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Posts Tagged ‘cosmology’
Some believers in a traditional deity deny, or at least are skeptical about, certain claims of science. The issue may be the origin of the universe in a Big Bang, the age of the universe, the nature of the evolution of life on Earth or some other proposition. In these instances, the believers see science as inconsistent with, even in opposition to, a sacred truth revealed in some literature such as the Torah, the Christian Bible or the Qur’an, and therefore should be rejected.
On other occasions, though, believers will embrace science. They will hear that the initial conditions of the universe, certain laws of nature or the location and chemistry of our planet are set within a limited range that allows for human existence — a proposition sometimes called the Anthropic Principle (i.e., relating to humankind) — and take those conditions and characteristics as proof of a personal god. They will understand a “fine-tuned” universe as demonstrating, or at least strongly implying, the existence of a Fine-Tuner, a Devine Designer. read more
From time to time, like when an itch just needs to be scratched or a roiling cauldron must overflow, essays are written and debates ensue over the question of whether there is a conflict between Judaism and science. The direct answer to the question depends to a considerable degree on how one defines Judaism, and to a lesser degree on how one defines science. But discussions about the topic, even from Jewish perspectives, often miss that basic point.
Recently Moment Magazine asked nine rabbis the following question: “In what ways, if any, do science and Judaism conflict?” The rabbis were apparently selected as representative of, though not necessarily representatives of, various orientations and denominations. Moment even ordered their responses as if there were a spectrum of Jewish thought from Independent to Humanist, Renewal, Reconstructionist, Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox, Orthodox, and, ultimately, Chabad. (Parenthetically, whether this means that Moment believes that Reform is at the center of Jewish opinion is unknown.) The rabbis’ responses are illustrative of the problem inherent in these kinds of discussions. read more
A few years ago on a Shabbat evening at Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation in Bethesda, Maryland an almost surely unprecedented event occurred. Through the magic of the Hubble Telescope, the internet, and the digital projector, congregants were able to see large images of the vast, exploding universe in which we are all suspended. As the images were paraded one by one before the amazed eyes of the congregants, Steve Brody, an Institute for Science and Judaism Board member and astrophysicist, identified and explained them. Some were familiar; most were not.
There were galaxies, clusters of galaxies, clouds of interstellar gas in which stars are being created, dying stars, and the remains of a supernova. While Steve explained the scientific significance of these denizens of space, a rabbi declaimed passages from the Tanach, our Hebrew Bible. In apposition to a photograph of the Milky Way in which the profusion of stars that comprise it appeared in all their glory, the rabbi quoted God’s promise to Abraham:
[God] took him outside and said “Look toward heaven and count the stars,
if you are able to count them.”
And He added “So shall your offspring be.” read more
Just guessing, of course, but most of the particle physicists from forty-five nations who have been conducting experiments at the Large Hadron Collider (“LHC”) at the European Center for Nuclear Research (“CERN”) near Geneva, Switzerland probably never heard of B’reishit Rabbah, much less contemplated the discussion there about why God created the world with a word (B’reishit) beginning with the Hebrew letter Bet and not a word beginning with Aleph, the first letter in the alphabet. In the course of that discussion, some eighteen centuries ago, Jewish sages offered various and inventive explanations. Among other things, they noted that the letter Bet is closed at the top, bottom and back (right) side, but open in the front. According to one of the scholars, Bar Kappara, this configuration indicated that one may think about what happened after the days of creation unfolded, but not what occurred before then. (See Neusner, Confronting Creation (U. of South Carolina Press 1991), at 39-41.)
If the CERN scientists had read Bar Kappara’s words, they might understand them as an anti-scientific admonition. But that would be a misreading of the somewhat idiosyncratic scholar, for Bar Kappara favored scientific investigation. In particular, he valued and encouraged the study of astronomy. Channeling the prophet Isaiah (at 5:12), he suggested that one who could make astronomical calculations, but failed to do so, did not appropriately regard God’s works. (See, 4B Encyclopedia Judaica (Keter Publishing 1972), at 227.) What Bar Kappara did not like was metaphysical speculation. read more
The psalmist and the skeptic and the prophet and the professor look at the universe in which we find ourselves, see the same stars, feel the warmth of the same sun, hear thunder pealing from the same sky, understand the processes by which nature unfolds in spring, retreats in fall only to regenerate again the following year, and yet often draw different conclusions from the same observable data. So, for instance, in response to the emergence of humankind, a non-theist might merely record the evolutionary data or might, like cell biologist Ursula Goodenough, marvel at the improbability, the mystery, and the grandeur of our existence. (See, e.g., The Sacred Depths of Nature (Oxford University Press 2000).) The traditional Jewish believer, by contrast, might offer a prayer to the Supreme Being: Blessed are You, sovereign of the universe, who has fashioned us from the dust of the Earth in Your image and breathed our soul into us.
