How to Be Jewish, Scientific, and Proud – Part 2

In the previous blog we began approaching the issue of how to get a proper Jewish/Religious worldview concerning the issue of science vs. emunah. The basic issue being how can I be a believing Jew in a world of science. Most specifically, what am I to do if the science seems to be in conflict with the Tradition? Who has more authority? Am I to believe the words of our sages, ob”m, even in the face of empirical evidence? Does faith fly in the face of fact?

In my book, Core Emunah vol. 1 “Hello? G-d?” I address this issue specifically and expound upon what “Jewish faith” is and how it differs from the “faith” espoused by every other religion in the world. I have built off of this even further in Core Emunah vol. 2 “G-d & Me” which will, with HaShem’s help, be available in the very near future.

This issue is addressed specifically by some of our greatest minds. While there are those who say that we are to believe even in the face of the facts, the Rambam (in Moreh Nevuchim 53) and Rav Sa’adia Gaon (in his book Emunot v’Deyot) say otherwise. In their opinion if the facts are, indeed, indisputable, then there is room to reconsider a statement of our sages, ob”m. However, even they would never say this concerning the written Torah.

After years of studying the issues, I can say with absolute certainty that there is no such thing as a statement of our sages that contradicts the science. Just the opposite is true! The Torah is all about living one’s life according to life’s and realities most basic truths, and science is the search after the reality of life. There is, therefore, no way that they can be in conflict. They will only always work together to allow us for greater understanding. However, that doesn’t mean that there are no scientific opinions that are in contradiction with the statements of our sages. There are also many statements of our sages that are misunderstood or taken at face value without any context.  As that is the case, the questions that we must ask ourselves when it comes to conflicts between the two realities are:

  1. Is there a reading of the words of our sages, ob”m, that is congruent with the scientific opinion? If yes, great. If no, and in truth, even if yes, there is always the question of whether or not it is worthwhile or even correct to reinterpret the issue based on today’s science. (Due to the other questions)
  2. Is it possible to interpret the data in a way that is not in conflict with the view of our sages? If there is another interpretation of the data, even if it is not the majority opinion, then why should we assume that our sages, ob”m, were wrong?
  3. Even if there isn’t another interpretation, is the data open to interpretation? Yes? Then it’s not conclusive or undisputable!

As I mentioned in the previous blog (#1) there is no clear, observable, measurable, (repeatable) data that is in conflict between the Torah’s statements and the observations. There are, however, conflicts between the Torah’s interpretation of the observations and those posited by science. Let’s take a look at several examples of this.

 

  1. The Fossil Record

As I mentioned in blog 1 on this topic the oldest of all of the proofs brought for evolutionary theory is the fossil record. As it is possible to create, via comparative anatomy, a “train” of change from one form of animal to another it is, therefore, thought that this is conclusive evidence of the truth of evolution. It isn’t.

This is not only true because of the reason I stated in blog 1, there are many reasons why this is positively incorrect. Let me list a few:

