Readers’ Feedback – Shalom

Hi Yoram, I hope that my email finds you and your family healthy & happy in all respects. I just wanted to write to you to express my thanks for the book review that you sent me. I am incredibly humbled by your broad knowledge in so many varied fields of science, and want to acknowledge the amount of time you must have put into writing this article. (I am of course, also incredibly humbled by your knowledge of Torah, but that almost goes without saying).

If you ever write a comprehensive book on the Intersection of Torah & Science, or any other subject for that matter, please let me know, as I am a huge fan.

A couple of points/questions for consideration:

1. Can you imagine a scenario where Dr. Schroeder (and others) may have possibly realised the “lay nature” of their publications would be littered with the kind of inaccuracies that you have mentioned and published notwithstanding this fact; with a greater good in mind? (I.e. best intentions Kiruv in a world of competing sound bites, where the means justifies the end).

2. Have you ever considered that there may well be a harmony between modern science & biblical tradition, and that many authors (including Dr. Schroeder) have not yet managed to fully grasp and/or express the complex relationship between the two? (To my mind there is intuitively an inherent relationship between them, as they coexist).

3. You mention that the role of faith & fact in both religion (specifically Judaism) & science as often being over (or under) estimated depending on which side of the argument one falls. You propose that the proverbial “leap of faith” plays less of a role in Judaism (and conversely more of a role in science) than one is led to believe. My problem is that sliding scale logic (which is quantitative) is also misleading when it comes to “Ex Nihilo” style philosophical debates. The idea that there is no “leap of faith” in our (or any) religion simply cannot be true. One always arrives at an axiom beyond which he or she cannot gaze. Call it an event horizon if you will. Whether one calls it a “leap” or a “hop” is irrelevant due to the fact that the distance between finite & infinite is always the same. (I.e. the concept of distance becomes meaningless.

4. My take on the matter (for what it’s worth). Science proposes that all things will eventually be understandable, it faithfully presents what it believes to be the most objective and accurate description of reality at a point in time; with the express understanding that it is always open to peer review, and thus always in flux. It is by design, an iterative process, and as such should (although not necessarily) always tend towards increasing accuracy. What is obviously needed (crucially) for the system to work is integrity. There are indeed error factors that creep into the system; some of them harder to spot than others, but as long as Axioms are continually re-addressed, the system works. You are proposing that the system is in a state of corruption that results, at best, from a naïve tardiness of sorts, and at worst, borders on total lack of integrity in the style of some conspiracy theorists. How can this allegation be true? Surely the fundamental pillar of Science is the quest for truth? Doesn’t science pride itself on shedding out all the “noise” and what remains should always be pristine and shiny and honest? Or maybe I’m the naïve one.

5. There are so many points of interest for me, but one that I find particularly fascinating, and don’t yet fully understand is the question that is asked: “why should our Universe have had such low entropy in the past?’ I’ve started reading the link that you provided in the second appendix to your article (The philosophy of statistical mechanics) but am not finished with it yet. All I can say is I must be a geek, because I find this stuff so interesting. There’s a quote from Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll, which I am reminded of, in which the White Queen says to Alice: “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards”. I totally agree (tongue firmly in cheek).

Anyway, just a few of my thoughts on such matters

Keep exceptionally well

Yours ‘faithfully’

“Shalom”

PS I’ve forwarded the article to my scientist brother and await his interpretations with baited breath

RESPONSE

Dear “Shalom”,

It is always a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you for your warm words.

You wrote:

If you ever write a comprehensive book on the Intersection of Torah & Science, or any other subject for that matter, please let me know, as I am a huge fan.

Feldheim Publishers are due to publish The Torah of Science by Rabbi Dr. Moshe Meiselman soon. Rabbi Meiselman is a Rosh Yeshiva in Jerusalem, who also received a doctorate in mathematics from MIT. He is the author of the superb Jewish Woman in Jewish Law. I am looking forward eagerly to his book. I sincerely hope that he will do such a thorough job that any contribution from me will be rendered redundant.

I have written a sefer. It is called Explorations, and it discusses some fundamental questions about the Torah e.g. Can the commandments ever be abrogated? Do prophets have any liberty in choosing the content and/or words of their prophecy? What is the meaning of These & those are the words of the living G-d? Explorations is in the final stages of production and should be ready, בעזרת ה’, within a few weeks.

You wrote:

Can you imagine a scenario where Dr. Schroeder (and others) may have possibly realised the “lay nature” of their publications would be littered with the kind of inaccuracies that you have mentioned and published notwithstanding this fact; with a greater good in mind? (I.e. best intentions Kiruv in a world of competing sound bites, where the means justifies the end).

