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No Need for Religion to Appreciate the Wonders of the Universe

November 18, 2009 – 5:14 pm58 Comments
Source: ctr4process.org

Source: ctr4process.org

By Almoni

Every night, when I go into my backyard and look into the sky, I am drawn up into the heavens, the extraordinary time and space machine, and I am amazed.

Sometimes, I see red Mars or bright Venus, and occasionally, a gigantic moon leers overhead. Once, an iridium satellite whizzed up, and overhead its colours were flickering off its antennas as if it were close by. In the United States, I’ve seen the most amazing lightening and the flickering lights of the north, and in Jerusalem, storms have boomed like nowhere else.

I’ve even held a meteorite in my hands–it used to sit under the reception desk at Cranbourne City Council of all places, because a meteor struck and splintered in Cranbourne a couple of thousand years ago and for some reason, that fragment had not been sold or sent to a museum.  The meteorite wasn’t very big, but enormously heavy, and a nodule of the solid iron cut my palm when I lifted it. So I have touched a stellar object!  The heavens are amazing.

We now know that we are not seeing the present when we look through the sky, even though we live in the present. We are seeing light that has travelled, sometimes for millions of years, to get to us, as pinpricks. Even the moon’s light has taken some time, and of course, the Sun’s rays and heat have travelled through time and space to get here. The universe is old, enormously old: perhaps 14 billion years old, an almost impossibly large age to comprehend, but we also know that the universe’s time and space are multidimensionally complex.  And of course, there is no blue bowl of the sky above or below us, but remarkably, gravity holds the earth spinning around our sun in our modest galaxy.

The mind boggling complexities of the structure of the universe were revealed though Einstein’s work on the speed of light and relativity, which blew apart any idea that time and space are somehow fixed and found that they are in fact relative to one another.  And it keeps getting more and more wonderful and mysterious as new discoveries are made. It’s more than enough for a wonderful cosmology from which to celebrate natural creation.

Ancient man could only explain the universe in pre-scientific and pre-philosophical terms. Abstraction, separate to theology and linked to experimental science was not possible, at least until Ancient Greece. Then it was canonized in a limited way by Aristotle and others, and formed the basis of scientific speculation and discourse for centuries – including that of Jewish philosophers.

Henri Frankfort, one of the great writers on the ancient Near East, said the following about ancient (pre-objective) man, “Any phenomenon may at any time face him, not as ‘It’, but as ‘Thou'”. I see traditional Judaism carrying though this view.

Today, in distinction to ancient cosmology (including Jewish cosmology), bit by bit we are figuring out what the cosmos consists of, and what makes it work. Unlike religious texts which can only be interpreted religiously, scientific assumptions can actually be tested, proven, disproved, and improved.

How can we deal with the rupture between mythology and the facts of existence as rational, though emotive beings?  Mordechai Kaplan, one of the most profound non-Orthodox thinkers of the past century, and the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism had no problem with the traditional creation story, as a story. Full stop. He wrote “the main purpose of the opening chapter of the Torah is not to give an account of creation but to teach that the world, as God created it, is a fit place for man to achieve his godlikeness, or salvation.”

Kaplan was a religious naturalist: he could glory in the ‘what is’ without his ontology being undermined by the fact that mankind is but a speck in the unfolding complexity of the universe. His God didn’t interfere in the world; that is our job. Our mission, based on historical experience, is to improve the world. However, Kaplan and other Reconstructionists also saw am importance in religious symbolism and performance, because it help create bonds between people and convey tradition; tradition without ‘truths’ that cannot be taken seriously any more.

However, I am too rational and non-traditional for that solution. Emile Fackenheim’s post-Shoah imperative that we are obliged to be Jews to continue to prevent Hitler a posthumous victory, also fails to provide an imperative for me to act religiously.

For a humanist like myself, what we need to take from the Jewish historical and religious experience is that history obliges us, through living in time and space, to make the world a better place. As a humanist I am not bound to a traditional pathway of symbolism or performance. I will be satisfied if my descendants live in a safer and freer world, rather than an absolutely Jewish world, although I will be happy if our collective experience continues to enrich that world.

Yesterday in Venice, I saw Leonardo’s amazing 500-year-old drawing of a man from spanning a circle, something that he considered a kind of cosmic representation. To see that document in the original is remarkable because it seems to be chiselled into the original paper, giving it a 3D quality. Such human insight (not religious insight) is as fresh as the day it was created. We can gain a lot from considering the place of older religion in relation to insights from a humanistic understanding of man (and woman) in the cosmos.

