Torah for the Nations: Judaism 101
2. Faith and Science
"The righteous shall live through his Emunah - faith!" (Habakuk 2:4)
"All Your commandments are Emunah - faith!" (Psalms 119:86)
"There are many searching questions about God. But it is only fitting
and proper that this should be so. Indeed, such questions enhance the
greatness of God and show His exaltedness. God is so great and exalted
that He is beyond our ability to understand Him. It is obviously impossible
for us, with our limited human intelligence, to understand His ways. Inevitably
there are things that baffle us, and this is only fitting. If God's ways
were in accordance with the limits of our meager understanding, there
would be no difference between His understanding and ours, and this is
-- Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Likutey Moharan II:52
The amazing achievements of modern science have given it unparalleled prestige in people's minds across the world. "Science works "!!!
Modern-day wonders like jet travel, space exploration, instant global communications, sophisticated medical procedures, nanotechnology and hosts of others were once inconceivable but today they are part of our everyday lives. They have been made possible only through careful research, experimentation and ingenious exploitation of the laws of nature.
In earlier times people could only hope and pray for divine help to provide them with their most basic food and other needs. But today many seem to believe that science and technology can accomplish almost anything, leaving no place for prayer, faith or belief in a Higher Power.
The truth is that there is no contradiction between science and faith in G-d. Many of the greatest scientists of all times came to the inescapable conclusion that behind the order, symmetry, harmony and beauty of the Universe lies the hand of G-d.
Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726), one of the most influential scientists that ever lived, wrote:
"This most beautiful system of the sun, planets, and comets, could only proceed from the counsel and dominion of an intelligent and powerful Being....This Being governs all things, not as the soul of the world, but as Lord over all... Lord God or Universal Ruler" (Principia Mathematica Book III).
Albert Einstein (1879-1955), considered the outstanding scientific genius of the modern age, did not practice traditional religion, yet he said:
"A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty - it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense, and in this alone, I am a deeply religious man."
"My religiosity consists in a humble admiration of the infinitely superior spirit that reveals itself in the little that we, with our weak and transitory understanding, can comprehend of reality." (Albert Einstein, "The Human Side" Princeton University Press)
"The most beautiful and most profound experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive forms - this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness." (Albert Einstein, "The Merging of Spirit and Science")
Numerous great rabbis throughout the generations were great scientists, such as Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (also known as RaMBaM or Maimonides, c. 1135-1204), the outstanding codifier of Torah law, who was also a philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, physician and pharmacologist whose medical works are studied until today. In recent times, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, (the Lubavitcher Rebbe 1902-1994), not only had mastery over the entire range of Torah literature but also gained university degrees in mathematics and engineering and astounded scientists, professional academics and medical doctors with his profound grasp of the sciences.
The War Against Faith
Starting in the west in the 1700's, a rapidly-expanding movement of thinkers, philosophers and scientists became so enthused with mankind's accelerating scientific knowledge and seeming control over nature that they convinced themselves the modern world has no more need of G-d.
Not only did they rebel against antiquated religious establishments that clung to outdated dogmas and superstitions while resisting all new approaches. In the name of "modernity" and "enlightenment", these self-proclaimed atheists rejected the very idea of G-d, embarking on an unremitting, aggressive war of refutation, mockery and scorn directed against any kind of traditional Faith. Their influence has today become dominant in schools and universities, popular culture and the mass media across much of the world.
In the words of the Bible depicting ancient civilizations that came to similar conclusions: "And they said to God: Turn away from us, we do not desire knowledge of Your ways!" (Job 21:14, see also Job 22:17).
It is true that modern science and technology have given us unparalleled knowledge and mastery over nature in many areas. Some claim that scientists will soon be able to bring the dead back to life! Yet even if this becomes possible, the conclusion that science therefore gives us control over the entire Universe simply defies logic and flies in the face of the realities of our existence.
It is mere arrogance to believe that because we know much, we can therefore know everything. This is not true science at all, because genuine science deals not in wild hypotheses but in meticulous enquiry and independently verifiable experimentation. True scientists have the humility to recognize that the more we know about the Universe, the more mysterious it becomes. The pseudo-scientific ideology that denies faith in a Higher Power is actually more prevalent among popular pundits whose scientific knowledge is second-hand than it is among those who are at the cutting edge of scientific research. This ideology is itself a kind of unprovable faith where humans serve and worship the works of their own hands.
The life-style to which this modern secular ideology leads is none other than the neo-pagan materialism rampant in the so-called "most advanced" and "developed" countries in the world today, where people spend their entire lives devoted to the pursuit of wealth, power, status, pleasure, excitement and every conceivable kind of physical gratification.
Evolution vs. Creationism
A leading example of such pseudo-science is the so-called "Theory of Evolution", which claims that humanity simply evolved gradually from more primitive life-forms through chance developmental "leaps" over the course of millions of years, and which today is accepted dogma in mainstream universities, colleges, schools, science textbooks and popular culture across much of the world. Accordingly, many people evidently believe that humans are nothing more than a highly-developed species of animals who are therefore justified in devoting their entire lives to material self-gratification.
None of the scientists who promote this theory were around all those millions of years ago. They are simply hypothesizing on the basis of limited and often dubious "evidence" with no decisive proofs. Nobody has yet found any explanation as to how the great genetic "leaps" which this theory postulates actually took place or why.
On the other hand, "Creationism" is the faith-based approach that even if the development of different species took place over lengthy timespans, it was directed by the unseen, unknown power that we call G-d. Creationism admits that our minds are too limited to comprehend how this took place and does not purport to explain it. Rather, Creationism gives a name to the mystery that any reasonable mind is compelled to acknowledge: that the unfathomably complex, subtle, diverse yet unified, harmonious, beautiful system we see before our eyes in this Universe cannot have come about by mere random chance. The name that Faith gives to the source of this mystery is G-d - by whatever name we call Him.
