Reasonable Doubts Blog

Does Science Contradict Torah?

Posted in science and religion by Cheryl Berman on the June 14th, 2010

One issue faith crisis sufferers often find themselves dealing with is the issue of the conflict between science and the Torah. The debate between science and religion did not commence with the discovery of Darwinism as some might think. Part of the task of the medieval Jewish philosopher was to deal with the science of their time, Aristotelianism. Philosophers like Maimonides worked hard to come up with solutions to contradictions between science and Judaism. Maimonides’ rule was stated plainly in the Moreh Nevuchim: If Aristotelian science can come up with demonstrative proof for their scientific theories, we must translate the text of the Torah in a non-literal fashion because the Torah does not lie. Maimonides had to create this rule because the generally accepted principle of the medieval rationalists (like Maimonides) was that intellectual truth was the highest form of knowledge. Science and the Torah were speaking the same language for these medieval rationalists. They were asking the same questions and offering the same answers. And if they didn’t seem to fit, we need to delve deeper into the meaning of the text of the Torah and locate it’s true meaning.

Modern notions of the concept of truth make it a lot easier for faith crisis sufferers to approach the contradictions between science and Torah. When Kant limited the confines of reason (intellectual truth) he opened the door to allow other types of truths into the universal lexicon. There is aesthetic truth. There is ethical truth. There is personal truth. There is social truth. There is cultural truth. And there is religious truth. The concept of truth should embrace the entirety of the human experience, why should it be limited to one aspect of humanity, namely the intellect?

The main difference between intellectual truth and religious truth does not lie in the answers they propose. It lies in the questions they ask. In Lonely Man of Faith Rav Soloveitchik creates two prototypes: the scientist and the man of religion (Adam one and Adam two). He describes the scientist as one who seeks to understand the universe around him so that he can use it for his purposes. He asks the question: How? How can I utilize the earth for my needs? The religious man looks at the very same universe but asks completely different questions. He questions are metaphysical in nature: Why did the world come into being? What is the purpose and meaning behind it? And who is the giver of life that I can sense but cannot see?

The reason science and Torah propose different answers is that that they are responding to different questions. They are viewing the universe from completely different perspectives. The Torah is a book of theology not science. When the Torah tells us that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh we are meant to explore the religious ramifications of that statement, not create a science lesson from it.

Many think that the intellect is the only road to truth. These people are stuck on a medieval model. This is not to say that the intellect does not reveal truth. It just means that the intellect is not the only means of grasping truth. The intellect even plays a critical role in understanding religion, but it does not play the only role. There are other aspects of the human being that contribute to our understanding of our place in this complex universe. Truth is way too big a notion to limit it to one avenue.

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