  1. Although interesting and imaginative, this can be used to explain animals with similar anatomical features. For example, a famous evolutionary “tree” is made connecting the hippos with the manatees and with the whales because they all share similar anatomical features. Of course, this is speculation based on the anatomy. Could it be right? Yes. Does that mean it is? No. It’s only a solid “maybe”.
  2. However, it does not explain phenomena such as feathers which “remain one of evolutions great mysteries” (do a search, you’ll find ample sources). Despite the claims of evolutionists concerning the very old example of Archaeopteryx, the truth is that all of the claims made are only “nice”. Is it a bird with some reptilian features, or is it a dinosaur with bird feathers? For years it was touted as THE example of a “middle-of-the-road” creature, or a “missing link”, except that it isn’t. Other than claims there is no really satisfying evidence to say that conclusively, unless one considers a Ph.D. claiming this as conclusive proof. (If you do, I feel sorry for you. History has shown many examples of this being wrong). The only real reason why this was said was because the fossil record was even more incomplete than it was today. It was assumed that there were no “modern”-type birds alive during the dinosaur’s period. But then Xiaotingia zhengi was discovered and that fell on the wayside.
  3. The claim that “the evolutionary changes from one generation to the next are so small that there is no way you would ever notice them”, which translates as “There is no such thing as an X-Men fish, lizard or whatnot” is also “nice”. It makes sense if you are talking about why we see no evidence of macroevolution today. It also fits nicely with the observable phenomenon called “microevolution” (which I already took apart in blog 1). Great! So, it’s right, right? No. Sorry Charlie! It’s also only just a “maybe”. You see, the fossil record is still full of gaps, and even though “under my nose” I won’t notice them, I should when the artifacts of history are laid out in front of me, demonstrating the morphing from animal to animal and from creature to creature. But it doesn’t.
  4. The “batting average” of anthropology and paleontology concerning every creature ever presented as a “missing link” that has ever been found is zero. Look up “coelacanth” if you want proof of this. The lungfish and the duck-billed platypus have existed since the times of the dinosaurs, and beyond, and have seemingly never shown up in a way that would present itself as “appropriate” on the evolutionary tree. But that doesn’t stop this from being claimed anyway.
  5. Much of the examples of the “evolutionary morphing” from creature to creature doesn’t withstand the archeological records themselves, as they don’t actually “appear” in the order in which they are presented to us in the change from creature to creature. But that’s ok. Everyone admits that there are still tremendous “gaps” in the fossil record. But there ARE reasons for that, after all!
  6. Reason 1: fossilization itself. Here we get to the most fun of all of the explanations. Why ARE THERE holes in the fossil record? Well that’s so simple! It’s because “fossilization is an iffy process” and “we are lucky to have any fossils at all”. As I stated in blog 1, while this is true that the process is iffy and difficult, the rule of “a lie without a modicum of truth won’t stand” is also true. If there are holes in the fossil record, this is the observable truth, then say “there are holes in the fossil record”. To give this as an explanation when it is convenient is, while nice and logical, still only a “maybe”. What is the actual evidence?
  7. Reason 2: evolution with a “bang”. While forever evolution has been touted as a very long, very gradual process, that hasn’t prevented people from asserting that there is “punctuated equilibrium”, which means that it can actually happen very quickly. This is akin to what I said in blog 1 concerning the issue of epigenetics. The observable data shows that life is inherently adaptable and will adapt very quickly based solely on changes in the environment, big and small. Uncontrolled, random phenomena cannot logically account for this. That doesn’t mean that it cannot, and is not claimed, (it is), but again what is the “value” of this claim? Maybe. Nothing more.

So, after all of the above, what are we left with?

Well, Rabbi, what about all of the various hominids that paleontologists have found? What about them? The answer? Elementary, my dear Watson! 2 points to consider:

  1. Fragmentary evidence

When one considers the actual amount of evidence presented as a “middle of the road” between man and monkey (pick whichever one you want as the “monkey”. It really doesn’t matter), while totally ignoring that the batting average of anthropology and paleontology is 0 when it comes to creatures that they never actually met, the whole issue becomes funny. The sheer absurdity of the issue was captured for all eternity by the hilarious comic artist Don Martin

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  1. Do our Sages, tell us anything of relevance?

Of course, they do! I’m not talking about modern sources here, but rather the Midrash itself, which is around 1700 years old according to all opinions, writes in Bereshis Rabbah 23:6 as follows

אַרְבָּעָה דְּבָרִים נִשְׁתַּנּוּ בִּימֵי אֱנוֹשׁ בֶּן שֵׁת, הֶהָרִים נַעֲשׂוּ טְרָשִׁים, וְהִתְחִיל הַמֵּת מַרְחִישׁ, וְנַעֲשׂוּ פְּנֵיהֶם כְּקוֹפוֹת, וְנַעֲשׂוּ חֻלִּין לַמַּזִּיקִין.

Which translates “There were four things that changed during the days of Enosh, son of Shet. The mountains became terraces (terashim in Biblical Hebrew), and the dead began to squirm (?) AND THEIR FACES BECAME AS THOSE OF MONKEYS and they became as unconsecrated for the demons”.

So, you found some humans with monkey faces? Great! You’ve just proven our sages to have been correct.

 

  1. Age of the Universe and Other Old Things

Dr. Gerald Schroeder, Ph.D. who took the time to read my book and gave it a “haskomah” (approbation) has written many books on this topic. “Genesis and the Big Bang”, “The Science of God” and others. In it he explains how the science and the Torah work together in order to explain how to “make peace” between scientific opinion of today and the Torah of yesteryear. However, I disagree with his conclusions and re-explain the observable phenomena in by book Core Emunah vol. 1. The reason that I do this is twofold.

