Friday, May 1, 2009

The Rebbe: True Science

In February, 1961, Professor Cyril Domb wrote an article in London's Jewish Chronicle, concerning the work of Martin Ryle, in the field of cosmology.
Ryle's work was instrumental, in bringing the field out of the realm of speculation, to become a true science.

In the 1960's Ryle gradually but steadily, began to favor the big bang theory.

In a Jewish Chronicle article that attracted wide attention, Professor Domb asserted; that Torah thinking could live with cosmology; and he proceeded to explain his reasoning.

The Rebbe, apparently, disagreed:
By the Grace of G‑d

Rosh Chodesh Sivan, 5721
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Professor C. DombKing's College, London
Sholom UBrocho:

(Excerpts): Your article, "The Bible and Creation," in the Jewish Chronicle of February 17, 1961, has been brought to my attention. I take the liberty of commenting on it.

This circumstance assumes particular significance, in the light of one of the Chassidic tenets, which on reflection, is a basic principle of out faith; namely, that everything is directed by Hashgocho Protis (Divine Providence).
Your article indicates, that you are aware of the difficulties and conflicts, besetting the minds of many Jews, particularly in the ranks of the younger generation. Difficulties arising from the existence - as it seems to them - of contradictions, between religious belief and science.

Though not a new problem, it has become accentuated by the belief, that there are contradictions also from the direction of the so-called "exact" sciences, which are popularly assumed to have been proven beyond a shadow of doubt.

Hence, they are faced with the problem, of either remaining in the religious camp, in defiance of the scientific deductions; or having to choose between the two.

Needless to say, the Jew whose faith has, as it should, the power of unassailable conviction, has no problem in the first place. For to him, the Torah, and all that it teaches, is the Divine Truth; and he rejects a priori, anything that contradicts it.

It is obviously a matter of obligation, to help them dispel their doubts and conflicts.
As a matter of fact, the whole problem is based on a popular misconception, as to what science is. Where there is a true understanding of what science really is, there is no room for such confusion.

For, as it is well known, but too often overlooked, the sciences, even the so-called "exact" sciences, are at bottom, nothing more, than assumptions, working hypotheses and theories, which are only "probable"; as indeed you pointed out in your article, but all too briefly.

On the other hand, religious truths are definitive and categorical. To quote our Sages - and it is also self-evident – "bori v'shemo, bori 'odif".
In other words, science cannot, a priori, challenge religion, especially our religion; for science can never speak in terms of absolute truth.

The best proof for this, as you also mention in passing, is that, many scientific theories of the past, which had been accepted as ultimate, have been swept away, "absolutely", and categorically; (to the extent that, science can be "absolute").

A glaring example is provided by the question of the geocentricity (of our global earth) in the planetary system; and better still the universe; which had been such a bone of contention, between scientists and theologians.

When Copernicus' theory was accepted, many theologians hastily began their apologetics, by attempting to reinterpret Biblical passages, in the light of the new scientific "truth", but not very convincingly.

But now, according to the theory of relativity, that from the scientific point of view, either theory could be accepted.
I would like to add, that the fact, that scientific laws are only probable, and are merely statements of the most likelihood, reflects not only on future predictions, but also on deductions relating to the past. Which must remain in the realm of probability, based on non-observation.

Where no observation/experiment is possible, deductions are purely conjectural. Hence, science can never challenge the veracity of the Genesis account, from the viewpoint of the evolutionary theory, or any other theory.

And it would be just as "scientific" to accept the account verbally, as to reinterpret it allegorically, to harmonize it with any particular cosmological theory.
In treating this subject more fully, you could bring out more forcefully the fact, that science is basically a theory of probable phenomena, and can in no way challenge religious truths.

There is no contradiction, between this correct viewpoint, and human daily conduct, based on these scientific assumptions.

Here is where religious beliefs and practices, have the "advantage" over science; for it is only the Torah, Toras Chayyim, that give certitude to human deductions, arrived at in the proper way; giving them the stamp of truth; not only within the rational and sensible world, but also in a transcending way.
Thus, as above, Shabbos is evidence of the creation of the world ex nihilo, as a fact, etc. etc.
With regard to this particular portion of the Torah, however, I must disagree with the statement you made, in the said article, to the effect that: from the Torah viewpoint, it is possible also to accept the evolutionary theory. In support of which you cite certain interpretations of this portion.

This is not so, and the test of the matter is Halachah (Jewish Law). Where Halachah is concerned, there can be no alternatives, for the rule of Halachah, is the rule of reality.

So long as the Halachah is not infringed, we are at liberty to interpret the Biblical verses on any level of P'shat, Remez, Drash and Sod. But this prerogative ends, where Halachah has ruled. This rule must be accepted as having priority over all other interpretations.

According to the Halachah, our world came into being 5721 years ago; and the age of the world is reaffirmed on such Torah legal documents as Gittin (divorce), and the like.

Shabbos is the seventh day of the week, which the Halachah connects with the six days of creation that preceded it (T.B. Shabbos 69b), and so on.

The literal acceptance of the Genesis account, does not conflict with the doctrine in Midrash, Kabbalah and the Zohar, that G‑d "created worlds and destroyed them"; since the latter refer to spiritual worlds.

As is amply explained in these disciplines, according to the final explanation of the Ari.
Many are confused and held back, by the misconceived doubts and conflicts, mentioned earlier; may you respond to the urgent need, of bringing some clarity and light into those confused minds, a task for which your position eminently qualifies you.
By the Grace of G‑d
29th of Tishrei, 5722,Brooklyn, N.Y.
Professor C. Domb37

Green LaneHendon, London N.W.4

You mention the difficulty, of understanding the account of creation literally; specifically, how it is possible to define days, before the sun was created.

But I do not see the difficulty at all. The literal meaning of the words "And it was day, and it was night", is inescapable; for the very same words are used in the text, before as well as after, the sun was created; i.e. in each of the six days of Creation.

It would surely be illogical to assume, that the very same expression, used in identical context, and in the very same section, should have different meanings!
This still leaves the question of, how is the passage of a day to be measured, before the sun was created?

But this question, too, has no basis, insofar as the text is concerned. For we are told at the outset, that G‑d created light, and separated between light and darkness; that is to say, the Creator immediately set the limits of the day and night.

As for the source of this light, surely no one will claim, that the sun is the only possible source of cosmic light; especially if we accept the view of science, that light has to do with electro-magnetic waves; surely there could be other sources of light and energy, besides the sun.

Whether we accept the particle theory of light, or the wave theory, or the theory combining the two; our position is not affected thereby.
One final remark, apropos of your mentioning, that in these matters, you do not rely on your own judgment, but consult with Rabbonim, etc.

Unfortunately, the majority of Rabbonim stand too much in awe of scientific theories. For they still adhere to the attitude of bygone generations, when science was regarded as an absolute truth; as something apart from human intelligence and speculation.

In other words, that scientific laws are not produced, but merely "discovered" by the scientist; and are infallible and immutable.

So deep-rooted is this attitude, having received the sanction of such eminent authorities in the past;
that even now,
(when scientists themselves recognize, that they are dealing not with independent "truths" and immutable laws, but merely with theories, formulated only for the convenience of systemization, and classification advancement);
many a well meaning Rov, still finds it difficult to change his attitude, in regard to science.