_______________

Further reading:

  • Rebecca Alpert and Jacob Staub, Exploring Judaism: A Reconstructionist Approach
  • Emil Fackenheim, God’s Presence in History
  • Brian Greene, The Fabric of the Cosmos
  • Corliss Lamont, The Philosophy of Humanism and The Illusion of Immortality
  • Society for Humanistic Judaism
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58 Comments »

  • rachsd says:

    Almoni, I’d be interested to hear why you find Mordechai Kaplan’s view irrational, and whether you have any reasons for disliking tradition…

    (Referring to your comment “I am too rational and non-traditional for that solution”…)

  • ariel says:

    Almoni, you’re taking the classic misguided path of confusing G-d with religion.
    Also, it may surprise you that a significant number of rabbis in Orthodoxy accept that the account of Creation is not to be taken literally.
    There was a time when science thought that the universe had always been. Then it changed and told us there was a beginning, something that Torah had claimed for millenia.
    The fact that you marvel in the universe is wonderful and a manifestation of the Divinity within you reaching out to connect and discover its secrets. After all, you were created in the Image of G-d…

  • Chaim says:

    Almoni… here is some perspective.. enjoy
     
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wupToqz1e2g
     

  • Michael says:

    Ariel: to steal a reply from Richard Dawkins — if there are only 2 options (the universe having a beginning and not) then any religious text has a 50% of getting it right based on chance alone. Also, many tribal religions have been claiming creation for much longer than the Torah — does the Big Bang somehow vindicate them as well?

  • Henry Herzog says:

    When gazing  into the night sky, one can not help but be blown out by it’s expanse, slender and wonder. Albert Einstein once said  that the most wonderous thing about the universe  is that it allowed the evolution of beings like us who are able to contemplate it.

    If you want to believe the universe was created by G’d why not accept that He created all the marvellous Laws of Nature by which the universe and, indeed, we humans were able to evolve.

  • defensa says:

    Oh Ariel,
    Is it so offensive to you that someone might disagree with you?

  • ariel says:

    Oh defensa,
    In a democracy, people have the right to be wrong ;)

  • Almoni says:

    I’ve been a bit slow to respond, having been caught in time-space travel (i.e. a plane  and places).
    Rachsd–why do I have problem with Kaplan’s choice of tradition: because I have a personal discomfort with ritual that constrains freedom of choice,but rationalises ritual on the grounds of cultural preservation, symbolism etc.  It can become oppressive and exclusivist.
    Where do you draw the line about what’s in and what’s out?
    That’s the million dollar question.  A good example is the contemporary red heifer cult which is based on the Israelite interpretation of a very ancient expiation ritual (was it really red?), or obsession over kashrut rulings that smacks of compulsive disorders rather than an attempt to live a live that is respectful of nature.
    I find the same problems in all religions and ideologies. I have an ‘inwardly emotional’ approach that I will address in another article.
    Ariel, as for a large no. of orthodox rabbis accepting a non-literal account of creation, I am concerned at what I see (from the web), as a strong and crude creationist trend in orthodoxy that I just don’t find credible.  As for how you explain contemporary scientific views, I don’t think you understand the research process which is always testing for better proofs.  No explanation is above legitimate questioning and research.  Now, mixing science with metaphysics causes problems.
    Spend a couple of ours looking at the fossil record. It’s pretty hard to rationalise that a divine force set in place all this extraordinary complexity and/or set it off as an experiment and this can be rationalised with what tanakh or rabbinical writing says. It seems ridiculous to me, and holds back our intellectual progress to a higher level (which you would think was the purpose of creation, if there was, rather than arguing against evolution).
    This is a short answer to a very complex problem about the nature of scientific thought.

  • Chaim says:

    Almoni – there is no problem people believing or teaching creationism whether you believe it or not – they just should NOT call it science because there are no proofs.
     
    Similarly, although rationally it is hard to believe, you cant deny the possibility that G-d made the world in its mature form with the fossils (just like Adam and Eve) just to test your faith…. However I would not even try to convince you of this or expect you to believe this because it is not science and has no proofs and anyway like Ariel says there are many current and prior big Rabbinic figures who don’t hold by the 6 day theory.
     
    Mixing science with metaphysics is all the rage these days in theoretical physics…
     
     

  • Almoni says:

    Chaim, the problem IS  that people call it creationism  ‘creation science’ and look at the trouble that causes.
    As for a god setting it all up just to test my faith…I assume you mean this was one of the great Mesopotamian gods like Ea, Roman Jupiter, or one of the gods of Mekkah?
    Judaism has no monopoly on concepts  divinity (though it claims monotheism above all others). That’s the problem.  Many people, many gods, many truth claims.

