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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

Thoughts

. . . unfortunately there are no data for the Very Beginning. . . . Only God knows what happened at the Very Beginning (and so far She hasn't let on).
-Leon Lederman

Posts Tagged ‘origin’

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

Science and Judaism: WWMD? What Would Maimonides Do?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011 @ 08:12 AM
posted by Roger Price

Earthrise as seen from Apollo 8

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.

 

See Explanation.  Clicking on the picture will download<br /><br /><br /><br />
 the highest resolution version available.

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

No More NOMA (Part II)

Friday, August 26, 2011 @ 07:08 AM
posted by Roger Price

In previous posts (August 10 and 19, 2011), we have considered Stephen Jay Gould’s promotion of NOMA, the proposition that science and religion occupy two equally important but non-overlapping magisteria, or domains of authority. We have also considered how scientists have acted with respect to Gould’s promotion of NOMA. Yet if Gould and NOMA have some trouble on the science side of Gould’s aisle, it is nothing compared to what has been said or done on the other. read more