Monday, December 31, 2007

Answers to a couple of recent comments on Faith vs. Evidence

My answers to a couple of comments on this post -


I wasn't trying to give you a hard time for posting anonymously - sorry if it came across that way.

You're right - perhaps the word "retreat" is a poor choice. But I do not believe in rejecting empirical evidence because my religion claims it must be wrong. If I had always lived in caves and my religion had taught me that the sky was green, and I had always believed that, what would happen if I came to the surface and saw that the sky was blue? There would be 3 choices.

1) The sky isn't blue, despite the evidence of my own eyes.

2) The sky is green; therefore, my entire religion is wrong.

3) The sky is green, therefore my religion was wrong about this particular point. That doesn't invalidate the rest of the religion.

My beliefs would fall into the 3rd category. I love Hashem, I love Judaism. I am forced to concede that Judaism had it wrong on some counts, but that doesn't mean I reject it all.

You say that science is accelerating. But it cannot disprove an intangible. Science can never disprove my belief in God. Nor can science disprove that the Torah is, at the very least, divinely inspired by God and that there was some sort of revelation. This holds true even if the Torah was written by humans at a later date than is traditionally believed. If I choose to believe that many of the historical events and characters in the Torah are "true" only symbolically or allegorically, science cannot disprove that.

So, in answer to your question on what I believe that cannot be changed by scientific evidence: I believe in God and that the Torah is divinely inspired and that Judaism is an outgrowth of that Torah. I believe I am bound by the halachic system because we were commanded by God to create a process based on his revelation that resulted in said system of laws.

None of this can be disproved by science, so I am confident that I never need give up my basic beliefs.

David G:

I'm actually not really struggling with the conflict between science & Torah. I'm pretty comfortable with the middle ground that I carved out. I am fascinated by the challenges and possible solutions, but I don't feel my basic belief system is in danger.


  1. I agree with most of what you said except for point #3.

    My question to you here is WHY NOT?

    Let's say you lived this hypothetical cave and when you came out, not only was the sky not green, but 20 other things that your religion taught you were wrong as well.

    Would you just say that your religion was wrong on these 21 points and move on and that the rest of the religion is not invalidated?

    Also, if you accept that Torah is the truth, then the whole book must be true. If something is false, then the book is no longer true.

    Your thinking on this matter does not make a lot of sense to me. It's either you believe it or you don't.

  2. I got into it with a religious person the other day about this very subject.

    Torah says that God ordained it that a field maybe plowed for 6 years (or was it 5 years, i don't rememeber) and on the 7th year, one should give it a break, otherwise you'll get very bad harvest.

    We discussed this subject. As luck would have it, i have an agricultural background.

    It is true, what God says: you will get a horrible harvest the 7th year. But there is a reason for that and it was discovered more than a 100 years ago.

    And the reason is that when you plant something over and over again, eventually that plant sucks the minerals out of the ground (that are necessary for growth) and thus the 7th year you'll get horrible harvest.

    Farmers figured out that if they rotated their plants every year or two (e.g. grow tomatoes instead of cucumbers in that field), they would have full harvests every year, since the different plants require different minerals and the depleted minerals would have a chance to restore themselves.

    So what does this tell me? It tells me that whoever wrote the Torah, wrote it from the standpoint of knowledge at the time. Because, surely, if God wrote it, he'd direct farmers to sow properly.

    What does this tell you, as you come out from the cave?

  3. Anonymous #1:

    You're still missing my point (if you are the same commenter as before). I believe because I have faith. But I am willing to believe that a lot of human biases and ideas got mixed in with divine revelation, so our religion is a combination of human and divine sources.

    I believe in God and Torah (albeit somewhat untraditionally) and that is something that is not addressable by science. Science and religion SHOULD be separate spheres of human understanding.

    However, sometime they come into conflict. So I have to adjust my understanding of one or the other occasionally (usually religion). That doesn't destroy my basic core beliefs, since those are based on faith. Science has nothing to say about them because they are outside the sphere of science.

    Anonymous #2:

    I never denied that human biases have crept into religion and that many of our laws are based on a combination of divine and human knowledge. That being said, you are assuming that 2 year crop rotation is far better than 7 year. Plus you are assuming that God's reason for Shmitta is crop rotation. Thirdly, you are assuming that that letting the land lie fallow the 7th year precludes regular crop rotation during the other 6 years. None of those assumptions is a given by any means.