Limitations of Science
Science cannot explain how the Universe came into being or why, what is its purpose and what is the goal and purpose of our mortal human lives. As humans, we constantly set ourselves short- and long-term goals and strive to attain them. Since this is how our minds work, it is only natural that we ask what is the overall goal and purpose of life. Why is all this here?
Science has scored impressive successes in observing, measuring, understanding and exploiting the workings of the physical world. Yet science has no universally-accepted methods for defining, measuring, assessing and evaluating human goals and intentions. Science is at a loss to explain the complexity and subtlety of human motivation, ambition, vision, will-power, determination, self-discipline and the pursuit of excellence.
Technology is likewise value-neutral. Any technique can be used for good purposes or bad, but science and technology in themselves cannot evaluate the relative worth of these different purposes or prescribe how technology should be used. They cannot preach which values people should embrace or teach them what to pursue in life, and they cannot evaluate the relative merits of pursuing wealth, power, prestige, pleasure, physical gratification, entertainment, culture, intellectual stimulation, love, romance, family life or anything else.
Each person is entirely free to choose his or her own values. The challenge is to know what best to choose. Any self-proclaimed "scientist" who claims there is no purpose in life and that all that matters is self-gratification is in fact a pseudo-scientist who is using his "science" as a camouflage to justify a neo-pagan secular materialism.
Science can deal only with the observable material world, yet no honest, person can deny that the human mind has access to other, non-physical dimensions of existence which science cannot explain or measure. This is evident in the extensive documentation of paranormal phenomena, extra-sensory perception, telepathy, precognition, clinical death experiences and many more.
Did we exist before we were born, and if so, in what form? What will happen to us after we die? Why do we dream? Why do people have visions? Intuitions? Creative bursts in which they imagine and invent things never before thought of? What makes people want to go beyond normal human self-centeredness to help others, show kindness, demonstrate self-discipline, practice self-denial, take on obligations and duties of their own free will, develop themselves spiritually and seek prophecy, holy spirit and joy?
Science can often explain causes and effects and interrelationships but is unable to quantify purposeful action or evaluate between different purposes. Yet what distinguishes us as humans is precisely our free will and our ability to choose our own goals.
What is most important to us in our lives is what we want to attain and how we try to do so. If so, science has nothing to say in the most important area of our lives: purposeful action and where to direct it.
"Taste and see that G-d is good, happy is the person that takes strength in Him!" (Psalms 34:9).
Answers to our questions about the purpose of our lives and where to direct them cannot be derived from science. They come into the realm of EMUNAH, a Hebrew word that is usually translated into English with the words FAITH or BELIEF, although these do not express the full, true meaning of EMUNAH.
EMUNAH derives from the Hebrew root AMEN with which we affirm what is firm, reliable, dependable and certain. EMUNAH is faith in what we believe to be ultimately true, certain and completely trustworthy. EMUNAH cannot be proven by logic or science. With EMUNAH we just feel and know the truth in our hearts and in the very depths of our being.
Many people seem to be born with an instinctive, basic faith in the Divine, but if it is not affirmed and strengthened by their upbringing and education, it can easily be weakened or even destroyed by surrounding influences and worldly temptations, leaving them with many doubts and questions.
EMUNAH is not based on science or logic though they may strengthen it. Nor is EMUNAH an irrational stab in the dark with no basis whatever. EMUNAH, the Faith of Israel, is based on our innate, inborn faith strengthened and developed through teachings and traditions that we have received from our parents, teachers and spiritual guides, who in turn received them from those who went before them going all the way back to the ancient prophets and sages.
The faith of Israel is enshrined in the written Torah - the Bible - and in the literature of the "Oral" Torah found in the Talmud, Midrash, Halachah, Kabbalah and Chassidut. With EMUNAH we accept and submit to the wisdom we have received from our sages and elders.
EMUNAH teaches us the true nature and purpose of world and our lives in it. EMUNAH is an attitude of mind that humbly admits that we have been placed in a world we did not create and that, whether we like it or not, we will have to leave here, and that our lives are surrounded by mysteries that are beyond our comprehension. Through EMUNAH we accept that despite its endless complexity, this Universe is not a random system with no meaning and purpose, but that all things happen for a purpose.
The essence of the faith of Israel is that despite the endless variety in the Creation, it is not a chance assembly of multiple powers but a single, unified Realm or Kingdom that is ruled and governed by a Ruler or King: the mysterious, unknown One that we call G-d. Since He is our King and Master, we are obliged to revere and obey him for our own good, because He is loving and compassionate and desires our good.
EMUNAH guides and teaches us about the meaning and purpose of our lives. With an attitude of faith, we can accept that even if we are unable to understand it, there must be some purpose in the "accidents" of birth, health or illness, intelligence or the lack of it, wealth or poverty, beauty or ugliness, happiness or pain and grief that define and influence the lives of different people.
With EMUNAH we can accept that within our limitations, we have been granted free will and room for maneuver, independent action and a degree of control over our lives, even though we cannot escape death. With faith, we can accept that despite our mortality, life is not futile because there is a meaning and purpose in our very struggles and efforts. With EMUNAH we believe that G-d hears our prayers and responds to them for good.
EMUNAH guides us how to evaluate the different and contradictory paths and goals we may choose in in this world and how to distinguish between what is truly good and what is actually evil, since this is not always obvious from surface appearances. EMUNAH enables to see the priceless value of life-paths that lead beyond human selfishness and greed to self-control, self-discipline, justice, kindness, charity and the pursuit of truth.
You cannot prove EMUNAH. You must take the "leap of faith" and try it, taste it!