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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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Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Jewish Spirituality: When Defining Something is Harder than Discussing It

Thursday, April 12, 2012 @ 10:04 AM
posted by Roger Price

You know, or should know, there is a problem, when you cannot define the subject that you want to discuss or analyze. Potter Stewart famously faced such a situation when he acknowledged that he could not say what hard core pornography was. That inability did not, however, preclude Justice Stewart from also declaring that he knew it when he saw it. (See, Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 197 (1964).  Not only that, despite his lack of a definition, Justice Stewart was able to express his opinion about an allegedly obscene film and concur in a Supreme Court decision reversing the criminal conviction of a manager of a motion picture theatre.

Not to equate the two situations in any way, but the same sort of problem attaches to Jewish Spirituality.  What is that exactly? And if we cannot define it, will we at least, like Justice Stewart, know it when we see it? And be able to talk sensibly about it, measure it, and do something concerning it?

Whatever Jewish Spirituality is, it seems to be drawing a fair amount of attention. We can measure attention drawing fairly easily these days. All one needs to do is run a few Google searches. If you did that one night in early April, 2012, within less than a second, you would have learned that there are over 33,800,000 sites that Google has identified as relating to Jewish Spirituality. Is that a lot? Well, similar search results in only 2,030,000 sites for Reform Judaism, the largest of the Jewish denominations in North America, and Reform Judaism appears to elicit about twice as much interest, as measured by the Google search count, as does Orthodox Judaism, for instance, which generates only 1,070,000 sites. Searches for Conservative Judaism and Reconstructionist Judaism yielded 738,000 and 459,000 sites respectively.  And for perspective, consider that the results for Justin Bieber exceeded 640,000,000, thankfully less than the number for President Barack Obama at 943,000,000. read more

Jewish Atheism and Jewish Theism: The Data and the Dilemma

Wednesday, March 14, 2012 @ 09:03 AM
posted by Roger Price

American Judaism has a God problem.  Actually, and paradoxically, it seems to have two God problems. One is Jewish atheism. The other is Jewish theism. Here we will look at the data and the dilemma.

At the outset, we have to recognize that there is something odd about the concept of Jewish atheism. Is there really such a thing? Can there be a Judaism without God, however you want to define it. What are the People of the Book without the Hero of the story? How can there be commandments without a Commander? Doesn’t a Covenant require a Party of the First Part and a party of the second part? What do you do with prayer? Can there even be a place for atheism within Judaism?

The questions recall the story about President Harry Truman being asked whether he believed in baptism. “Believe in it?” the crusty president responded, “Hell, I’ve seen it done!” read more

New Planets, A God For The Cosmos and Exotheology

Monday, January 30, 2012 @ 09:01 PM
posted by Roger Price

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

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

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 III)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011 @ 08:11 PM
posted by Roger Price

Fernando Botero – Adam and Eve

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

Science and Judaism: Would That You Were Right, Rabbi Mitelman

Tuesday, October 11, 2011 @ 10:10 AM
posted by Roger Price

   Shortly before this blog was launched several months ago, Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman of Beth El Synagogue in Northern Westchester, New York wrote an article for Huffington Post titled Why Judaism Embraces Science. See,  www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-geoffrey-a-mitelman/why/can-judaism-embrace-s_b_880003.html.  There Mitelman presented three “especially significant” reasons for his thesis.

   At the outset, I recognize that Mitelman was writing a brief essay and not an academic paper, let alone an expansive book. And I also recognize that his audience was whoever was reading or may read the HuffPost blog and not a dedicated group of adult learners. Nevertheless, the three bases for Mitelman’s post, even if assumed to be correct, do not compel the conclusion for which they are mustered and they raise more questions than Mitelman answered in his piece.  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

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

No More NOMA (Part I)

Friday, August 19, 2011 @ 08:08 AM
posted by Roger Price

In a previous post (August 10, 2011), I discussed Stephen Jay Gould’s book Rocks of Ages and his support for the proposition that science and religion occupy (or should occupy) two non-overlapping spheres, or magisterial, of authority (“NOMA”). In the decade since Rocks of Ages was published, Gould’s approach to science and religion has been both praised and reviled, both followed and rejected. Some of the reaction is attributable to the form of his argument, some to the substance. read more