Friday, November 07, 2008

The Intellectually Honest Scientist

Truth. The elusive ultimate knowledge of reality that only God fully possesses. How does one attempt to ever achieve this knowledge? How indeed can one even know that God exists?

There are two basic ways to determine that. One is through belief - and the other is through investigation. In my view the best way is through a combination of both. Truth through scientific observations and philosophic contemplation. But only those with intellectual honesty will realize that the ultimate truth is unattainable unless one has direct communication with God.

The Navi therefore had truth. But Nevuah – prophesy - ceased over two thousand years ago. We no longer have that kind of communication between man and God.

One of the primary functions of this blog is to seek truth. That is the meaning of the word Emes in the title. The existence of God and the validity of the Torah are two truths that I maintain. I am not going to go into the reasons in this essay for those beliefs, but suffice it to say that I utilize scientific evidence, philosophic and inductive reasoning, and intuitive thinking to achieve those truths.

This brings me to an article in Cross-Currents by Rabbi Avi Shafran. He quotes the Rambam as a seeker of truth in the scientific realm:

(It is) nothing less than the Biblical commandment to love G-d is fulfilled when a person investigates nature...

Rabbi Shafran writes this in reference to the Super-Collider. This is a device designed for the purpose of a huge scientific experiment that accelerates sub-atomic particles to near the speed of light. When they collide – it will duplicate conditions at the moment of Creation – the Big Bang.

Rabbi Shafran is excited by this prospect. He feels as I do that this will help us understand more about what God’s creative process actually is. Thus it will strengthen our belief - in that: we will be will struck by its intricacy and beauty, (and we will be) filled with awe and gratitude to the Divine.

I think that’s right. And I support this scientific endeavor. This is an experiment to find the truth of creation.

But as Rabbi Shafran correctly point out there are many scientists with their own pre-conceived notions who have a different agenda. They seek to lessen belief in God by showing that the more one understands the mechanics of nature, the less we need to rely on the notion of a Creator.

But the truth of the matter is that those scientists who think this way are not scientists - but ideologues. They are often atheists who start from a premise of the non existence of God. This is a view that has devolved of an education that negates any philosophic thought and rejects any form of intuitive thinking. It’s all about what we can ‘see’. If it can’t be detected in the corporeal world, it does not exist.

But these are not true scientists, in my view. A scientist must have an open mind. He must not have pre-conceived notions either way. Intellectual honesty demands that the experiments and their conclusions take them only to the point where what is seen is proven. Not to a point where what is not seen is disproved.

Those who use science to disprove God are just as foolish as those who use science to prove God. Neither side can prove or disprove God. Intellectual honesty demands that approach.

The following two paragraphs from Rabbi Shafran’s essay demonstrate the fallaciousness of the agendized scientist. The first paragraph demonstrates the intellectual honesty of a scientist with an open mind versus the lack of intellectual honesty of a scientist whose atheism is his agenda. The concluding paragraph demonstrates where the agendized scientist can end up.

And so, while there are many scientists (like astrophysicists Fred Hoyle, Paul Davies and Arno Penzias, to name a few of the most famous) who maintain their human sense of wonder at the world and see purpose in nature, others, like physicist Steven Weinberg, choose to see the cosmos as fascinating but ultimately meaningless. Commenting on the LHC’s expected informational yield, he opined that “as science explains more and more, there is less and less need for religious explanations.”

Such conceit recalls another technological project, one whose promoters’ focus was on the macrocosmic. The builders of the Tower of Babel, the Torah tells us, sought to erect a structure whose top would pierce the heavens, the better to assert their independence from the Divine and “make for ourselves a name.” Their plans, of course, were dashed; their arrogance did them in.