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When Judaism Meets Science

 

“a rare masterpiece”
– Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, HUC

“careful research, passionate analysis, and good sense”
– Rabbi David Teutsch, RRC

“clear, engaging”
– Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman, Sinai and Synapses

“a tremendous tome”
– Rabbi Wayne Dosick, SpiritTalk Live!

“an absolutely fascinating book”
– Rabbi Richard Address, Jewish Sacred Aging

“scholarly, judicious, and fair–minded . . . and very ‘readable’”
– Ronald W. Pies, MD

“a fresh way to explore Jewish topics . . . useful in teaching adults”
– Rabbi Gail Shuster–Bouskila

“A must read! . . . careful thought and such literary excellence”
– Rabbi Jack Riemer

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Welcome!

Welcome to a discussion about Judaism and science, about fact, fiction, and faith. Now in its eighth year, this site has already explored a wide range of issues, from archeology to zygotes and from adam (mankind) to t’filah (prayer). And we have done so unsponsored and unencumbered by any particular denomination.

Along the way, we have encountered some interesting ideas, met some fascinating people and even gained some new perspectives. And our journey has really just begun. All who are interested in a thoughtful, respectful and constructive dialogue are invited to participate.

When Judaism Meets Global Warming (Part 4/4)

Thursday, July 22, 2021 @ 08:07 PM
posted by Roger Price
Earth, from Space
Image Credit: NASA

PART IV ––WHAT JUDAISM CAN AND CANNOT SAY CREDIBLY AND PRODUCTIVELY ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING.

     Global warming, which could lead to climate change, is a complex phenomenon, as we discovered in the first three parts of this essay, previously published here. It is also a ubiquitous subject today, so it is easy to forget that it did not emerge into public consciousness as a matter to be treated seriously until the 1970s. The Jewish community was quick to understand the potential gravity of the issue, and, over the last forty years or so, through familiar denominational outlets and more recently by way of independent entities, the community has not hesitated to speak out. It has met global warming with concern and conferences. Whether the resultant rhetoric has accomplished anything or even addressed sufficiently the difficult challenge global warming presents to Judaism is another matter.

     The classic approach.

     The classic Jewish approach to seeking wisdom is to look first to Judaism’s foundational text, the Torah, understood literally as a book (or as books) of instruction. Long ago, and speaking of the Torah, Ben Bag Bag, an early rabbinic sage, described the premise: Turn it and turn it again, he reportedly said, for all is in it. (See Sayings of the Fathers 5:22.) But neither the Torah nor Judaism’s other foundational text, the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, is a science book, much less a technology book, and its authors lacked the knowledge, the tools, and the perspective to understand something as complex as global warming.

To be sure, by the time the ancient Israelites and Judahites began to record their legends and laws, they, like others, were well aware of the seasonal patterns that then prevailed. But there is no evidence that they knew, for example, that the Earth orbited the Sun in an elliptical path, nor did they likely know that the Earth tilted in its axis. And, surely, they did not know about how the Earth’s atmosphere allowed solar energy to hit the planet’s surface or to trap some of that energy that might otherwise radiate away. Had they any inkling that adding carbon to the atmosphere could potentially and adversely alter temperatures on land, in the seas, and in the sky, would they have insisted on three national pilgrimage festivals and more conventional rituals that called for the sacrificial burning of animals? (See, e.g., Ex. 23:14–17, 34:18-23.) We can speculate, but the truth seems to be that at least early on they conceived of an anthropomorphic god who took pleasure in the aroma of the animal sacrifice (Num. 15:3), and mitigating carbon infusion into the atmosphere was not an issue. 

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When Judaism Meets Global Warming (Parts 1-3/4)

Monday, July 12, 2021 @ 11:07 AM
posted by Roger Price
Image Credit: NASA Glenn Research Center

PART I — CLIMATE SCIENCE IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. IT IS MUCH HARDER.

Science is a process. At its best, it observes, inquires, hypothesizes, predicts, tests, measures, evaluates, and explains the reality in which we appear to live. But science is uneven. It deals with some phenomena better than others.

For instance, with exceptional accuracy, physics can determine the daily rotation of our home planet, the Earth, and its yearly orbit around our host star, the Sun. It can tell us when constellations will appear in the sky each year and when and where less frequent eclipses, both solar and lunar, will become visible and then fade from view.

Through chemistry we understand the natural elements that make up our world and the reaction of one element with one or more other elements under defined pressures and temperatures. Through chemistry we can make the steel and concrete that help us build structures for housing, education, and entertainment, and for manufacturing, distribution, and acquisition, that is, the structures that enable and define modern life.  

The world of biology is more challenging in that life forms do not operate with the regularity of planetary rotations or orbits or the interaction of chemicals under specified conditions. We can trace the past evolution of species, but we cannot predict with any certainty how they will develop in the future. We can test newly developed drugs in controlled double blind experiments involving humans in order to determine the general safety and efficacy of those drugs, but we cannot predict with certitude what, if any, adverse reactions will affect a particular individual or when.  

Compared to physics, chemistry, and biology, climate science is a relatively new science. Even at its most basic level, it deals with complex phenomena such as temperatures on Earth, both on land and in the oceans, but also in the various gaseous layers above the planetary surface to outer space itself. In contrast to a focus on short terms weather activities, climate scientists define their subject matter –– the climate –– as the average of weather over time, typically a period of thirty years. (Steven Koonin, Unsettled, 27.)

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Cong. Agudat Achim Explores “When Judaism Meets Science”

Monday, April 5, 2021 @ 02:04 PM
posted by Roger Price
Cong. Agudat Achim

Cong. Agudat Achim (“CAA”) is a full service, egalitarian, and participatory congregation based in Schenectady, New York. For over 120 years, it has identified with the Conservative movement.

In late March, 2021, as part of CAA’s series on Judaism and science, three members of the congregations, each of whom also happens to be a scientist, interviewed your blogmaster, Roger Price, about various aspects of the interplay of Judaism and science. The interviewers were Andrew Gavens, a materials engineer, Advisor at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, and past president of CAA, Jay Yablon, a theoretical physicist at Einstein Centre for Local–Realistic Physics, patent lawyer, and also a past president of CAA, and Susan Sharfstein, a biochemical engineer and professor of nanobioscience at SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Steven Jarrett, a retired physician and former Medical Director for the Capital District Regional Office of the NYS-DOH, also submitted questions.

The principal topics covered over the course of about one hour and twenty–five minutes include the motivation for and the process regarding writing “When Judaism Meets Science,” ethical issues associated with CRISPR technology and gene and germline editing, Moses as an author or, alternatively, a scientist, what, if anything, science says about God and the writing of the Torah, the historical accuracy of the Passover and Exodus stories,  how, if at all, the Torah and science agree on the creation of the universe and humankind, and, finally, how Judaism and science inform each other regarding artificial intelligence, possible life on exoplanets, and exotheology.  The full discussion can be accessed on YouTube by clicking here. Introductions begin at the 2:28 mark. Enjoy.

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