composed of an infinite number of particles. However, for real systems with finite numbers of particles these laws indicate a sequence of phenomena which is not definite, but only most probable; and the smaller the ensemble of particles under consideration, the greater the probability of deviation from the sequence of phenomena predicted by these laws.

All this leads to some very strange conclusions. Thus, for instance, in theories of the behavior of gases and liquids there are no impossible phenomena regarding a non-infinite amount of molecules. For example, a group of molecules of a gas which usually moves chaotically in all directions can suddenly start moving in one direction and raise objects against the force of gravity. Or a group of molecules of a liquid can transfer its energy to other molecules and start moving very slowly, causing a temperature drop or freezing in a certain portion of the liquid. Obviously, the probability of such behavior is extremely small.

In all of the above, the necessity of using probability for predicting the behavior of a physical object stems from our inability to follow up each individual molecule within a very large number of molecules. However, the development of quantum theory — and in particular the scientific community's acceptance of Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle — cancelled the basis of determinism in a fundamental way. This means that our inability to determine what will happen during the next second to a particle that we are observing (or measuring) does not stem from inadequately developed measuring techniques. It stems from the very structure of the physical universe and its interaction with human observers.

The Anthropic Principle

In recent years, some time after the Rebbe first discussed the centrality of the Earth, many astrophysicists began to base their investigations on the Anthropic Principle. This principle claims that the millions of stars and distant galaxies generate (by means of gravity, magnetic, and other kinds of energy fields) certain general physical conditions on the Earth which constitute the exclusive conditions necessary for the existence of humans and other forms of life.

Indeed, even a small deviation from the present physical conditions on Earth would make the existence of human and other forms of life as we know it, impossible. These conditions are dependent on the joint influence of all the billions of stars and galaxies. This means that the entire universe is designed in such a fine way as to enable life on Earth. From the philosophical point of view, this means much more than the comeback of the centrality of the Earth in the purely geometrical sense. It restores the centrality of man as the purpose of the entire creation.

Resolving Issues - Synergize or Rationalize?

The Believing versus the Perplexed Jew

The Rebbe has often been asked if Torah observant Jews should study clarifications of apparent contradictions between Torah and science. In reply, the Rebbe explains that there is no reason to bring up such issues to a Jew blessed with simple, unshakable faith and not suffering from doubts or questions in this area.

Such a Jew knows that “G‑d looked into the Torah and created the world.” This means that the Torah preceded the Creation and therefore there can be only harmony between Torah and nature. Moreover, the Talmud teaches us that a farmer “trusts in G‑d and plants” (Tosfot on tractate Shabbat, page 314 in the Jerusalem Talmud). A Jew plants his fields not because the same seeds grew well last year, but because he trusts G‑d will give him a harvest.

On the other hand, we should seek out the Jew who has become confused by the “modern” misconception that science has disproved the Torah. We should arouse him by Torah-and-science study so that his misconceptions will not be used to justify alienation from Torah and the Commandments. We are required to clarify all the issues in all their particulars for the perplexed Jew, and to do it in a professional manner, with all our proficiency in the Torah as well as in the sciences. Hence, it is desirable for Torah observers teaching Judaism to university students or to the general public to be well versed in the Torah versus science dispute.

Different Approaches to the Supposed Contradictions between Torah and Science

There is an extensive literature on the apparent contradictions between Torah and science. However, many articles and books on this subject lack a clearly defined approach. Therefore, in many instances, the literature in the field only confuses the reader even more. Among this type can be found the genre of apologetics. "Apologetics" tends to distort the traditional interpretation of the Torah texts and their plain meaning to fit into the author's understanding of the modern scientific view. In extreme cases the author tries to quasi-sanctify a scientific theory, almost trying to make it an integral part of the Torah.

In other works, the opposite extreme can be found. This approach denies and bans science and the results of its research.

Then, there are others, for example the late Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz of the Hebrew University and his followers, who claim that the Torah is not a science textbook and should not be used to explain natural phenomena.