I am not convinced that there is benefit in analysing Dr. Schroeder’s motivations and calculations when he wrote Genesis and the Big Bang. I am therefore offering a few general comments.

חז”ל tell us that the seal of הקב”ה is truth (מסכת שבת דף נה.). I am not interested in propaganda – my objective is to ascertain and disseminate the truth. On a practical level too, attempts to do good through deceptive means invariably backfire.

Rabbi Dovid Gottlieb told me many years ago to beware a temptation that ba’alei teshuva are particularly vulnerable to. He said that a ba’al teshuva often feels a powerful impetus to use his background in the service of Hashem. If you happen to be a statistician, you will be inclined to get involved in the Bible Codes (for better or worse; I am not expressing an opinion here). This, of course, can be positive. But there is a danger that your good intentions will cloud your judgment. There is more than a little bit of truth in the adage that the path to hell is paved with good intentions. The secret lies in execution, not plans. The author of Alei Shur1 explains that this is where אברהם אבינו surpassed all those who preceded him. Abraham was the master of execution of good intentions. In contrast, Potiphar’s wife met her downfall here. חז”ל tell us that she was initially no less motivated to serve Hashem than was Tamar (Rashi comments that her seduction of Joseph was meant לשם שמים). Both Tamar and Potiphar’s wife engaged in murky episodes of intercourse. Tamar became the progenitor of the משיח. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, and is reviled by the Torah community forever more.

You wrote:

Have you ever considered that there may well be a harmony between modern science & biblical tradition, and that many authors (including Dr. Schroeder) have not yet managed to fully grasp and/or express the complex relationship between the two? (To my mind there is intuitively an inherent relationship between them, as they coexist).

In principle, since the Torah is the basis of the Creation, there cannot be any discrepancy between the design of nature and the Torah.

Ramban, Rashbah and others2 maintain that knowledge of the world gained through the Torah is broader in scope, deeper, and ultimately more authoritative than that gained through science [in the sense of unaided human reason based on observation].

Science is (ideally, but not always) based on empirical evidence. In principle, this evidence is limited in two ways. First, it is filtered through our sensory modalities. This means inner essences themselves cannot be known by science. [David Hume’s famous causality conundrum exploits this inherent limitation of evidence: the events are seen, but causality – the inner necessity that presumably makes them happen – is invisible. What justifies our belief in an inherent natural order? No one has a good answer to this sceptical question posed over 350 years ago]. Secondly, the evidence is directly observed. This means that scientific knowledge of the past and future must be based on extrapolation and (oftentimes) unverifiable assumptions. The Torah, by contrast, is the all-encompassing source of Creation and was prophetically revealed. It does not suffer from these limitations.

In practice, one well-known approach to the interaction between Torah and science is the four-fold topology of Professor Ian Barbour (whom I mention briefly in Genesis and the Big Bluff). On various questions, such as evolution, quantum mechanics, and cosmology, he examines the issues through four lenses: conflict, independence, dialogue and integration. In my opinion, Barbour is generally biased in favour of integration. This is a mistake. One of the most important points I made in Genesis and the Big Bluff is that when Torah sources are studied, they must be studied objectively i.e. without constantly looking over one’s shoulder to check what contemporary science has to say on the matter. This is a mistake that Dr. Schroeder made, for example, when discussing heredity. It is clear to me that the reason he misreported Rashi and the other numerous relevant rabbinic statements is that he felt that he had to reconcile the Bible’s account with Darwinian genetics, as opposed to a Lamarckian phenomenon.

You wrote:

You mention that the role of faith & fact in both religion (specifically Judaism) & science as often being over (or under) estimated depending on which side of the argument one falls. You propose that the proverbial “leap of faith” plays less of a role in Judaism (and conversely more of a role in science) than one is led to believe. My problem is that sliding scale logic (which is quantitative) is also misleading when it comes to “Ex Nihilo” style philosophical debates. The idea that there is no “leap of faith” in our (or any) religion simply cannot be true. One always arrives at an axiom beyond which he or she cannot gaze. Call it an event horizon if you will. Whether one calls it a “leap” or a “hop” is irrelevant due to the fact that the distance between finite & infinite is always the same. (I.e. the concept of distance becomes meaningless.

