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Home » Science, The Jewish Faith, Va'etchanan

Vaetchanan: Science and Faith

Submitted by on July 23, 2009 – 2:56 pmNo Comment | 3,393 views

July 21, 1969

Monday July 21, 2009, marked forty years since Neil Armstrong, stepped off the Apollo 11 and set foot on the moon. Forty years is a long time; our sages taught that students do not fully assimilate lessons learned in their youth until forty years have passed. (1) Today, forty years after man’s first hesitant steps on the moon we are in a position to reexamine the lessons learned from it.

Taking his first steps Armstrong famously remarked, “That’s one small step for (a) man one huge leap for mankind.” Today, forty years later, we explore man’s small forays into space and its impact on our leap of faith.

G-dless Science

One would think that titanic feats of scientific discovery would raise the human profile, yet the opposite has happened. Since humanity has launched itself into space our planet has never seemed smaller. The images beamed back to us underscore our insignificance and fragility. The view from above reveals a tiny, globe suspended in the vast stillness of space. Gazing down at it astronauts have reported feeling humble; overawed by the sheer size, exquisite beauty and raw power of the universe.science and faith - innerstream

This discovery can lead the seeking mind to an appreciation for the Creator, but sadly it can also lead us astray. The exploration of space has enhanced our understanding of science, enabled precise measurements of the earth and its properties, opened new avenues of research and led to important discoveries. Our ability to anticipate climactic changes and trace global patterns has given us greater control of our lives. The ability to explore our cosmology allows us to make educated guesses about the origin of the universe. Mastering the intricacies of the universe has unfortunately led many a scientist to dismiss the principle of creation as overly simplistic.

This pattern is not new. Scientific discovery also led the ancients to reject G-d as Maimonides described.

“In the days of Enosh, the counsel of the wise mistakenly reasoned that since God created the skies and spheres as part of nature, suspended them in the skies, and gave them dignity, and since they are privileged to serve Him, it would be appropriate to laud, glorify and honor them as well. It is the will of the Almighty to make great and to honor those who make Him great and honor Him, in the same way that a king wants to honor the servants who serve him.
 
Once this matter was decided, they proceeded to build temples to the stars, bring sacrifices to them, laud them verbally and bow down to them… With the passage of time, the honored Name of G-d was forgotten by all. Everybody, women and children included, knew only the forms of wood and stone, they had been taught to worship. Even the wise among them imagined there is no God, only the stars and spheres, of whom they had carved representative figures” (2)

Science And Faith

Times change, but patterns do not. Scientists today do not worship figures of stone, they worship scientific theory, but both veer away from G-d. Alert to the dangers of space exploration the Torah does not reject it. Rather, the Torah informs us of the spiritual dangers and enjoins us to tread carefully:

“Lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the hosts of heaven, which the Lord your God has assigned to all peoples under the heaven, and be drawn to prostrate yourselves before them and to worship them.” (3)

Long before the age of Apollo missions and space walks the Torah presented a framework through which the view from above should be perceived. “And you shall know this day and consider it in your heart, that the Lord He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth below; there is none else.” (4) The greatness of creation is not a testament to itself, but to its creator.

“The heavens bespeak G-d’s glory,” declared the Psalmist. (5) The vastness of the skies is designed to direct our attention to, rather than away from, the glory of its creator. (6) The planetary systems, the intricate detail, the powerful energies, the superheated radiance and the raw power of His handiwork are but a glimmer of G-d’s true power. The vastness of outer space is awe-inspiring but it is measurable and finite. In the face of G-d’s infinite ability, nature’s impressive display seems mediocre.

Indeed, gazing down from the heavens provides us with a rare glimpse of the universe. It reveals a beauty and symmetry that dwarfs the human imagination. Its intricate organization suggests a higher power of all encompassing greatness that pulses through us and the whole of the universe. In its light we realize that we cannot exist as entities in our own right. Surrounded and absorbed by His energy we are like a ray of light inside the globe of the sun; completely nullified and transparent to its source. (7)

Forty Years

It takes forty years of rumination to fully absorb the impact of this lesson. By now we are accustomed to the images from space; the image of our planet as a blue marble suspended in midair is now familiar. The size of the universe, the fearsome array of its powers and the symmetry of its physics are now standard fair in High School text books.

Today more than ever we stand in awe of G-d’s handiwork. Today, forty years later, we can truly appreciate the extent to which the collection of small steps for man has contributed to the giant leap of faith for mankind.
 
Space exploration has demonstrated the power of creation. It has inspired us to seek and it has given us the courage to believe.

Questions to Ponder

Is there an inherent conflict between science and faith?

Could the intricate symmetry of the Universe have come about by chance?

Does the precision and complexity of the universe suggest a higher power to the objective mind?

Footnotes

  1. Babylonian Talmud, Avodah Zarah, 5b.
  2. Maimonidies Hilchos Avodas Kochacim, 2:5
  3. Deuteronomy 3: 19. Being drawn to the worship of
    stars is appropriate perhaps to the people that G-d assigned to be
    under the heavens, but the Jewish nation is different. They were taken
    by G-d and extracted from Egypt. Their destiny is determined by G-d and
    transcends the influence of the stars. See Malbim and Rabbeinu Bachye
    on this verse.
  4. Deuteronomy 3: 39.
  5. Psalms 21: 2.
  6. Ever since the days of Sinai when, “From the
    heavens, He let you hear His voice to instruct you, and upon the earth
    He showed you His great fire, and you heard His words out of the midst
    of the fire,” (Deuteronomy 3: 36) we were taught that heaven and earth
    are a seamless continuum of Divine presence. His voice emanates from
    the heavens and is heard on earth. For more information see Toras Moshe
    (Alshich) on this verse.
  7. Derech Mitzvosecha, Mitzvah Achdus Hashem, ch. 3.
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