  • I don’t agree with the basic scientific premises upon which the measurements of the universe were made. There are several reasons to do this. Here are just a few:
  1. They are not made based on observable, measurable, repeatable (om”r) phenomena. Rather they are assumptions that are made based on some om”r phenomena. That doesn’t make them true. Let me rephrase this for greater clarity. There are “half-life” phenomena that do meet the basic om”r standard. That is true. (And any lie that has no truth…) However, there are many, many statements that are made concerning half-life measurements that have only infinitesimal om”r data. In fact, the basic premise upon which they are made is flawed because it assumes that the phenomena can be placed on an x-y chart and basically will follow a straight-line gradient. This goes against practically all observable experimentation in a lab. When did you ever make an x-y chart that follows a straight-line gradient? It ALWAYS follows a curve of some sort! Could it be? Yes. Must it be? Most certainly NO.
  2. The Uncertainty Principle flies in the face of all forms of radioactive dating. It’s most basic tenet being that there is “some” amount of uncertainty concerning the radioactive decay. Of course, to simplify the math many assumptions are made, for otherwise… many a physicist would be out of a job! The assumptions made based on the uncertainty principle are done so that the math is defined to a certain area of “uncertainty”, however the “area” itself is way-open for interpretation and calculation[1].
  3. The age of the universe is constantly in flux. Sometimes up, sometimes down. But generally upwards. This shows a significant amount of “uncertainty” in the entire “principle”. If we have to recalculate the science to fit the Torah, or, worse yet, if we have to keep recalculating the Torah to fit the science – then what? We’re back to the question of whose opinion is more open to interpretation.
  4. There are many, many more reasons. Not the time and place as the above suffice.

 

  • The simple understanding of our sages, ob”m, are not to be read as he has read them.

To know the way to correctly interpret the words of our sages, ob”m, look in my book (that is what I wrote it for, after all).

 

  1. Sayings of our sages with no context

There are many that point to statements of our sages as statements of pure nonsense from a scientific viewpoint. The problem is, many times (all the time?) that they are read without any thought of context at all. Here are some examples:

  1. Statements about the creation.

Our sages, ob”m, tell us that one of the great secrets of the Torah is called Ma’aseh Bereishis, the creation. (See Rambam Laws of the Foundations of the Torah chapter 4:10) they are not meant to be taught to just anyone, only to a very select group of students only. Yet for some reason all of the teachings of our sages that are explicit in the Talmud and the Midrash are taken at face value, even though these were public teachings. What happened to “a select group of students only”?

The answer is that the Talmud’s teachings are said to the public and are therefore NOT the actual mysteries of the creation by and large. Although there are many places where the secrets do leak out.

To the “man on the ground” it doesn’t actually matter what goes on in the heavens. The only question is his own interpretation of what he views from the earth. If the description fits – that’s just fine! It doesn’t matter if it’s not “astronomically correct”.

Having said that there is a lot of abject truth in the words of our sages concerning a significant amount of the observable, known phenomena, and much of which is still not understood by science. For example: where did all of the water come from? Where is the moon from and why does it have such weird properties? And many other issues.

2. Stories and parables

There are, indeed, secrets to the Torah that are only meant to be understood by the select few. As Clark Kent has surely taught us, if you want to hide a big secret – do so in plain sight! (How he continues to do this in the age of facial recognition software…?) Anyone who is not really searching for depth will look at the story and go “that’s nice.” Anyone looking for depth but lacking in the tools necessary for the investigation will say “this is silly” or “this makes no sense.” But someone with the drive for truth and the tools to boot – he’ll figure it out.

 

May HaShem help us all to recognize the Torah’s truth and utilize all of our G-d given senses to internalize this issue fully!

More issues in upcoming blogs.

[1] A nice article on the topic can be found at http://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/0026-1394/52/3/S51

אמנם זה באנגלית, אבל יתורגם, בע”ה, לעברית בקרוב

One Comment on “How to Be Jewish, Scientific, and Proud – Part 2

  1. Pingback: How to be Jewish, Scientific, and Proud – Part 3 – Core Emmuna

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