Monday, August 22, 2005

In God - not Darwin - We Trust

There's a whole series in THE newspaper on evolution and religion and intelligent design etc. Specifically, this article covers the issue of whether the theory of intelligent design can be considered scientific.

It's a good article and a relevant series, but I don't think the two have to collide. I don't think intelligent design has to be taught in public schools and I don't think we have to scientifically explain what our Torah tells us happened. I'm not saying Torah and science can't work together, I'm merely saying that they don't have to fit together.

The point is that faith requires, well, a leap of faith. It's not supposed to be so blindingly clear that it's emet that you have no choice but to believe. That is not what our world is all about and that is not where our challenges lie.

The point of faith, the test of faith, is whether we can believe even in the face of science that says otherwise solely because we put our faith in Hashem over Darwin.


At 8/22/05, 7:07 PM, Blogger Samuel J. Scott said...

Random thoughts:

1. There's some book that makes the case that the creation account in Genesis, when taken at a cosmological level, matches well with the Big Bang and the scientific view of how life began on earth. I wish I remembered what the book was. I think it's "God and the Big Bang" or something.

2. I don't think the Torah's account of creation (or anything else, for the most part) is meant to be taken literally. I view these things as metaphors with deeper meanings.

At 8/23/05, 6:44 AM, Blogger TRW said...

"Genesis and the Big Bang" is the name of the book.

At 8/23/05, 6:47 AM, Blogger Nephtuli said...

That was Rav Matisyahu Solomon's argument at the siyum hashas. Taiku. I think we should make every effort to find the way that the two will converge. I do necessarily see a conflict.

At 8/23/05, 8:53 AM, Anonymous J said...

It's nice to say that the two do not conflict. It definitely sounds like a nice theory, but I don't know what that means. It sounds like a bit of escapism to me.

If Evolution and/or other scientific theories disprove some of the prevailing Orthodox views (i.e. that the world is only 5000+ years old), how does that not conflict?

At 8/23/05, 9:49 AM, Blogger Samuel J. Scott said...

Do many Orthodox Jews really believe the earth is 5,000 years old? The moment anyone says that, I can no longer take him or her seriously.

At 8/23/05, 10:37 AM, Blogger Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

It's useless to debate this issue. Science and religion do not conflict, they are unrelated to each other...

e.g.- Scientist says - look at this rock, according to carbon-dating it's 2 million years old. Therefor the world must be at least 2 million years old.

Religon says- When God created the world he created a planet that was not spanking new with that great new planet smell. Rather, the world was created fully developed, with trees fully grown, adult animals, and yes, fossils that apear to be millions of years old.

There is no confilct here. Based on human understanding of the natural world, that rock is 2 million years old. But based on a higher level of understanding, in actuality, that rock is only 5000 years old.

There's no point fighting because there is no direct conflict.

At 8/23/05, 11:16 AM, Anonymous J said...

CWY, I don't understand how that doesn't create a problem for you. If anything conflicts with your beliefs you just ignore them?

Are you telling me what you see with your own two eyes and perceive with the rest of your senses has absolutely nothing to do with the religion that we believe in?

At 8/23/05, 2:40 PM, Blogger Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

I'm saying that there is no conflict- there are differently levels of perception.

If something conflicts with my belief, then I try to understand that really, there is no conflict.

At 8/23/05, 3:06 PM, Blogger Samuel J. Scott said...

Um, that just isn't making sense to me.

Mathematically, 2+2=4. However, if I believe or have a "level of perception" that 2+2=5, that doesn't make it so. One or the other must be correct.

At 8/23/05, 3:57 PM, Blogger Classmate-Wearing-Yarmulka said...

That's not the same as saying carbon dating says that this fossil is millions of years old so therefore the earth must be millions of years old.

See my earlier post.

At 8/23/05, 4:56 PM, Blogger Eli7 said...

Nephtuli, I think that sometimes there may be a conflict between Torah and science and it's nice to figure out how they work together, but if there's a conflict, I'll take Torah over science any day.

J, when I said they don't conflict I meant for me personally. I cannot deny that some things modern science says don't quite jive with what the Torah says, but it doesn't make me conflicted. I like science and I find it interesting, but I still believe that the Torah is the true source of knowledge.

It's not a matter of ignoring it, it's a matter of accepting that there are things we don't know and that science cannot know, and that's ok with me - that is what faith is all about.

At 8/23/05, 6:30 PM, Blogger Samuel J. Scott said...

Here's a question on which I think this whole discussion is based:

Do you believe the Torah is literally true?

If you believe that, then you must believe that any scientific evidence that contradicts the Torah (if the law is taken literally) is false.

There is no way around this. Either one or the other must be true. And the other is false.

This is why I view the Torah as mainly metaphor and allegory. Beliefs can change. Facts cannot. Ergo, belief must be suited to facts.

At 8/23/05, 7:29 PM, Blogger Eli7 said...

I believe that the Torah is literally true. Faith, I believe, comes before science. Scientific theories change often and rapidly and what we believe about the earth one day is often proved wrong the next. I believe that God supercedes science.

At 8/23/05, 7:36 PM, Blogger Samuel J. Scott said...


But here's the problem: According to the Bible (at least how the Catholic Church interpreted it during the Renaissance), the sun should revolve around the earth. Once science proved otherwise, belief changed accordingly.

My point is that religion does and should have no say in scientific matters -- the age of the earth, astronomy, geology, etc. This is the domain of science. Religion, however, has its voice in morality, ethics and other such non-scientific matters.

At 8/23/05, 7:59 PM, Blogger Eli7 said...

NewJew, I believe that God created all and that religion should permeate every facet of our lives.