  • Chaim says:

    Almoni – you misunderstood me. I presented only ONE particular Jewish view, one example. I do not deny many truths – Truth is relative unless you are G-d.  The trouble is only when one person tries to force a belief on another OR one person because of a personal and emotional mindset completely disregards another viewpoint which has not been disproven. In the end no one alive today was there at the time to give testimony…..
     
    People can TRY to look for proofs for creationism and theorize about it. This is  also science in practice (Testing theories / hypothesis) as longs as they follow the accepted scientific method.  But the burdon of proof required is not available whether because our limited measurements, abilities or that it just doesn’t exist…
     
    Read, Dignity in Diveristy by Jonathon Sacks – try get the original print before he had to retract by order of the London beis din that there are many religious truths and that Judaism is not the only one. It is very interesting perspective on the importance of diversity.
     
     

  • rachsd says:

    Almoni,

    You seem to be working on the assumption that life without religious ritual is rational, inclusive, and liberating. I would challenge that and argue that everyone lives in a cultural context, with multiple (and largely irrational) influences working to partially determine what they will wear, do for leisure, etc.

    I would also say that Jewish observance and ritual is not completely rigid. Certainly, from Kaplan’s point of view, it has a lot of flexibility. And even within the more traditional streams, there is a lot of diversity and change.

    In terms of the scientific argument, I am not convinced that many people choose their religious observance (or otherwise) on epistemological grounds, but would think that it is more likely that most people (religious and secular) choose the lifestyle rather than the belief-set. Part of this may be based on reasoned arguments; eg. feminism, valuing family, valuing a certain type of community etc. But I would challenge anyone who thinks their choice of religious or atheistic belief is made purely on rational grounds.

    I agree that rejecting science as part of religion is intellectually dishonest, but I think that you have dismissed many groups in your article that do not do this (you reject any groups valuing ritual and tradition but those who reject science would only make up a very small subset of these).

    I don’t think you can use the internet as a measure of how common an idea or attitude is.

  • Almoni says:

    Rachsd
    You make  some good points, so just a few extra comments.
    I’m not a professional theologian or philosopher. I just find attempts to reconcile science with traditional religion very difficult to accept.  I know Soloveitchik spoke of the commensurability of orthodox tradition & halachah with evolution etc, but I just find that way of thinking, well, too dependent upon and interpretive of religious tradition, as if the real meaning can only be revealed through the sages….this is in the domain of metaphysics, and it is not inclusive of all forms of belief.  What it comes down to for people like the Rav is that genuine human essence can only be achieved through adherence to orthodox tradition. I went to a wonderful meeting in Jerusalem where a film about him was shown, and  many of his students  (mostly now middle aged American rabbis) were there–all nice rabbanim, full of humanity, but it’s not my scene to be a kippah serugah kind of guy.
    I am of course on dangerous ground when talking about belief, because I am an interpretevist when it  comes to social reality–that we see the world in many ways–and I accept that, and  within the philosophy of science as well, there is quite an argument about the reality of science and the world of science. But good science excludes angels, demons, and scriptural interpretion (and by interpretation I mean the reading of what is seen as ‘true’ text, when inevitably, texts are corrupt in the first place and culturally placed.  Sure, some of us might believe there is a blueprint or force behind it all, but it doesn’t explain how particles, including what we haven’t discovered yet work. To say that it is really hidden in scripture is as silly to me as hearing the same arguments coming out about it really being in the Koran or Islamic writing as well.   To me, the two (science and scripture/religion) are separate things.  To need to justify science through religion shows a basic lack of confidence or accpetance that ‘we’ are separate in our physical manifestations (as bundles of water and atoms etc) to what our minds have decided is the mythology and theology to justify our existence.
    Thus, there’s nothing wrong with valuing family etc on religious grounds or seeing beauty in observance, but I have problems when it comes to it providing a paradigm for deciding if the world is flat or not, or if a telephone can be made kosher for shabbat use.  As we know, this was no joke in the history of science and it continues to be an interrupter with accepting evolution and other emerging knowledge on the nature of the universe.
    As for my views on ritual and tradition–it’s a personal interpretation. If people want to do something, fine, as long as it does not interfere with the liberty of others (and that includes the oppresson of others within the community–and I am not just speaking of the Jewish community, but we can look at the problems caused to personal liberty through the establishment of state orthodoxy and the subsidizing of others in Israel).
    Of course, people need community–that’s why go for tradition and ritual, and some of us just don’t function in that sort of way. Most people react more on the emotional level than the rational level when it comes to the sense of being etc. with religion.

