Essay donated by Dr. Zvi Shkedi
"1. Torah and Science: Introduction"
Then came the quest for understanding life. What is life? How did it start? Where do tiny creatures come from if we can't see how they are born? Why are there so many species of living creatures? Are they related to each other?
Another question which keeps scientists busy is, how did the world come into being? How old is the world?
There are two parallel paths which dominate this quest. One, is the religious path - the way of the Torah, or at least, what we think we understand from the Torah. The other, is the path of scientific research where nothing is taken for granted - everything is subject to questioning, criticism, research, and discovery. Somewhere in between these two, lies the philosophical path which is an attempt to understand the world through human intelligence, emotions, and imagination. This article will be limited to Torah and science alone. The religious and scientific paths have crossed roads since early history, sometimes in perfect harmony and sometimes in heavy conflicts and apparent contradictions.
One of the most difficult challenges facing society in its desire to understand newly discovered scientific knowledge, is the proliferation of those who pretend to know more than what they really know. In the field of medicine they are called "quacks". Unfortunately, almost every professional field has its share of "quacks". A title, a degree, or a diploma are far from being sufficient to establish a person's qualifications. The author of this article has interviewed many job candidates for scientific-research and for engineering positions. They all had valid paper certificates for their qualifications; some of them had Ph.D. degrees. A large percentage of those candidates could not pass a practical test and were unable to apply their skills in their own professional field. It is not a surprise that new cars fail within a few weeks and that buildings collapse while being built. Similarly, science libraries are full of publications which should have never been published. Sorting out the real from the fancy is not an easy task.
The apparent contradictions between what some people believe is their understanding of the Torah and their understanding of science, will not be resolved in a democratic way. Majority opinion and majority vote mean nothing in this quest. Just try to imagine how to determine who should have the right to vote on these questions. Does every individual get an equal vote? How about a joint decision by all the Rabbis and all the supreme courts in the world today? If they decide that the earth is flat, will the earth be flat? Personal credentials, authority, fame, and world recognition are just as meaningless in the quest to resolve such contradictions. When it comes to establishing the truth, the only thing that counts is the truth itself.
Psychological barriers to accepting a newly discovered truth can also not be ignored. It is only natural for people to reject knowledge which they don't understand. Regardless of how true the knowledge is, lack of understanding creates a psychological barrier which most people cannot overcome. The reaction to Einstein's theory of relativity teaches us an important lesson. When Einstein first published it in 1905, most of the physicists in the world rejected it - it was too difficult to understand. Today, on the other hand, every physicist knows how true it is. Many years later, Einstein himself, when introduced to the new principles of probability and quantum mechanics, rejected it with his famous saying: "God does not play dice with the universe." Even Einstein fell into the trap of this psychological barrier, unable to accept the new and difficult-to-understand discoveries. Again, today, every physicist knows how true these new discoveries are.
Many debates involving the apparent contradictions between Torah and science begin with phrases like: "Torah says that ..." and "science says that ..." Is it really what the Torah or science say? As we will see, this is not always the case. Not everything which people call "science" is science, and not everything which people call "Torah" is Torah. There are no contradictions between real Torah and real science. Apparent contradictions are only a result of misrepresentations of Torah, misrepresentations of science, or both. An understanding of the misrepresentations resolves the conflict and shows that Torah and science are in perfect harmony.
Copyright© 2007-SEP by Zvi
Shkedi. The author permits not-for-profit republication of this article with
proper credit and without changes.