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Kickstart School 5778: Science and Torah

How to deal with the hard questions students ask about how science and Torah interface.
When: Sun August 27 10:40 AM - 11:35 AM


Finding God inhering naturalistically in all things -- a theory usually called panentheism -- is the only adequate religious response to science.
-R. Jeremy Kalmanofsky

Posts Tagged ‘Einstein’

Einstein, Kaplan and Heschel Walk Into A Bar

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 @ 06:09 PM
posted by Roger Price

It was in 1953, or so. The exact date is lost to memory.  The pub was somewhere just north of Columbia University. Albert Einstein, perhaps the greatest physicist of the century, picked the place in part because he was visiting an old friend at Columbia, as he was traveling from Princeton to his summer home on Long Island.  Not coincidentally, for he did not believe in coincidences, it was also not too far from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Einstein wanted to meet JTS luminaries Mordecai Kaplan and Abraham Joshua Heschel, and had heard that the bar had a booth in the back that was conducive to conversation. He was interested in Kaplan because he had heard of Kaplan’s attempts to create a Jewish theology without supernaturalism. The idea of a naturalist philosophy, or trans-naturalist as Kaplan sometimes called it, appealed to Einstein. Anyone whose prayer book was radical enough to get burned, by Jews no less, was a bonus for the seventy plus year old, but ever rebellious, Einstein.

Heschel was a different matter. A dozen or so years earlier, Heschel had been severely critical of Einstein because he thought Einstein had dismissed the God from heaven. Einstein was aware of the criticism, but had also heard Heschel described by some as a pantheist and by others as a panentheist. Einstein’s theology, such as it was, fell in there someplace, too, usually. It made no real difference to Einstein. All agreed that Heschel had a mystical bent. That approach made no sense at all to Einstein, but to some degree that was one of the points of the whole pub exercise.  He was there for a variation on one of his thought experiments. Except this time he was interested not so much in experimenting (though the idea of having a German Jew, a Polish Jew and a Litvak at the same table was intriguing). He was just enjoying thinking about thinking. read more

Brains, Bosons and the Hebrew Letter Bet: The Higgs Field and the Jews

Monday, July 30, 2012 @ 09:07 AM
posted by Roger Price

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 Cosmos, Oneness and Judaism: Are Pantheism and Panentheism Kosher for Jews?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012 @ 06:06 PM
posted by Roger Price

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

The Big Bang: Science, Death and the Unknown

Thursday, December 15, 2011 @ 02:12 PM
posted by Robert Magrisso, M.D.

            Suddenly, Einstein lifted his head, looked upward at the clear skies and said: “We know nothing about it all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of school children.” “Do you think we shall ever probe the secret?” “Possibly we shall know a little more than we now know, but . . . .”
R.W. Clark, The Life and Times of Albert Einstein (Avon, 1971).

            One of the very few textbooks that remain from college is my Halliday and Resnick Physics for Students of Science and Engineering. On its side remain, in very faint but still readable pencil, the words “Physics is a fraud,” which I wrote as a freshman. It was the culmination of one of the first of a long series of ambivalent encounters that I have had over the years with science. I wrote those words as an act of blasphemy and liberation towards what was then, essentially, disillusionment with my first religion: physics. I majored in physics in college not so much for practical knowledge as under the presumption that I was dealing with truth, and not just simple truths, but ultimate Truth. To me, attending lectures, doing the experiments, learning the mathematics, reading the books and doing the problems was equivalent to Talmud study.Newton, Einstein, Bohr, Maxwell, Planck, Heisenberg, Galileo  . . .  these were the prophets. Feynman was our hero. read more

Science and Judaism: The Strange Claim of Dr. Schroeder (Part II)

Monday, October 31, 2011 @ 10:10 PM
posted by Roger Price

In a prior post (10/18/11), we started to look at Dr. Gerald Schroeder’s argument in The Science of God (“TSOG”)(rev. ed. 2009) that the six biblical days of creation and the billions of years of the evolution of the universe as measured by scientists actually occurred over the same time period. Our focus was on Schroeder’s interpretation of certain biblical passages that he believes show that time is treated differently before and after the creation of Adam. (See, e.g., TSOG, at 52, 54.)

Now we are going to address that part of Schroeder’s argument that rests of physics and mathematics. In the concluding post of this series, we will review the conclusion of Schroeder’s conflation argument. read more

Sutton Foster and Three Jewish Guys

Friday, September 9, 2011 @ 10:09 AM
posted by Roger Price

              Albert Einstein was a Nobel Prize winning theoretical physicist, a dreamer and a thinker.  Einstein was born in Germany, and moved to America in 1933, affiliating with Princeton University. He died in 1955.

               Aaron Zeitlin was a writer, a playwright and a poet. He was a leading figure in the world of Yiddish literature in the twentieth century (CE). He came to the America in 1939, taught at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City and died in 1973.

                Sutton Foster is a Tony award winning actress, a singer and a dancer. Foster was born in the state of Georgia about a year and a half after Zeitlin died. She also has ties to New York City, but is very much alive. read more