Re: Torah and Science

Michael Voytinsky (michaelv@globalx.net)
Wed, 27 Nov 1996 23:19:13 -0500

Yaakov Menken <menken@torah.org> writes:
>>1) Recent research in physics casts considerable doubt on the "Big Bang
>>Theory".
>
>This was a surprise - I wasn't at all aware that this was true. What is the
>up-and-coming alternative?

I do not know any details on suggested alternatives. (I am not a physicist,
so I can only report on the views expressed by professionals on the subject
- at the moment I reserve judgement.) However, from what I know the Big
Bang does have some serious mathematical bugs in it. In particular a
number of predictions that were based on it did not correspond to actual
observations.

There is a book aimed at the "informed layman" called "Big Bang Never
Happened" - can not remember the author. It has been highly recommended to
me, although I have not read it. (My reading list grows faster then I can
read.)

>As far as I know, no current theory says that
>the universe has existed for all eternity, as did Greek philosophers.

As far as I know some physicists do suggest this. Again, I do not know
enough of the subject matter to pass judgement.

In any case, the truth or falsehood of any particular scientific theory was
not the major topic of my posting. Rather, I was concerned with the
transient nature of scientific fact.

>to point out that the current leader among scientific theories is more in
>accordance with Torah than those in vogue previously. I believe this
>remains true even for most accepted alternatives.

This may be true, but I would not make a big deal out of it. If, in 20
years time, the scientific theories will change to be further from the
Torah, what would we do? Say that they are less likely to be true? This
is a hazardous approach - as I have mentioned, many ended up looking silly
doing this.

Is it not also possible that the events described in the Torah did not
necessarily occur in the physical sense?

There is a view that creation is an ongoing process - since being the
creator is one of God's attributes, there can be no creation without a
Creator - hence God and His Creation must be co-existent (and eternal,
presumably). I do not know how this fits into traditional Judaism, but it
certainly sounds reasonable.

>This is true within certain limitations - because science restricts itself
>to the realm of "natural laws," any scientific theory cannot rely on
>miracles. The most obvious example is the theory of evolution - although
>there are real problems with it, it remains the most probable _scientific_
>theory available. "OK, the best explanation is that G-d created us" is
>unacceptable as a _scientific_ answer, whether or not it's true.

I submit that the statements "Humans evolved from apelike lifeforms, who in
turn evolved from other lifeforms etc. etc. who evolved from some loose
strands of DNA a few billion years ago" and "God created Humans" do not
inherently contradict each other.

Another example:

Statement 1:
John Smith is dead. He has no pulse, he is not breathing and there is no
electrical activity in his brain. Soon his decomposing body will be eated
by bacteria, fungi, nematodes, etc.

Statement 2:
John Smith is dead. He has left his mortal body, and will now stand
judgement before the Almighty.

You will note that while the two statements provide very different
descriptions of Mr. Smith's demise, there are no contradictions between the
two - ie. they may both be true.

>believes that our intelligence comes from G-d, I don't believe we'll ever
>manage to create a computer that can "think like a human," a la HAL in
>2001: A Space Odyssey. [NB: If I'm wrong, it's not a theological problem; I
>just guessed wrong based on what I know. But note that we're already way

I can say with a fair amount of certainty that given current models of
computing true AI is not possible. It seems very likely that other models
will eventually be discovered. Since all that occurs is, eventually, God's
work, I see no particular theological difficulty with true AI.

Certainly I would laugh at anyone who maintains it is a sin to "try to do
God's work" - things like trying to create life by mixing around bits of
organic material, create true AIs, etc. (The two are sort of related, no?)
We can not, by our very nature, take over God's work.

>This, however, does not preclude an honest analysis of Torah and science
>which attempts to resolve any apparent contradictions. Although science may

True, but scientific method would be of greater interest here then actual
scientific facts.

There is a related issue here - perhaps you could comment on it further:
secular historians have a very different account of Jewish (and related)
history then does the Jewish tradition, the Talmud, etc. How (if at all)
can the two be reconciled. It would make little sense to casually dismiss
historical accounts as false, IMHO.

>The alternative is the "who cares what scientists say" attitude to which I
>was responding. The answer to that is: lots of people! No one is out there
>saying that "the universe is 15 billion years old - given Professor
>Schroeder's book, this means you should believe in G-d." Rather, there are

Unfortunately there ARE people like that out there.

>any number of people who say that "the scientists have proven that the
>universe is 15 billion years old, while your Bible says the world is only
>5757 years old - and therefore your Bible is (ch"v) false."

This is more common - and makes sense if we accept the Bible as a literal
description of physical events.

Basically I supposed I am confused by what exactly you (and others) mean
exactly when you say that current scientific knowledge agrees with the
Torah. Is this an attempt to offer further validation of the truth of the
Torah? That certainly would be a mistake.

Is is merely a curious observation?

>which conforms far more closely to our beliefs. If that should change
>tomorrow, we shall surely answer the new challenges as they arise.

Given the pattern so far it is safe to assume that the scientific cosmology
will change considerably in the future. It is hardly to early to speculate
as to impact this may have on theological issues.

Peace
Michael Voytinsky