Torah sources emphasise that G-d’s essence cannot be known by human beings. He reveals to us certain attributes (מידות), but His essence can never be grasped by human beings. However, that disjuncture between the finite and the infinite is not what is meant by a leap of faith. This phrase means, as far as I understand, believing without adequate reason or justification. As such it has no place in Torah. Our commitment to Torah stands on the strongest possible empirical evidence – millions of people simultaneously expriencing prophecy. (see http://www.dovidgottlieb.com on this – he has done the most work on this topic). We may not understand the essence of Hashem, but our commitment to Him is anything but a leap of faith.

You wrote:

My take on the matter (for what it’s worth). Science proposes that all things will eventually be understandable, it faithfully presents what it believes to be the most objective and accurate description of reality at a point in time; with the express understanding that it is always open to peer review, and thus always in flux. It is by design, an iterative process, and as such should (although not necessarily) always tend towards increasing accuracy. What is obviously needed (crucially) for the system to work is integrity. There are indeed error factors that creep into the system; some of them harder to spot than others, but as long as Axioms are continually re-addressed, the system works. You are proposing that the system is in a state of corruption that results, at best, from a naïve tardiness of sorts, and at worst, borders on total lack of integrity in the style of some conspiracy theorists. How can this allegation be true? Surely the fundamental pillar of Science is the quest for truth? Doesn’t science pride itself on shedding out all the “noise” and what remains should always be pristine and shiny and honest? Or maybe I’m the naïve one.

There is an enormous amount that one could write in response. Philosophers of science spend their careers examining the points you raise. I will limit myself to a few observations. One of the most important philosophers of science of the twentieth century was Thomas Kuhn. His magnum opus, The Strucutre of Scientific Revolutions, is one of the most influential works in this genre. His description of science is different to yours: Science proceeds by filling in pieces of the puzzle. The vast majority of the research carried out by scientists falls into this realm. This research is often creative and useful. But occasionally, the paradigm shifts (Kuhn is the one who coined this term). The entire superstructre, or framework, collapses and is replaced. That is what happened, for example, when the Big Bang model replaced the static universe model in the mid 1960s. So it is not accurate to describe the trajectory of scientific progress as one which constantly approaches the truth. In the case of cosmology, when the Big Bang model was adopted, just about every result that was previously accepted was ditched! This does not mean that we can refer to early 20th century cosmologists as dishonest. They were working within a different paradigm, which was believed, at the time, to be an accurate reflection of reality. To a large extent, this is true for evolutionary biology as well. The vast majority of biologists have not critically assessed the paradigm within which they work. For your average geneticist, virologist, pharmacologist, the ancient history of life is entirely irrelevant to their day-to-day research.

Scientists do not work in a vacuum. Before they engage in independent research, they are subjected (like all of us) to several decades of conditioning. Imagine that you had decided to become a biologist. As an intelligent, informed, curious person who became an adult in the late 20th century, you would have come across tens of thousands (!) of references to evolution by the time you came to do reaserch – everything from Richard Attenborough documentaries to National Geographic films to Richard Dawkins books to high-school textbooks to undergraduate textbooks to research monographs etc. By the time you start your own research, the chances that you will be able to see outside the box are very slim indeed. This is why many philosophers of science have pointed out that the greatest breakthroughs in science are usually made by very young scientists or by amateurs – people who have less conditioning. Einstein and Heisenberg were in their twenties when they made their seminal contributions. Herschel and Wegener were amateurs in their respective fields.

In addition, there is the profound question of ultimate values. Dawkins and company want a materialist universe. It suits their purposes. Even though some scientists describe their occupation as a search for truth3, others do not subscribe to this position. Dawkins wrote that Even if there were no actual evidence in favor of the Darwinian theory… we should still be justified in preferring it over all rival theories4. This is so because he prefers a materialist universe, in which there are no absolute standards by which he can be held accountable.

I discuss many of these issues in the Evolution Focus Day, which is held from time to time.

You wrote:

PS I’ve forwarded the article to my scientist brother and await his interpretations with baited breath

My experience is that a certain amount of common ground is necessary in order for discourse to be productive. We need not agree on everything, of course, or else conversation would be pointless. But there needs to be a common denominator. I suspect that the minimum of common ground does not exist between your brother and me. I stated my objectives clearly in the introduction to Genesis and the Big Bluff. I intended to provide a comprehensive critique of Genesis and the Big Bang, and to provide a readable introduction to the Torah and science intersection. I did not anticipate converting Richard Dawkins or his disciples.

Advertisements

2 Responses to “Readers’ Feedback – Shalom”

  1. Alba Betts Says:

    If only more people would read about this..

  2. Michelle Bland Says:

    If only more than 36 people could read this!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: