Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Truth of Torah - The Truth of Science

Professor Gerald Schroeder - Author of Genesis and the Big Bang
One of the greatest teachers I ever had was Dr. Solar. (I wish I could remember his first name). He was my zoology professor at Roosevelt University back in the late 60s. Dr. Solar was a respected member of the scientific community. (He had worked with a team of scientists on the discovery of DNA - if I recall correctly).  He is also an Orthodox Jew.  And yet he was the person that opened up my eyes to the Theory of Evolution.

Our class which took place in the evening consisted of many Orthodox Jewish students some of whom (like me) were Yeshiva students. After one of those lectures on evolution a few of us ran up to him and asked if he personally believed in it. His answer was an unequivocal yes. We were all somewhat surprised at that response since we all knew he was a religious Orthodox Jew. But he clearly told us that believing in Evolution does not contradict the Torah. Which of course has a different narrative about the origin of species. The two were compatible in the sense that the Torah does not tell us the mechanism God used to create the species. So that evidence of evolution can simply mean that this was the method God used.

I am not going to get into the details of evolution other than to say that I do not believe that evidence of it contradicts the Torah. I don’t think there is any question that evolution takes place. This can be demonstrated in microcosm in any high school science lab. Which had been done by my daughter many times when she taught science at Hanna Sacks Beis Yaakov. Whether Evolution is the origin of species or not - is beyond the scope of this post.

I bring this up in the context of whether scientists generally believe in God. My impression is that most of them don’t. I got this impression form a few very prominent scientists that do not keep these views secret. 

I recall a wonderful PBS series in the 80s called ‘Cosmos’. Therein the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan described the wonderful world of the stars and dealt with things like Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity. Truly fascinating stuff. He explained everything on all of those episodes in easy to understand language. But I recall one particular episode where he actually made the argument not to believe in God. He was convinced that God does not exist.

A few years ago Fox had an updated version of Cosmos where another astrophysicist by the name of Neil deGrasse Tyson did the same thing, arguing that the scientific way of seeing things is the basis of all truth. And that we should all give up our preconceived notions about a Creator for which there is no proof.

The late evolutionary biologist, Stephen J. Gould was an atheist too.  

Albert Einstein was an atheist as well. His comment about ‘God not playing dice with the universe’ was just a euphemism used to dismiss the quantum theory of the Niels Bohr and the Uncertainty Principle.

 And finally there is theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking. Whom many consider the greatest living scientist of our day - on par with Albert Einstein. He is an avowed atheist.  (The movie about his life – The Theory of Everything made that very clear.)

Why is it that so many scientists do not believe in God?

I have a theory of my own about that. It depends on just how much one relies on the 5 physical senses. If that is the only measure one uses to determine reality, then the scientific inability to physically detect God’s existence leads the scientific mind to assume the null hypothesis.  Which assumes nullity unless proven otherwise. Since God cannot be conclusively proven, why bother believing in Him, they ask.

This approach fosters a mindset that tends to doubt the existence of a spiritual world. Of which God is obviously part. They will assert that using religion to explain existence was for an era where many phenomena could not be explained in scientific terms. Now much of that phenomena can be explained. We don’t need any kind of Spiritual Being to explain anything.

Where does that leave us, the believing Jew that also believes in science?   Is there a such a thing as a scientist that believes in God?

Well, yes, as in the above-mentioned Dr. Solar. And among the more famous ones there is Professor Gerald Schroeder and the late physicist, Arye Kaplan. There is in fact an entire organization of scientists that believe not only in God, but in the Torah. It’s called the Association of Orthodox Jewish Scientists.

The point is that there is nothing incompatible in believing in science (both practical and theoretical) and in God. There also is nothing incompatible between science and the Torah. Rav Yosef Ber Solovetchik was quoted saying something along the lines of the following: Those who see a contradiction between science and the Torah – either do not understand the Torah; do not understand the science. Or do not understand either  

I agree.

Just because a scientific phenomenon seems to contradict what the Torah seems to be telling us does not mean that one of them is false. All it means is that we need a better understanding of one or both. This is the way I feel and I am proud to be a believer in both the Torah and science. And I thank both my Rebbe, Rav Ahron Soloveichik and Dr. Solar for guiding me in both.

Warning: As in all conversations like this, debating  God’s existence will not be tolerated. Nor will debating the truth of the Torah be tolerated. This is an Orthodox Jewish blog which assumes the truth of both.