Kosher Cookbooks
The Top 25 Sellers

updated daily

Jewish Biography
The Top 25 Sellers

updated daily


Q&A Archives

-  synagogue
-  home
-  non-jews
-  other topics

Ask a
New Question

New Questions


Survival Kit


Jewish Story

Oct 20, 1997 - 20:48 -

I have a question:
Our chavurah will soon be discussing the Jewish view of creationism vs evolution. What is the traditional view? How do those who believe in creationism explain scientific evolutionary facts? How do those who believe in evolution explain the bible?

About me:
My e-mail address:
How I found this site: surfing

They are not in conflict. Science builds a model of the behavior of material reality. It is both useful and beautiful. But it can never say anything about why things happen, only about how measurable reality behaves.

The intellectual danger comes when we confuse our model with the real thing, which is fundamentally unknowable.  For example: people say "The Laws of Physics". But nature is not compelled to obey them.

It is very important to understand that science is not a search for Truth. The scientific standard for evaluating a model of reality is not philosophical truth, but utility and simplicity. Allow me to explain this statement, and discuss some philosophical ramifications.

Many of us think that "Energy cannot be created nor destroyed."  The First Law of Thermodynamics --- The Law of Conservation of Energy --- says so. But this way of thinking is nonsense! This scientific principle is actually the *definition* of Energy. Energy is *defined* as a calculable function of observable measurable quanities so *constructed* as to remain constant throughout all observed processes. When the "Law" is broken, we do not say "energy is not conserved "-- we say "we have discovered a new form of energy". Energy is much too useful a construct to discard. We *choose* to model the behavior of reality by seeking constants -- mass, strangeness, parity.

Similarly, we model the directionality of time by constructing another mathematically calculable function of observable measurable quanities, designed to increase thoughout all observed processes -- called Entropy.  Thus the Second Law of Thermodynamics is also a definition.  

The scientific models say more about the people who make them than about the reasons for the observed behavior of reality. The same is true of the "less fundamental" sciences. Many of us are married to the model of evolution and geological time, even though there is no *stable* objective reason for this model. How can I justify such a  seemingly radical statement? Simple -- Go back and read old scientific journals. Every experiemental argument used to originally justify and establish these theories has been discredited.  Ditto for the arguments that replaced them. But now we have new proofs! Such ideas are much too useful and simple and elegant to be discarded.

(Reminds me of anti-semitism. The idea lives on. The rationale changes. It is really something within us, it needs no rationale.) 

The models say more about the people who make them than about reality.

Now let's get personal. I model my own awareness as being the result of "existing" through "time" in a "reality" that is "external" to my-"Self". But these concepts are all self-created elements of my model of being. The root of Beingness is unknowable. "Within" and "without" are created constructs.

Never confuse the model with reality.  So where is Truth?  Science builds a model and knows how its model works.  Religion views our understanding of the model as a *veiled* clue to the nature of an unknowable hidden reality -- transcendental  -- which animates all of material reality through correspondences between the elements of the two worlds.

I have seen two different approaches to your question in recent Jewish books:

  • The current scientific models are wrong. (e.g., Sing You Righteous, by Rabbi Avigdor Miller).
  • The current scientific models and Jewish understanding of Scripture actually agree. (e.g., Genesis and the Big Bang, by Rabbi Gerald Schroeder).

In addition to the mystical approach I took above, there is also the rationalist approach. Religion and science are not in conflict because they rest upon different postulates -- both unprovable and both un-disprovable.

  • Science assumes that reality is fundamentally constant -- that the "laws of physics" do not change from one place to another or from one time to another. In fact, without this assumption it is meaningless to compare the results of one experiment with those of another as a basis for building a model.
  • Religion begins with the assumption that reality is an ever-fresh expression of an unknowable power that establishes an absolute standard of good. Thus religion says there are singularities in the mathematical model, through which scientists have no right to integrate functions.

In other words: If God is God, He can create a world with fossils already in it.

Science can describe the behavior of the world but can't explain why the behavior should be. It is helpless to address meta-physical questions outside what is measurable. Religion can describe all the why's of the world even to deriving some knowledge of God from the characteristics of His world as modelled by Science.  The impossible challenge of Science is to explain the presence of order in its model. The difficulty of religion is to reconcile our model of good with our model of the world. This is the problem of (apparent) evil, common to all religious thought.