Follow by Email

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Good Neighbors?

Please see my essay on religion and science in the Jewish Standard.


  1. Dear David
    I have read your article. As an orthodox jew with a science background, working in sciences, I am aware of the many apparent contradictions and tensions that arise between science and ‘religion’. I identify with your displeasure among the biblical creationists, which unfortunately is found in books that have recently come out in the charedi world. I also cringe when they assert that one must believe that the world is 5774 years old and every statement of chazal must be understood literally or else one is a heretic.
    But I am at a loss to understand what redeeming value there is to the NOMA approach of Steven Jay Gould. He was , as you note an agnostic, someone who denied basic tenets of Judaism. NOMA at its core denies the concept of Yichud Hashem, which we recite twice daily. If G-d is inherently one as we believe, than it is by definition impossible to speak of different ‘magisteria’, for all of it ultimately is an expression of G-d’s will. As Rabbi Tendler put it, “ ‘Hashem ‘ is the Author of Torah and ‘Elokim’ is the Legislator who promulgated the laws of nature. They are one and the same, neither two g-ds, nor a schizophrenic g-d at odds with himself or divorced from reality. As a result, our language should never allow for the question of whether Torah and madda are ever in conflict, etc…” (Torah Umadda Journal Vol.5 p.170)
    This being the case I don’t see how NOMA can have any use, even as a model, to a believing jew, as it is at odds with Yichud Hashem.
    Parenthetically, regarding your assertion that the Torah is neither a literal nor an esoteric work of science, I would encourage you to read an article by David Shatz “Is there Science in the Bible? An Assessment of Biblical Concordism” Tradition summer 2008 p.198-244. In that article he discusses this issue in depth.
    Neil Normand(fellow congregant at Shaare Tefillah)

  2. Neil,

    Thanks very much for your comments. I am also glad we had a chance to discuss this briefly face-to-face. From the outset, an opinion column, which is limited in both breadth and depth, cannot do justice to the issues touched on in the essay.

    To your specific point regarding Gould’s non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA), I tried to make it clear that while NOMA is a useful point of departure for the relationship between religion and science (especially in contrast to biblical literalism or to Steven Pinker’s scientistic model), by itself, NOMA is an inadequate position for traditional Jews. A ben Torah cannot, and should not, navigate through life with a split personality that does not somehow integrate the categories we call secular and holy. We do not accept a dualistic approach to the universe, where kodesh -- the spiritual -- and chol -- the empirical -- are adversaries. At the same time, kodesh and chol are so named because they are distinct. As much as they are metaphysically linked and should be integrated in daily life, they are not equivalent. But I agree that yichud Hashem demands an unfragmented approach to reality. This can be a great challenge, especially for those who are sensitive to the complex nature of reality.

    I believe you mistook “science” and “religion” in my essay for philosophical categories -- physical reality vs. God -- rather than practical disciplines, which is how I intended to use them. “Religion” here is not synonymous with “God”; I could have been clearer on this point. Gould’s “magisteria” are teaching authorities -- this is the original sense of the word in Catholicism -- rather than metaphysical concepts. So the idea of NOMA is to separate, in practice, the teachings of science, which have authority over objective matters, and the discipline of religion, which teaches value and meaning. A religious scholar -- in his capacity as a religious authority -- cannot rule on the heliocentricity of the solar system or on the safety of metzitzah be-peh; it is beyond his authority to do so. Likewise, a scientist who offers moral guidance based solely on biological or evolutionary principles has exceeded his authority.

    I would add that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s "Halakhic Man" and "Lonely Man of Faith" are essentially philosophical-religious explorations of these issues in terms of ideal typologies -- homo religiosus, cognitive man, and halakhic man; Adam I (majestic man) and Adam II (covenantal man of faith).