  • ariel says:

    Almoni, you claim that “…good science excludes angels, demons, and scriptural interpretion…”.

    I must fundamentally disagree as a scientist.

    Good science does not exclude anything. Bad science – such as the garbage about the extent of man-made climate change – deliberately excludes any factor which does not agree with the scientist’s pre-determined conclusions. If you don’t like the fact that the globe was warmer in the Middle Ages than it is now, then just ignore that data.

    There are a number of scientists who treated their studies with open minds and when they discovered certain characteristics in nature, came to the conclusion that the only explanation, at the end of the day, is that there is a supernatural power behind it all (some even call it G-d).

    I actually find it fascinating that whenever a new discovery is made in science, we find reference to it somewhere in Jewish text. It’s not a case of reconciling science with religion, but proof that perhaps the Sages were right the whole time. In other words, there is no reconciliation necessary because the two are already conciled. What shabbat phones have to do with it, I’m not sure where your getting at with that one…

    The point is that if you make assumptions and observe a phenomenon from only one angle, then you can come to any conclusion which satisfies your views.

    There is a story of an astronaut who reports that she saw the entire planet from “out there” and saw no evidence of G-d. Subsequently, a neurosurgeon claimed that she had performed dozens of operations on the brain, but had never seen evidence of human thought…

  • Michael says:

    I actually find it fascinating that whenever a new discovery is made in science, we find reference to it somewhere in Jewish text.
    I’d be interested to hear on this.  All the examples I’ve seen so far have been retroactively reading into a text, but if Jewish texts reference all new and upcoming discoveries (or at least many of them),  wouldn’t that mean that research into say particle physics should proceed mainly from a careful reading of the Rishonim?

  • Almoni says:

    There is a very interesting discussion of trends in Jewish, and particularly Orthodox thought about evolution, creation etc at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jewish_views_on_evolution.
    The reading provides good examples of where religion should stay out of proving or disproving science (as distinct from moral questions about the effects of science).
     
     
     
     
     

  • Chaim says:

    I love how wikipedia has become such a source for truth and facts… despite its disclaimers..

    To say religion should stay out of science is a silly concept. Most people reject religion because of science. Just like philosophy (the science of its day) evolved in Greece and there needed to be a Jewish response to it action, so too modern science.

    AGAIN – as long as we understand what science is and follow its accepted method, even scientists dont have a problem with it. You seem to have a limited concept of what actual science is. It should be able to withstand any proof or disproof without discrimination no matter where it comes from. This is with any conflict that arises BUT to look for proofs or sources in the bible where there is not conflict. I agree is a waste of time and stupid.

  • Chaim says:

    That last comment was from me.

    Firstly I apologize – I should not be making accusations nor assumptions on anybody.

    My point is that religion and science for sure should communicate and address each other’s assumptions and beliefs as well as findings. They should also however realize each others limitations, goals and differences.

    Science itself should be non judgemental, impartial and apolitical. The beauty of science is that one new finding can drastically change its whole outlook and that in science that is OK. It accepts change. Religion does not like change because it says that from the outset it is by definition truth. By realizing these differences and accepting them and not calling religion science nor vice versa,  then there is no real conflict between them.

    The conflict is created by people. People want to know the truth and see conflicts and then want to resolve them. If you accept that knowledge is changing and intellect is limited then you can accept contradictions. There should still be a communication between these two studies / knowledges from a Jewish persspective because Jews give up traditional Judaism because of science.

    Michael – I agree that retroactive understandings of judaic texts are frought with problems. This however is the norm on Judaism with respect to halacha and science. If the science of today was around at the time of the rishonim – they would have addressed it. It was addressed in the gemorah and there even is one section that the Rabbis say the greeks  are right and they are wrong. There is a part in the yerushalmi where the Rabbis say that the TANACH got a date wrong (when the temple walls were destroyed on 17 Tammuz) because of confusion at the time. Many people say that chazal can be wrong where it comes to science and history.

    I believe the world is 5760 years old and was created in six days… I have no problem with people believing the universe is 15 billion years old and with evolution. I dont feel I need to find proofs nor disprove anything but the dialogue with science can be fun and intellectually stimulating , broadening my knowledge  and is thereful useful even if in the end we say we disagree. Just know that science is science and religion is religion.

  • Chaim says:

    that obviously should be 5770…

  • Chaim says:

    Also pure science lacks ethics and needs outside humanitarian guidance from some place  as we saw clearly from the holocaust and medical research.

  • Michael says:

    Chaim — I think that’s the point — the rabbis of the Talmud etc engaged with the science of their generation which means they themselves were wrong on many issues. The idea that they have something to tell us about modern science requires the sages to be infallible — a view proclaimed by some Chareidi Jews today but this is NOT the viewpoint the classical rabbis applied to themselves.

