Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks states in his book, The Great Partnership that “Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean.”
Disregarding religion, because of the rapid advancements in science over the last few hundred years, has created a society of challengers of G-D. With monotheism out the window, the new wave of ‘observers’ bow down to science, like the idols of ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.
Amongst the science community, there are many that adopt the ideology that we don’t need to believe in anything which cannot be demonstrated and that it must be evident or explained by the cause and effect scientific method. We could simply disregard the existence of God as we cannot physically demonstrate or prove the existence of a higher power. In that sense we are just the product of a perfect coincidence, the result of a minuscule probability come to reality.
So, how does Judaism view this outlook? Would someone who adopts this view be considered worshipping his own, elevating the human mind as an idol who can prove and demonstrate what “is” and what “isn’t”. Or even worshipping scientism as a whole could be a violation of the second commandment, “you shall not worship idols”. Perhaps it just makes those who do adopt this outlook atheist.
Let me begin with two theories:
One theory begins 13.7 billion years ago. There was an unimaginably vast explosion of energy and out came the universe. Then, a mere 9 billions years later, a planet was formed, deemed capable of sustaining life. The single cell organisms were the first inhabitants of this planet. Beginning to reproduce, creating bigger and smarter life forms continued until an organism came into existence, capable of speech patterns and the ability to ask questions. At last, a presence came into existence that was able to ask the universe, ‘why am I here?’
The formation of the universe, the big bang, the creation of planet earth and the creation of humanity, involved many improbabilities. Had these equations even been slightly off, even to the order of one in a billionth, there would be no stars, no planets, no life. Had evolution from the first single cell organisms been slightly different, had dinosaurs never become extinct, there would be no civilisation, no self-conscious being, no us.
The second theory is that the universe was formed by someone or something outside the universe with the desire to bring things into being. This universe fitted the parameters that could sustain stars, plants and life. Over the written ‘seven days of creation’, The One, G-d, waited to see what happened next, life formed and evolved until a creature emerged that was capable of complex thinking and communication.
The One, in all his mightiness, sent messages to this creature, but at first no one noticed and there was no response. Over thousands of years, The One watched, as these creatures invented tools, hunted, developed agriculture and eventually built cities and constructed cultures. Sacred stories were created and told, explaining why they were there, how they came into existence.. But eventually one man, Abraham, a shepherd far away from the noise of the city, listened to the silence for long enough, to distinguish a message, THE message. He had heard The One.
This sent him on a journey, passing the story onto his decedents, who eventually became slaves. But then, Moses, heard the voice again. What it told him changed his life. Through an immense drama of liberation and revelation, it transformed Abraham’s children into a covenanted nation under the authority of God, receiving the torah on Mount Sinai, celebrated on Shavuot. Eventually, it changed the world.
In both the stories, the science remains the same. The difference lies in how far we are willing to push the question of “why”. The first story says there is no why; the second story says there is. If the universe exists, and there was a time when the universe didn’t exist, then someone or something brought it into existence. Something or someone that is not part of, nor dependent on the universe.
Science is the search for an explanation. Religion is the search for meaning. To believe on the basis of science that the universe has no meaning is to confuse two thoughts; explanation and interpretation. The search for meaning, although it starts with science, must go beyond.
Take a game of AFL: some visitor from a place where footy has not yet been played wants to understand this strange game which excites so much passion and emotion. You can explain the rules of this game, what counts as a free kick or constitutes a goal by kicking between the big posts. The visitor might conclude “I now understand the game, but I don’t understand why you get so excited about it”. At this point, you need to take a larger reflection of the game, step away from the game itself. You can tell people how to play the game, but it doesn’t explain the raw passion. The meaning of football, like any system, can only be found outside the structured rules of the game.
The meaning of the system lies outside the system; therefore, the meaning of the universe lies outside the universe.
The search for meaning, although it starts with science, must go beyond it. The meaning of the universe, why human beings came to be, must lie outside the universe, outside the realms of science, only accessible by that higher power, whatever it may be. Science is simply a tool, not unrelated to higher power.
When scientists claim that something is unscientific, it does not necessarily follow that the claim therefore must not be true. An unscientific question or claim is just something that cannot be proven or disproven using the currently agreed upon scientific tools. It is beyond the boundaries of what science can believably claim, and so does not further our understanding within this scientific world. Any claim that cannot be tested within this framework is deemed unscientific, but note that this says nothing about the credibility of the claim.
For instance, to claim that no purple polar bears exist is an unscientific question, because it is impossible to measure ‘non-existence’; one simply never knows whether all the polar bears in existence have been found and their colour established. There may very well be a purple polar bear, hiding from scientists in a cave somewhere: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
In that regard, science itself cannot be idolatry: To ask whether a God exists, is an unscientific question, but the tool to establish that ultimately does not impact the reality.
To conclude: science itself is a set of rules which changes every once in a while; those rules are an agreed upon set of criteria to judge the evidence to a particular claim. Science as a concept is just a tool: a communal understanding between those that decided to find and explain patterns in the world. The social contract governs the criteria that constitute what the scientific community would regard as adequate proof for any given claim. However, solely worshipping science is a form of idolatry.
Yet completely accepting god for just what it is, without questioning, delving deeper and gaining a greater understanding is just mere ignorance. Therefore, science should not be demonised for disapproving god, rather, a means of understanding the tangible world around us. We should continue scientific discovery, as there is room for science to exist simultaneously with religion. Bettering our awareness of God’s other creatures, enhancing and saving lives through rapid advancements in medical practises and taking things apart to create a greater understanding of how the world works, but allowing religion to put things together to see what they mean.