Is there another way, a way to attempt to understand one’s place in the cosmos that is consistent with current scientific knowledge, and yet recognizes the miracle of our presence without dependence on some supernatural being? Is there an approach to the cosmos which might be attractive to many, perhaps most, American Jews who do not believe in the traditional personal God who dominates the Torah, but nevertheless accept the existence of (and may even yearn for) some extraordinary power, force or spirit which pervades all that is? (See Post March 14, 2012) And, if so, is that path kosher? read more
We are blessed to live in an age of great discoveries. Prior to about fifteen years ago, astronomers had not been able to identify planets in orbit around stars beyond our solar system. These planets, known as extra solar planets or exoplanets, have now been found. In fact, in the first dozen years from the discovery of the first exoplanet, about 500 such planets were located in diverse areas of the known universe.
Then NASA initiated the Kepler space mission, which was designed to find Earth sized planets within the habitable zone of a star. The mission focused on a relatively small star field in the constellations Cygnus and Lyra, perhaps the extent of the sky obscured by an average extended fist. The discoveries have been phenomenal, and the pace seems to be accelerating. As science writer Timothy Ferris has said, “We live in a changing universe, and few things are changing faster than our conception of it.” (Ferris, The Whole Shebang (Simon & Schuster 1997), at 11.) read more
Credit: NASA AS8-14-2383
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, Maimonides, also known by the acronym Rambam, lived just over eight hundred years ago (1138-1204 CE). He never saw the planet Earth as astronaut William Anders did on December 24, 1968 when module pilot Anders took the now iconic photograph above while flying over the lunar surface during the first manned orbit of the Moon. We do not know if Maimonides even imagined such a sight.
Credit: NASA/JPL P41508
The picture above shows Earth with the Moon in the background. This scene was captured by the Galileo Orbiter on December 16, 1992 at a distance of almost four million miles from our home planet. Maimonides never had the opportunity to see Earth and Moon from this perspective either.
Credit: NASA, The Hubble Heritage Team and A. Riess (STSci). PRC2003-24.
Living some four hundred years before Nicolaus Copernicus considered the nature of the solar system and Galileo Galilei fashioned his first telescope, Maimonides did not realize that the Earth circled the Sun, and not the other way around as was commonly understood in his day. Nor could he have known that the Sun was but one medium sized star in a rather unremarkable galaxy known as the Milky Way which spans 100,000 light years and is similar in size and shape to the spiral galaxy NGC 3370 shown above in a picture taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. Similarly, he would not have known either that our galaxy consisted of a few hundred billion stars, give or take, or that the Milky Way was but one of perhaps a hundred billion galaxies, give or take, in the visible universe. See Tyson and Goldsmith, Origins (W.W. Norton, 2005), at 27, 150. read more
In two prior posts, we have reviewed Dr. Gerald Schroeder’s strange claim in The Science of God (“TSOG”) (Rev. Ed. 2009) that billions of years of cosmic evolution and six biblical days of creation actually occurred simultaneously. With his self-imposed standard of not bending the Bible to science or science to the Bible in mind, we have analyzed how objective Schroeder actually was with respect to the Bible and science. In both instances, we have found Schroeder’s work sorely lacking. He has failed to meet his own standard and other more objective ones as well. read more
Irving (“Yitz”) Greenberg is an American orthodox rabbi, known for critical thinking and reaching across denominational lines. In 1977, writing about the Holocaust, Greenberg argued that in the future, “no statement, theological or otherwise, should be made that would not be credible in the presence of burning children.” A few years later, Greenberg repeated that proposition in a seminal essay entitled “The Third Great Cycle in Jewish History.”