  • Henry Herzog says:

    Hello! the role of science is to objectively describe the physical universe; nothing more and nothing less. Religion is a belief system, and by definition not in the slightest way objective.

    As far as examining how the two areas interact, well that’s a history lesson.

  • ariel says:

    Henry, I don’t believe scientists should take religion into account when doing their experiments, but they should take all physical data into account. The problem today(for example with climate change) is that scientists deliberately ignore swathes of data to prove their own pre-determined conclusions.

    Coming back to religion, if it turns out that the scientific results match the observations of sages from 2000 years ago, I would expect them to say “wow, those guys were way ahead of their time” rather than ignore the connection completely and claim that we are more intelligent today than they were. Intelligence and knowledge are not synonyms, but are mutually exclusive.

  • Michael says:

    Any Jewish text I’ve read I’ve largely found to be firmly embedded in its time, at least scientifically so again I’m not aware of any examples. It’s probably not behind its time but I don’t see how it’s ahead of its time either.
    Also:  intelligence and knowledge are mutually exclusive? And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a scientist say we are more intelligent today than people were 200 years ago — is there a specific example?

  • Henry Herzog says:

    In deed ariel, our sages of old did make some remakable observations of nature. The way they worked out the calander, for example, was truely remarkable. I think that the Rambam even said that time is divided into its smallest element; that’s what quantum physics says. But scientists who fudge their results to suit their predictions are not scientists, just like ultra-observant Jews who treat their fellow beings with contempt aren’t good Jews.

    But you sound to me to be a bit of a climate change sceptic, ariel. Now I am no Talmud scholar, but I believe their are a number of laws pertaining to pollution and so on.  Don’t you reckon that their intent is not to distroy the enviroment or change the climate? Isn’t there a Midrash that says that when G’d created Adam He said to him, don’t damage anything here because there will be no-one to repair it?

    And, by the way, which scientific papers have you studied recently to be a sceptic, or are people like Andrew Bolt your main sources of information?

  • frosh says:

    Henry,

    I’d be curious to know which scientific papers you’ve studied to be a CO2-believer :-)

  • Henry Herzog says:

    Frosh, I’ve been following the debate in Scientific American, American Scientist and New Scientist. My sister-in-law, who is a research post-doc. scientist at the Rockerfellar University in New York sends me stuff all the time. But Frosh, just check-out the readily available information about the melting of the ice caps and rising sea levels and  the astonishing rate at what that is happening. I started getting concerned in the late 80’s. Then it went in and out of fashion; but now, even the Queen is concerned. You going to ask her what papers she’s been reading?

  • frosh says:

    Henry,

    I’m fairly confident the climate is changing too, and for as long as I can recall, I’ve been an environmentalist – and I continue to be one.

    Nevertheless, I am yet to see a good explanation as to why CO2 is assumed to be the major cause of climate change. Btw, I’m not saying that it isn’t, only that I am yet to see it. Whenever I ask people for an explanation, I receive an explanation based on authority/consensus, but so far never based on real science.

  • Henry Herzog says:

    Frosh, Iam an engineer, and not an enviromental scientist. I understand the problem to be that the co2 that we are emitting is creating a greenhouse type effect. It’s like insulating your house. Now, particular wavelength radiation from the sun can still get through to heat things up, but the heat  here that we create by hurning things can not escape because of the thermal blanket created by the large amount of co2 in the atmosphere and so things heat up and so on. The ice caps also reflected a large amount of the sun’s radiation but with them diminishing in size they can’t do that as well as before. That’s some of the theory of the human impact on climate change.

    The various layers in our atmosphere and stratosphere are carefully balanced to allow the transmission of heat by convection and radiation. By pumping up large quantities of co2 in to the atmosphere we de-stabilize the balance and that’s when problems start. Yes there have been many climate change events in the past, but this one is greatly influeneced by human co2 emissions. That’s what our scientists are telling us.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Henry,

    As I have a background in statistics and scientific method, my first concern is with these computer models that predict temperature based on CO2 levels.

    If they predict the future, they ought to be able to ‘predict’ the past. Do they?

  • Chaim says:

    Here: and Here:
     
    No one denies pollution is bad for us – with arise of autoimmune diseases, allergies etc and we need to look after the planet in a responsible way.
     
    but:  “Is there a reason to be alarmed by the prospect of global warming? Consider that the measurement used, the globally averaged temperature anomaly (GATA), is always changing. Sometimes it goes up, sometimes down, and occasionally—such as for the last dozen years or so—it does little that can be discerned.” We have been not only unable to use the data to “predict the past” but even the near future.
     
