Monday, October 15, 2007

Chief Rabbi on Torah and Science

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke at yesterday's conference on medical ethics and the indefatiguable Chana was there taking her copious notes (link). He opened by discussing this blog's endlessly recurring topic, the Torah-science controversy (these are [lightly edited by me] notes and not his word-for-word remarks):

Before I begin the specific topic you’ve asked me to address... It does seem to me given the particular atmosphere of intellectual world in New York and London for that matter, I might just say some general remarks as hakdamah and preface in general to the relationship between science and religion. This was, or so we thought, the oldest of the old and I believed that anything that could be said on the subject HAD been said on the subject. However, we are currently living through a new chapter in this rather old story.

We recall the very first chapter: confrontation that began in the very beginning, the great confrontation between the Vatican and Galileo. The second chapter took place in Victorian England: the famous debate between Bishop and Thomas Huxley on Darwinism regarding the apparent contradiction between natural selection and the argument from design. We are currently living through the third chapter of this confrontation. I do follow the bestseller lists on Barnes and Noble- I always like to know what Americans are reading because whatever you read we’re going to read a year from now (laughter) and I’ve noticed a whole list on ____, atheism, Sam Harris’ “The End of Faith” and his “Letter to a Christian Nation”, “Breaking the Spell”- Richard Dawkin’s wonderfully apoplectic book “The God Delusion” – I do recommend it if you wish to experience indigestion (laughter) – in France “The Atheist Manifesto”- and from the other side is the argument from what tends to be called nowadays Intelligent Design - specifically associated with Michael Behe: the argument that random genetic mutation cannot give rise to irreducibly complex systems.

From a Jewish view this argument simply should never have happened in the first place, for the simplest of reasons: we believe that the God of Revleation is also the the God of Creation, and therefore there cannot be in principle a contradiction between them. And when you apply Revelation to Creation the result is Redemption - Tikkun Olam. And therefore in Judaism, science and religion - and that very much includes medical science - are two distinctive domains between the world. Everything reflects that duality. The two names for Hakadosh Baruch Hu refer to God that way - the name Elokim as we encounter him in Creation and the name Hashem as we encounter him in Revelation. There are two corresponding epistemologies, two ways of coming to come to know things: 1. knowledge of creation, chochmah, 2. knowledge of revelation - Torah. Chochmah is the truth we discover. Torah is the truth we inherit.
In a post two and a half years ago, I wrote the following (link):
When science appears to contradict the Torah, there are a few ways to deal with the situation. When I was a child, I was taught to compartmentalize the two - science and Torah are different realms and there is no need to reconcile them. This, it seems to me, can be a symptom of or result in either dismissing Torah as untrue, and I think that is how it was taught to me. But it can also be a result of remaining in a state of unconcerned faith. This is my personal approach.
I believe that what the Chief Rabbi is advocating is the latter approach, that of unconcerned faith. Torah and science are two different ways of arriving at the truth. There are no contradictions between the two and if there appears to be one, it will eventually be resolved.

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