One of my dear friends has made an assertion in a comment on my last post about how to deal with contradictions between Torah and science. It is based on the notion that those contradictions are irreconcilable. He said the following:
Science works in one frame of reference, Scripture in another. I understand why faithful Jews might want to reconcile the archaeological and biblical ages of Earth, but face it, it can't be done.
I understand the temptation to go this route. And to a certain extent it is true - at least for the time being. But I disagree that we shouldn’t try.
Science is simply the methodical study of the nature of the universe using the five physical senses. We can then use the discovered data and draw logical conclusions about its nature.
Torah involves both the physical and metaphysical universe. To the extent that it deals with the physical it is usually in the context of how to interact with it. That is what Halacha is.
By definition the two cannot contradict. When they seem to contradict it is not a flaw in nature or in Torah. The reality of nature is the same no matter which discipline is telling us about it. The question is, how do we deal with contradictions when they arise?
There are some who say that we must abandon the data our physical senses tell us exist - certainly deductions drawn by them - and just accept what the Torah tells us as understood by certain rabbinic leaders of our time. That means that occasionally we must reject clear data found via the scientific method and the human reason resulting from it - even if there are legitimate ways to reconcile the two.
People who choose this option have the easiest time dealing with it. They are of the view that we should avoid considering these questions completely and not even think about them. ‘It’s not our department!’ That is called Emunah Peshuta, blind faith.
While this may work for some people it does not work for everyone. Many who have these questions cannot ignore them. This does not mean that we never utilize a degree of blind faith. But it does mean that we try as much as possible to make sense of the world. If one has true Emunah and seeks Emes, he will end up strengthening his beliefs by finding answers. On the other hand telling such people to just shut off their minds might have the opposite effect.
So what do those whose minds refuse to shut off do about contradictions? When scientific data comes up that we cannot reconcile with our Torah knowledge we do not need to become blind believers and just ignore all the scientific knowledge we learned. Nor do we God forbid reject the Torah. The proper attitude is to say that we either do not fully understand the science; that we do not fully understand the Torah; or both.
What we need to realize is that if we have Emunah and believe in Emes - there cannot be contradictions. Reality is Truth. Torah is truth. We need to understand the human limitations in understanding both.
No matter how much science we think we know, it may not be giving us the true picture of reality. This is a time tested concept. No matter what the perceived reality of nature is based on the science of any era - the perceived reality can and does change as new information becomes available. Examples of this abound throughout history.
Science has not yet come up with the complete and definitive description of nature. There are many reasons for this. One such reason is not having precise enough tools to see all the data and then basing our conclusions on incomplete and possibly erroneous perceptions.
There may be missing information not yet technologically available to give us a more accurate perception of nature. It is like trying to know the existence of bacteria before the invention of the microscope. Often our limited perceptions are the cause of incorrect conclusions. To naked eye of an observer standing on the earth, it looks flat.
It is also quite possible that contradictions between Torah and science exists because we do not fully understand what the Torah or Chazal tells us about nature.
There are two ways of looking at that. The Gemarah is replete with information about nature that contradicts what we know to be facts of nature. For example – there is famous Gemarah that tells us about the sun’s reverse movement at night over a dome.
One approach is that Chazal did not have the means to as accurately study celestial bodies and were only as knowledgeable as the best scientists of the day (Rashi mentions that the ‘reverse over the dome’ theory is not likely the reality of the sun's movement).
Another approach is that Chazal were not really describing the physical reality but the metaphysical one. Those who prefer this approach believe that Chazal did not err in matters of science when it is recorded in the Gemarah. But even this approach does not contradict nature. It instead provides an alternate explanation for a Gemarah that takes it out of the realm of natural and places it in the supernatural.
There is also a very distinct possibility that we understand neither the science nor the Torah - a very likely scenario in my view.
Does that mean we just ignore the contradictions when they arise? No. We need to try to explain them to the best of our ability. The more contradictions we can resolve the more the mind and human reason can wrap itself around both Emes and Emunah. If one refuses to do that and remains too dogmatic to doctrines which were never required by Halacha, the greater the chance of Kefira - denying the truth of Torah - resulting. When blind belief encounters facts in opposition to it a crisis of faith can easily result.
This does not mean that we are currently capable of resolving every issue. Sometimes we can't. But the more we rely on blind faith the greater the chance that one will reject Emunah completely if confronted by difficult questions.
The proper attitude is to try as best we can to resolve these issues and - for those questions we can't resolve - to realize that there are answers and at some point we may have them even if we don’t now.