    There is no need for catastrophic predictions, alarm and insane targets that will cripple economies and make life even more difficult for the average joe shmoe than it already is. What we need is real evidence to make educated decisions and planning not cooked data with an agenda.
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

  • Jon says:

    Policy makers don’t have the luxury of waiting around for decades to have 100% proof on the science of climate change before making decisions. They ultimately have to rely on what the experts in the field are saying and act accordingly.
    There is no doubt that amongst the thousands of scientists, who have studied the climate, an almost unanimous position has been reached that humans are causing the climate to change. There is no debate amongst any credible peer-reviewed scientific journal suggesting otherwise. Climate sceptics may be getting a lot of press these days, but there views are not replicated in any serious scientific journal. Of course with time, things can change, although if you have good solid evidence upon which a paradigm has been built, destroying that paradigm will prove extremely difficult.

    I think that is a bit silly to suggest that lay people themselves need to understand all the complex mechanics of the climate and having reviewed all the evidence, come to a conclusion about whether humans are causing climate change. It is difficult for a lay person without a sound technical understanding of the issues to make such a call.  An appeal to expertise is not lazy, but the sensible approach upon which good policy is built.   
     

  • frosh says:

    Jon,

    I agree that the factors that influence climate itself are very complex.

    However, the scientific method of determining causality remains rather simple.

    For example, lets say you want to see if A causes B.

    Step 1: Establish that there is co-variation (correlation) between A and B.

    Step 2: If there is co-variation, can we rule out that it is not actually B causing A?

    Step 3: Can we rule out that it is not C causing both A and B?

    I’m still waiting for someone to demonstrate Step 1, i.e. over the last few thousand years, has CO2 correlated with temperature? And if so, to what degree.

    Until such time, I remain far more concerned about many other non-theoretical environmental problems that are being ignored by our political leaders, such as this:
    Great Pacific Garbage Patch

    As for peer review – it seems it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be – and is a very political process.

  • Henry Herzog says:

    They can indeed, frosh: With less co2 emissions the changes were occuring at a much slower rate

  • Almoni says:

    Can I humbly suggest, as the author of this piece that correspondence be on topic ie, the universe and all that ‘stuff’. In fact, the carbon emissions debate is probably worth a piece by someone.

    Ed: I believe that there has been a piece on this topic (with a Jewish angle of course). See here. If you can think of another Jewish angle from which to write about the climate debate, please let us know.

  • rachsd says:

    Almoni,

    Creationism and blending science with Torah are not the only two options available for Jews who value both the Torah and scientific enquiry.

    Other options include interpreting the Torah similarly to Kaplan as providing a mythic or allegorical account mainly concered with imparting moral lessons rather than scientific truths. Maimonides (who wasn’t a Reconstructionist Jew ;-) ) defended a similar conception back in the middle ages in The Guide for the Perplexed. Maimonides account is amply rational for my liking…

    Ariel,

    Science does not involve accounting for all possible data. Rather the scientific process involves creating simpler than real world scenarios in order to test hypotheses. (Of course, intentionally selecting data in order to support a hypothesis does contrevene the scientific method.)

  • Henry Herzog says:

    Sorry Almoni, I didn’t mean to get off the track, but you have to admit that the folk who reckon the world is 6000 years old and other religious zealots tend also to be climate change deniers; just look at what is going on in Canberra.

    But I agree, lets stick with fundemental physics and religion

  • Chaim says:

    Henry – that is a silly comment. I don’t deny climate change and I believe it is 5770 years old…  Most people realise both climate change and human effects / causes but deny the catastrophic predictions and want rational debate without hysterics. What we don’t know is how much the earth itself cycles with temperature et al. The cooked numbers and the lack of adequate peer review was unsettling to all and a real set back to the environment. We all want truth and open debate.

  • Henry Herzog says:

    Chaim, have a good Shabbos.

  • Chaim says:

    Henry – Thank you. You too! (you too Almoni..)

  • TheSadducee says:

    Chaim

    Are you seriously suggesting that the world is literally 5770 years old?

  • Chaim says:

    TheSadduce…
     
    Yes I am. I can accept that according to current scientific evidence and understanding the earth appears > 5 billion years old and that the universe is >15 billion years old. I  accept rationally and objectively these figures. I also understand that there are authoritative rabbis who want to change the simple understanding of the Torah to fit with this science. They may be right – I do not say they are wrong.
     