The Rebbe's Argument against Apologetics

Apologists observe the Torah but are so dazzled by the grandeur of science and modernism that they try to "harmonize" the Torah with the latest pronouncements of scientists in one field or another. The best-known example of this is their rationalization that the six days of Creation were not six actual days but geological eras. This is the apologist's response to the many and varied evolutionary "theories" which for over a century have speculated on the age of the world. The apologist also tries to find similarity between the Torah description of Creation and the evolutionary description of the ascending emergence of inanimate matter, plant life, animals, and finally man.

Some very serious rabbis and scholars supported the early stages of the apologetic approach. Their intentions were certainly good, but they acted on erroneous grounds, indeed, not understanding that the various evolutionary hypotheses are baseless and ephemeral, these scholars were swept along by popular opinion into accepting these ideas as true. Relying on the halakhic license to "change things for the sake of peace," they thought no damage would be done if they made "innocent" concessions to science by slightly adjusting the Torah account of Creation, especially if this would strengthen the attachment of many Jews to the Torah and the mitzvot (Commandments). However, the Rebbe explains, their error was twofold.

First of all, centuries of experience teach us that "concessions" and attempts to change Torah statements defined by Maimonides as irrevocable do not attract but ultimately alienate Jews from the Torah. Secondly, the whole tumult was much ado about nothing — a naive acceptance of pseudoscientific speculation.

The Laws of the Torah and the Laws of Nature

"In all your ways, know Him" (Proverbs 3:6) is the Rebbe's guideline that Jews should use every intellectual achievement to strengthen their determination to live by the mitzvot of the Torah. In the Introduction, I brought up the Rebbe's example of how understanding the unity of electrical and magnetic forces can help us understand the unity of the Creator. Studying the laws of nature, the Rebbe says, can prepare us for studying the more elevated laws of the Torah, which instruct us how to interact with the created universe.

Normally, a Jew has to put forth great effort to obtain and prepare certain physical objects needed to fulfill certain mitzvot, such as a perfect etrog (citron) for Sukkot, matza for Passover, and strictly kosher tefillin (ritual articles) for weekday prayer. From this we learn that, although the content and significance of the mitzvot are spiritual, their observation requires material preparation.

Similarly, the Rebbe explains, learning halakha requires intellectual preparation. This preparation encompasses comprehending the Creation (as much as is humanly possible) and even trying to understand the Creator Himself.

This is why Maimonides began his monumental code of Jewish law, the Mishna Torah, with Sefer HaMada (The Book of Knowledge, which instructs us how to know G‑d). In Sefer HaMada. Maimonides answers questions on the structure of the created world and the nature of the Creator Himself. In this way, it is possible to benefit from learning science and from understanding the correct relationship between Torah knowledge and the natural sciences. Of course, one has to be extremely cautious regarding the relationship between the spiritual and the material— between the Torah, which comes from G‑d, and science, which is based on the human senses and mind.

The Rebbe has often said that when authoritative halakhic sources describe nature and specific natural phenomena, these descriptions cannot be brushed aside as allegorical. On the contrary, they are a part of the halakha.

This applies to descriptions of nature in Rambam’s Mishna Torah. The great Rambam called this work a book of halakhot-halakhot, meaning that it is pure Torah law. However, the Rebbe notes, some exceptions have to be made regarding the medical advice that Maimonides gave in some of his other works, since the human body undergoes changes over the centuries. Maimonides himself stressed these limitations.

The Case of Controversies Yet to be Resolved

When a new hypothesis or theory seems to contradict Torah, it must first of all be carefully analyzed from the Torah perspective. What do authoritative Torah sources say about the problem under consideration? This question must be answered thoroughly. It might be that the new theory is in harmony with the Torah viewpoint. If, however, there is a real contradiction, then it is clear that the new theory has a flaw. This is because "G‑d looked into the Torah and created the world" (Zohar, volume II, 161b). There cannot be a contradiction between the created product (nature) and the blueprint (Torah). The flaw may be hidden, difficult to see, and maybe it will be revealed only centuries later, but it is certainly there, and science will inevitably reject the theory.

Accordingly, an effort should be made to examine the new theory by the logic, principles, and criteria of science itself. If this course of action is followed, then it is reasonable to assume that the flaw will be discovered, and thus the solution to the "contradiction" will be found. However, the Rebbe adds, we must not set a deadline for finding the solution. Such an attitude would only result in the use of compromised means and the derivation of unsubstantiated conclusions. Difficulties and delays in finding a solution to the problem should not occasion panic. It is only human not to be able to always immediately comprehend the nature of the universe, which was created by an infinite and unlimited Creator! (This was the Rebbe's response to a question I asked him about the "heavenly spheres" described in Sefer HaMada, of Maimonides Mishneh Torah.)

