Harmonizing Torah and Science

14 10 2010

Based on a Naaleh.com shiur by Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller

Harmonizing Torah and Science

If you are a Torah Jew contemplating a career in the sciences, there are three ideas to keep in mind. Truth is essential reality, not reality plus an agenda or will. A person who is tahor is genuinely human with nothing impure inside of him to impede his soul. This divine aspect is what differentiates us from the animal kingdom. The opposite of tahara is tuma which is defined as a blockage. Sin creates a mechitza, a barrier, which blocks us from accessing holiness.

The Ramak explains that every limb and organ requires veins and arteries to feed it blood. If there is a blockage, the limb or organ will die. Similarly, spiritual blockages cause our spiritual selves to die. Because we place such great value on tahara we try to prevent ourselves and our children from being exposed to an environment where lack of tahara, spiritual integrity, and truth is normal.

You may ask, “Why be so intimidated, why not just stand up for the truth?” The Rambam writes that people are naturally influenced by their environment on two levels. They want to feel accepted in the culture they live in and they want their friends to approve of them. Inevitably, they tend to adapt their beliefs and opinions. Therefore, we are unapologetic about demanding tahara. If you haven’t heard it all before you don’t have a protective armor built up to defend yourself. It’s normal to not quite know what to do with yourself. Do not be ashamed of this. It’s a reflection of your tahara, of not being calloused and damaged.

The second thing to keep in mind is that the Torah warns us, “Do not stray after your eyes and heart.” The heart refers to heresy and the eyes to desire. This tells us that people will naturally stray after their heart and turn to heresy. The difference between a tzaddik and a rasha is that a tzaddik‘s mind controls his heart while a rasha‘s heart controls his mind. People are drawn to heresy to conveniently justify patterns of behavior.

The third thing to consider is authority. Just because the professor has letters after his name does not mean that he has the full and final picture. Science is continually evolving. Something we thought factual today can turn out not to be so tomorrow.  We can see a part of the picture in the present, while more of the picture continuously reveals itself. You have to learn to examine what is true and what is not.

The closer something is to observable physical reality, the more likely it is to be true, rather than something that requires many assumptions along the way. In every possible dating system no one tries to answer one basic question: “How did something come from nothing?” The focus of science is certainly not the mystery of life. It’s easy, especially when there is an agenda, to see absolute reality when there are only question marks. The important thing is to figure out where factuality begins and ends and where supposition takes over. This is tricky because a hypothesis can turn out to be true but many times it is not.

Judaism has never been afraid of science. Science is the picture of reality as we know it. There’s nothing wrong with taking a snapshot. There is something wrong with saying that the snapshot is everything. The same holds true with liberal theories. Identifying a problem doesn’t mean knowing the solution. Judaism isn’t intimidated by questions. It is afraid of the haphazard tendency to create solutions that solve nothing.

If you will be studying the sciences, learn to master the art of “birur“, taking what is holy and good and rejecting what is evil. May Hashem guide our steps and help us maintain our inner purity and sechel hayashar (straight thinking).

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