    But, what we don’t have is absolute proof. No one was there and  until we have time travel I personally can not know for sure. If I did know for sure then I would have to change my (and the traditional) understanding of the Torah. Since I can say (and this is an old concept discussed long before our current scientific knowledge and therefore not a simple reaction and apologetic argument) that the world, like Adam and Eve, was created in a mature form with an apparent past – therefore I have to go with the simple and traditional understanding (Pshat) of the Torah and wait for science to change to fit Torah or find an irrefutable proof. Rambam writes we have to accept truth from wherever it comes from. But we really need to know it is the absolute truth to change the traditional understanding of Torah. We have seen too many Jewish philosophers – e.g. Philo etc who changed the understanding of Torah to fit the knowledge of that time which was then debunked philosophically. Are we really that objective (science is based on axioms and assumptions) and sure of our knowledge now?
     
    What Almoni was arguing against above is the design argument for creation (Teleological)  – i.e. since the world is so magnificent and complex there must have been an intelligence behind it ie G-d.  This and all other philosophical arguments for G-ds existance were essentially debunked by Kant, Hume et al. This is why I DO NOT ever try to prove existence of G-d nor creation. It is impossible.
     
    Our belief in G-d was always from revelation – miracles of Pesach, receiving the Torah, miracles of the prophets etc. These days we just do not see revelation except through Tzaddikim and I personally can not tell you one to go to now although I am sure there are a few out there. Sure people may see personal miracles (e.g. missed the bus because you forgot your wallet and it crashed killing everybody else) but these are not proofs of miracles nor G-d.
     
    I like the way Jonathon Sacks writes. (Quoting and paraphrasing from: A letter in the scroll).
     
    Science is about what the world “is” and faith about what the world “ought” to be. (YES there are bad, corrupt , evil religious Jews…) but if you have faith, you then approach the world in a different and positive way (if practiced authentically) and effect the world in a positive way, perfecting, improving it – Tikun Olam.
     
    An example Sacks gives is “love”. Does it exist or is it an illusion? Both views are coherent and consistent. You must choose and that choice will shape your life leading you to marry or to stay aloof, having “relationships” but not a commitment of one life to another. Believing in love you find it. Disbelieving it, your world is without it. Similarly faith is neither rational nor irrational. It is a commitment to an Other, human or divine. The determination to turn  “ought” into “is”. It is truth made real by how you live.
     
    I really really recommend his books for “the rationalistic, philosophical yet open to other viewpoints not just their own” people out there.
     
    PS Brian Greene also wrote “The elegant Universe” on string theory (which many dispute) but fits in nicely which the idea of creation through speech and sound – the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet as the unified field theory.
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

  • Henry Herzog says:

    Hmm; can’t argue with that Chaim.

  • Chaim says:

    For you Henry….

  • Henry Herzog says:

    Chaim, actually the universe, in its entirety, was created just three minutes ago as a going concern. Its just that in the Almighty infinite wisdom He made it appear as if it was, what did you say?, oh yes, 5770 years ago.

    And Chaim, its going to take much, much more than some crank pot to convince me that there is human influence on the climate change we are even experiencing today.

  • Henry Herzog says:

    See what you made me do Chaim, I meant to say in the last para. in the above comment that …. there isn’t….  Don’t do it again, alright. By the way, are you enjoying your latkes? Although my late Mother made the best ones, my dear wife’s are pretty, pretty, pretty good.

  • frosh says:

    Henry,

    The established scientific practice is that one accepts the null hypothesis until evidence is produced that the null hypothesis is very unlikely to be true. You seem to be suggesting that you operate under the reverse procedure.

  • Chaim says:

    Henry you are so easily riled and driven to sputtering and nonsense.. :)
     
    Just kidding…  I am just having fun. I thought the video was hilarious.
     
    And actually according to Kabbala/Chassidus the world is being created from nothingness every instant.
     

  • Chaim says:

    For those who are interested in “fixing” Torah to meet Science…
     
    http://www.zootorah.com/books/challenge.html#contents
     

  • Henry Herzog says:

    Hi frosh
    I must admit, but I know nothing of the null hypothesis, I don’t even know what it means, unless you are having a bit of a lend of me. I mean, how can you have a null hypothesis. But I thought science is about drawing from observations  real hyposthesis and then testing them hypothesis and so on.

    Science is not about explaining how things work, rather describing how things work. You describe gravity with mathematical models which explain nothing. The hypothesis is in the form of  equations, which are tested and the ones that best descibe the phenomena are used until better ones are formulated, and so on.

    In regard to my suggestion about the age of the universe I was only having a bit of a joke, I hope you understand.

  • frosh says:

    Hi Henry,

    I wasn’t referring to the age of the Earth, but to the theory of anthropogenic global warming.