Does that mean I think my rabbi should teach me science? No. But if my rabbi tells me evolution didn't happen the way the scientists describe it (and I'm not saying that's what my rabbi said, I'm just saying if...), then I'll take my rabbi's word over my biology professor's word any day.

At 8/23/05, 8:12 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Elisheva, you say that, "if there's a conflict, I'll take Torah over science any day." That's fine when it comes to things that, perhaps, we don't even have a definite answer for today like the creation of the world. There, as you pointed out, science changes frequently yet the Torah has and will endure.

However, how would you reconcile the ruling in the Talmud (I don't remember the source offhand but can certainly find it if anyone's interested) that killing a fruit fly on Shabbos is allowed because it isn't like other bugs that are born from eggs etc? Basically, because chaz"al couldn't see the eggs with their bare eyes they thought the flies came out of thin air and killing them on Shabbos wasn't like killing other living things even though modern science can now tell us otherwise.

This touches on the whole Slifkin controversy from six or seven months ago. Personally, I don't think it's heretical to say that sometimes chaz"al did not know everything scientifically and could be considered 'wrong.'

Also, Elisheva & NJ, there are opinions that each day of creation was really a thousand (for example) years and that the description of creation was, in a sense, figurative. It's not widely held, perhaps not widely known either, but it is an opinion of a rishon, I believe (again, I'll get sources if you're interested).

At 8/23/05, 8:17 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Elisheva, I think we were both writing at the same time. I'm with you on your last comment 100%.

NJ, how then you explain our heritage that the earth is 5765 years old (maybe 200 years older according to some) if you only rely on science? And what of all the pages in Talmud that discuss astronomy? Should those not be learned because it's not within the scope of the Torah to discuss such matters?

As Elisheva said, if we believe that the Torah is the focus of our lives and guides us in everything we do and how we think, how can we just say "Torah doesn't apply here?"

At 8/23/05, 8:19 PM, Blogger Michael said...

FYI-You can get rid of spam comments by changing the settings so that each comment requires word verification.

At 8/23/05, 8:20 PM, Blogger Michael said...

Or, you can manually delete it before I can even write three lines! :)

At 8/23/05, 8:20 PM, Blogger Michael said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 8/23/05, 9:53 PM, Blogger Nephtuli said...


I agree that we would choose Torah over science, but I do not believe there can be such a conflict because both are supposed to be true.

At 8/24/05, 7:11 AM, Blogger Michael said...

Yes, Nephtali, both are supposed to be true but sometimes even scientific theories are proven wrong some time after they're "confirmed" etc. What would you do then?

And, back to NJ's comment before (Religion, however, has its voice in morality, ethics and other such non-scientific matters.), the following sentence in an article (about the future of the Religious Zionist movement in Israel) in Ynet today resonated strongly within me and captured what I was trying to say perfectly:

The time has come to be proud of who we are: Nationalist Religious Zionists, integrating Torah with worldly pursuits, Torah with science, Torah with law, Torah with economics.

It's sort of like "Torah U'mada" in focusing on the study of Torah while remaining engaged in the world politically, scientifically, legally, economically etc.

At 8/24/05, 10:38 AM, Blogger Samuel J. Scott said...


NJ, how then you explain our heritage that the earth is 5765 years old (maybe 200 years older according to some) if you only rely on science?

My belief is that the 5,700-year mark does not refer to the creation of the world or homo sapiens. From my basic understanding of anthropolgy, I believe the first civilizations arose in the Fertile Crescent at around that time. So that's what I believe the Torah is referring to.

Again, I view the Torah as metaphor and allegory. And I think this is why I probably won't agree with many traditional Jews who view it literally. We're reaching different conclusions based on the different premises we have. And there's probably no way around this.

At 8/24/05, 11:15 AM, Blogger Samuel J. Scott said...

I just came across this quote in an customer's review of "Genesis and the Big Bang" and thought it pertained to our discussion:

"When Torah and natural science seem to conflict, one or the other is being incorrectly interpreted."

At 8/24/05, 1:13 PM, Blogger SZILAGYI ART said...

Did you know that at the end of darwins life he denounce all the foolish teachings that he made up and gave his life to jesus christ.
Our God is an awesome god, he takes the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. God wishes above all things that you prosper and be in health even as your soul prospers. There was only one big bang, and that was God said let there be light and bang there was light.

At 8/24/05, 10:02 PM, Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Why would you take Bereishis literally? That's a Christian Fundamentalist thing to do. For thousands of years, as Jews we've known that Ma‘aseih Bereishit is a mysterious work of divine secrets, not some boring (hi)story book.

If it really bothers you, check out R' Natan ("Nosson") Slifkin's books, or Gerald Schroeder's.

At 8/25/05, 1:02 PM, Anonymous J said...

I was wondering if anyone had an actual source for a "leap of faith". Does such a thing exist? Does there necessarily always have to always be something we don't understand?

At 8/25/05, 8:10 PM, Blogger Michael said...

There are those that hold that everything (aside from chukim) are eminently understandable. Personally, I think that they're either tremendously more intelligent than I am (and even if they are...) or they just don't feel comfortable admitting that there are things they don't completely understand that do require "a leap of faith." It might not be ideal but I think the latter is our (at least my) reality.

At 8/25/05, 8:48 PM, Anonymous J said...

I was not really talking about Chukim. What I was really talking about, as was eli7, was belief in God. She seems to think that there are things that exist that seemingly are irreconcilable with Jewish theology, and therefore require a "leap of faith" to surmount (basically ignoring all things that you cannot reconcile).

While I do see the attractiveness in that sort of escapism, I don't really see the point. If at the end of the day all you're going to do is throw up your hands and say "I don't know what to do with any external sources, the torah is literally true" than why even start?

Chukim, on the other hand, are really more about finding meaning within Judaism once you are already committed...


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