Cases When a Scientific Conclusion can be Derived Directly from the Nigle ("Open") Torah

When I asked the Rebbe if intelligent beings similar to humans exist in outer space, he replied, "This is impossible because man's free will distinguishes him from all other living creatures. The concept of free will seemingly contradicts those of continuous creation and Divine Providence. But G‑d wanted us to have free will because of the mitzvot given in the Torah. It would be senseless to give Commandments to creatures not possessing free will. Indeed, how would they choose between observing or transgressing a mitzva? What about reward and punishment? Therefore, G‑d deliberately "limited" His omnipotence and left room for our free will. This was established and maintained through Torah, the foundation of creation. Thus, if there would be creatures somewhere in outer space similar to us, they would have to possess free will and hence have a Torah. Yet it is impossible for there to be another Torah because our Torah is the Torah of truth. It is called "Torat Emet” and there can be only one truth, not two. Our Torah, which G‑d gave us through Moses, could not have been given to creatures in outer space because the revelation of the Torah is described in the Torah itself in specific detail. Thus, the assumed creatures cannot possess Torah, and hence it is impossible for there to be creatures similar to man in outer space.

Nature and History are Derived from the Torah — not the Other Way Around

A popular explanation of why the Chanuka miracle lasted eight days is that the manufacture of olive oil and its transportation from the Galilee in the north of Israel to Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabees required eight days. Therefore (so the explanation goes) G‑d miraculously intervened so that the single day's supply of sealed, pure oil found by the Maccabees in the Temple would last for eight days. The Rebbe, however, explains the meaning of the eight days entirely differently.

Accepting the above popular explanation, the Rebbe warns, would mean believing that material circumstances determine spiritual matters and the deeds of the A-lmighty Himself. However, the truth is that the spiritual precedes and determines the material. The entire cosmos and all events which ever occur, directly result from the Will of the Creator. This includes the Chanuka miracle. The miracle had already been prepared during the six days of Creation. Chanukalasted eight days because its miracle is related to the notion of "eight." Eight relates to a level higher than the natural events of the world, which are incorporated within the idea of the number seven.

Thus, in general, since nature is derived from Torah (and not the other way around!), all the knowledge of science is based on and can be found in the Torah. The ability for one to grasp this knowledge depends, obviously, on one's level of Torah knowledge and degree of righteousness. This is an unequivocal refutation to those who maintain that the numerous statements in the Torah pertaining to nature have no eternal meaning and carry no relevant information on the structure of the universe and natural phenomena because the Torah is "not a text book" of physics, biology or other science.

The Torah is not just mysticism, which only a saintly tzadik, posessing prophetic spirit can follow. It is rather a paved path open to all (see above, regarding the question of intelligent beings in outer space). Everyone should feel that there is an answer to every question in the Torah and should know that if he relies uncompromisingly on the words of the Torah, he will find true solutions which his human mind could never have attained unaided.

No insult to the honor and value of human intelligence or man-made science is meant here. The foregoing in no way contradicts the fact that most scientific conclusions in everyday life are derived through the conventional methods of scientific research. Indeed, the Rebbe has emphasized that the Torah grants a higher status to human science than science requests for itself (especially the new physics, which is now well aware of its limitations, as was described in Part Three). The high regard of Torah for science is evident, for instance, in its suspension of all the mitzvot of Shabbat observance in cases of pikuach nefesh, a life-or-death emergency situation. Only a medical expert can determine whether a particular situation is pikuach nefesh or not. Thus, there are situations in which the Torah mandates that scientific determinations shall play a primary role in delineating the performance of Divine precepts.

The Road Ahead

The Rebbe's Advice to Students and Scientists

From all of the above, however, one should not conclude that the Rebbe endorses university study. Even though he in no way disqualifies natural science, the Rebbe disapproves of university study for three reasons:

1) It uses time that should be devoted to Torah study;

2) Misconceptions that science contradicts faith, that science and religion are mutually exclusive, are rampant in most universities; and

3) Permissiveness and immorality thrive in universities, especially their dormitories.