    I wasn’t having a lend of you either.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Null_hypothesis

  • Sam says:

    Henry
    You have said you are an engineer yet seem to to be a bit shaky on on how scientific method works. Seems a bit strange to me!                                                                                                                                   To say that science only describes how things work but not explain how they work sounds a bit like the religion versus science debate of the post renaissance historical period.
    In simple terms the first step is: a hypothesis is made that describes and proposes a reason for  natural phenomena, such as Newton’s laws of motion. If science could do no more to progress the hypothesis then maybe you would be  right.
    The next step is the formation of a theory via the proper design of  a test or experiment to prove or disprove the original hypothesis using the correct methodology scientifically. This needs to be done a considerable number of times by different experimenters.
    When a theory has been in use for a considerable time and the results are consistent and reproducible then that scientific explanation becomes a law of science, such as gravity.
    How can this not be a proper explanation once the physics and maths behind the law are understood by the individual who is inquiring?

  • Henry Herzog says:

    Thanks for that frosh,

    But even with global warming first observations are made on how the climate is changing and by appling some known science some modelling is carried out to predict future events. 

    Now it does appear that Sam is a bit confused here; I mean how he gets the notion that science is about descibing things and not explaining sounding like science verses religion is somewhat twisted.

    Now look here Sam, yes indeed there are laws of nature and us humans try to work them out. We indeed first form hypothesis, test them and maybe form theories.  Lets, indeed,  take Newton for example. When hit on the head by the apple he realized there was this force which caused the apple to fall and this force was gravity. He also observed the Moon going around the Earth and realized it was the same force that caused that motion. Newton’s genius allowed him to formulate the equations of universal gravity which is the inverse square law. But Sam, it does not explain how gravity works or what gravity is. It only descibes it, get it? Then Albert Einstein, I am sure you heard of him, came along and realized that gravity and acceleration are the same thing and that gravity effects space and time.  He improved on Newton’s laws with his theory of General Relativity. But again his equations do not explain gravity.

    Now physicists are trying to get a quantum theory on gravity, but still it wont explain gravity. just descibe it

    Sam, it’s obvious your education in science is lacking somewhat  so may I suggest you have a read of James Jeans book Physics and Philosophy, and if you can’t get your hands on thatone, try something else, there are heaps about.

    Best of luck and enjoy the journey

    And don’t make disparaging remarks about other peoples knowledge of science without knowing them, if you don’t mind. 

  • frosh says:

    Henry, You wrote:

    “But even with global warming first observations are made on how the climate is changing and by appling some known science some modelling is carried out to predict future events. “

    My concern with these models is that I have not seen it demonstrated that they accurately ‘predict’ the past.  If they can predict the future, they ought to be able to predict the past. 

    Unless I am mistaken, these models would not have predicted the Roman warming period, nor the recent Little Ice Age etc.

  • Henry Herzog says:

    Frosh, you got me there. But I prefer to dabble in physics and so on. I am no expert on climate science, but you are right, in theory models should be able to also let us what happened in the past, but I do not think, given the current “climate”, the stuff that is of concern is more to do with the future than the past. I have a reasonable degree of faith in those scientists who I reckon have tested their models on the past to be able now to predict the future, just like metreologists do,( I mean why would they be making up such stories). They tell us if it’s going to rain or not but who cares if their interpolations have it that it rained 2 hundred years ago, if you know what I mean.

  • Henry Herzog says:

    PS if it wasn’t for climate change I wouldn’t be interested in climate change, just like i am not interested in immunology.

  • Sam says:

    Hi Henry,
    I got a reaction from you did I not?
    I am quite happy to try a simple expanation of gravity here to show that for all practical purposes scientists can explain rather than only describe most natural phenomena.
    This wont be an ultimate explanation; as in the big bang theory of the universe, even one who accepts that all matter was contained within a microscopic speck a nanosecond before, can still ask where that matter originated from in the very beginning.
    We must accept that there a limits to our knowledge, and probably for man there always will be. I don’t believe that we need religion to explain to us this ultimate knowledge.
    Quantum theory and even intuitive  knowledge indicates that basic units of matter, be they atoms are smaller particles if you wish, are bound together by forces. They must be, or a diamond for instance would disintegrate with the slightest disturbance.             One type of attractive force within and between bodies is a weak force we have named gravitation. We don’t need to consider the other forces at the moment.
    Newtons law which is acceptable for all but very precise measurements not only provides a formula for calculating a gravitational force between two bodies but its simplicity also enables us to understand the logic behind it, and it makes perfect sense, based on observations of the solar system for instance.

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