The Role of the Religious Scientist

However, if someone, for whatever reason, has already studied at a university and become a scientist, a doctor, an engineer, or so on, and afterwards is drawn toward Judaism, then, in practically every case, the Rebbe demands that he continue to advance in his profession and do the best he can in his field. The Rebbe explains that by doing so, this person will be able to apply both his Torah and professional knowledge to teach others that these two forms of knowledge do not conflict. In fact, the social status of a distinguished scientist can inspire alienated Jews to come closer to Torah.

The Rebbe’s Advice to Scientists on their Professional Work

In addition to urging Torah-observant scientists to reach out to fellow Jews, the Rebbe gives them practical advice, guiding their scientific research. Many Chassidim remember the major public address directed at the US government more than fifteen years ago, when the Rebbe pragmatically detailed why alternative energy sources, particularly solar, should be developed as a means to remedy American dependency on oil producers. Similarly, the Rebbe has given specific instructions regarding medicine, engineering, physics, and other fields in letters to doctors and scientists as well as in lectures to audiences of thousands. On many occasions I have received detailed guidance on my own research in energy engineering, turbulence, and magnetohydrodynamics. The actual establishment of my MHD laboratory at the Ben-Gurion University in Beer Sheva was the result of the Rebbe's specific advice. Many significant research experiments and technological developments have been executed in this laboratory, and the Rebbe always requests a report of every project and patent.

A general description never satisfies the Rebbe. He always demands a professional report with formulas and mathematical equations. In many cases, after listening to my brief report, he advised me how to continue a specific study or development project or how to improve my technology. In certain cases, after listening to my report for a few minutes, he noticed a contradiction in the conclusions, or an error in the calculations. As these were extremely long complex computer calculations, the mathematicians had to labor several months to discover the place and cause of the error. Remarkably, the mistakes which the Rebbe instantly detected had gone unnoticed by the numerous experts who had examined our reports for many months.

I often hear of similar experiences from other scientists. The prominent mathematician, Professor Paul Rosenbloom, formerly of Columbia University and the National Science Foundation, used to send every research paper he wrote to the Rebbe and received much help. The noted microbiologist, Professor Velvl Greene, formerly of the University of Minnesota and NASA, at the Rebbe's request, sent him over 40 volumes of reports and records on the microbiological aspects of the American space program. In his immediate reply, the Rebbe brought to Greene's attention several errors and inconsistencies which had appeared in specific volumes.

You may ask, "How is this possible?"

We can only repeat the same question.

Expertise in science? Mastery of Torah? Prophetic spirit? The answer is: All of these and much beyond. Here is the unique vision of a tzadik which we cannot comprehend or explain.

Scientists Can also Help Bring the Moshiach,

It is impossible to exhaust our discussion in these few pages. The point is that the Lubavitcher Rebbe is able to make scientists and science itself a vehicle for G‑dliness and for hastening the coming of the Moshiach.

Once, before going to deliver a lecture at a conference of Jewish scientists, I had the privilege of being received privately by the Rebbe. "Since you work with solar energy," he told me, "tell the conference participants that you suggest that every Jew act like the sun. Everyone likes the sun, not because it is so big and hot, but because it shines, projects light, and warms everything around it. This is what a Jew is supposed to do, according to the mitzva of ahavat Yisrael, to love one's fellow Jew. Who would even talk about the sun if it cared, G‑d forbid, about warming only itself?"

On another occasion the Rebbe told me, "A Jewish scientist must see to it that he be introduced first of all as a Jew who lives by the Torah and its Commandments, and secondly as a great scientist, and not in the opposite order, G‑d forbid, as a great scientist who incidentally also keeps the Torah."

The Rebbe emphasizes that there should be no division or contradiction between one's private life as a Jew and one's professional life as a scientist. The Torah-observant scientist is obligated to do everything in his power so that his achievements and authority will inspire other Jews to put on tefillin, light Sabbath candles, and grow from mitzva to mitzva. His social standing and education will enable him to help fill the whole world with knowledge of G‑d, and by doing this he will contribute substantially toward hastening the coming of Moshiach.