The debate over science vs. religion has been raging for years. Many people have declared that since religion demands no inquiry and also faith and belief, it is incompatible with the scientific method that seeks investigation and hypotheses and testing in order to confirm. Therefore, they say, while you can be both religious and scientific, mixing the two is like oil and water.
In a recent class, in fact, with pre-B’nai Mitzvah students, they were adamant that Torah was religion and not science. They didn’t see how anything that Torah proclaimed was grounded in reality or fact and it was merely just stories and faith. They, too, felt that science is science and religion is religion and never the twain shall meet.
Judaism not only doesn’t believe that science and religion are two completely different disciplines but that one describes the other. How can this be so in the face of so much controversy to the contrary? First of all, we need to understand that Judaism is not only a religion, nor was it ever meant to be; it so much more.
Years ago, in a confirmation class, my rabbi at the time said that Abraham, after smashing all but one of the idols in his father’s shop and blaming it on the one surviving piece of wood, conceived this universal force. In fact, my rabbi stated, the word “Adonai” means “force” as in “force of nature”. The point is that this Universal Force was what brought all into being and constantly maintains the integrity of the universe.
Consider what Genesis says about the beginning of everything. It talks about how in the beginning there was nothing, and G-d—using the word for G-d that can means gods or angels or nobles—created the light and darkness by saying so, and thus it was. According to Judaism, then, this Divine Being spoke a command and things started happening. This was repeated for each day with different things happening, like the lights in the sky, then the plants, fish, birds, creatures and finally Man (or more rightly perhaps, Humans) coming into existence over a period of six “days”.
The current theory of creation in the scientific world is the theory of the Big Bang. There was nothing and then a sound emanated from the superfluid vacuum state, or wherever, and matter exploded into existence. It was then over many millions of years, or epochs, that this “stuff” started to coalesce into what we see now as our physical home.
Personally, this theory of the Big Bang sounds exactly like what the Torah is describing in Genesis, chapter 1. The “bang” was Hashem saying “Let there be light…and there was light”. The Torah goes on to describe 5 succeeding various stages, or “days”, of creation marked by a progression of developments that ended with the advent of thinking, discerning human beings. Seems to be a very accurate description by people who didn’t have a fraction of the scientific equipment or sophistication that we have now to create such a theory some 4000 years later.
Now about that word “day”. In our current language, “day” can either mean the amount of time our or any other planet takes to rotate around its axis until the same point is facing the sun. It can also mean that part of our 24-hour cycle that is light. How about another meaning for just a distinct period of time? So maybe the first day was a period of microseconds? The second day was a longer period of perhaps millions of years while the raw material started to form into distinct and specific shapes that became the bodies that we now recognize as planets, stars, etc.
Next we have the story of the first humans, Adam and Eve. The word “Adam” is a derivation of the word for earth, “adamah”, as man was created from the ground itself. “Eve” is the word “Havah” or life, probably because it is the woman that formed a new life within her womb. These two may have been, as has been suggested, the missing link between the lower primate and our intelligent species. Eating from the Tree of Knowledge may be a vague reference to the development of the frontal lobes of our brains that allows us creative thought. Remember that animals run around naked; it is only humankind that requires clothing to be able to maneuver with the elements of the changing seasons.
This is a very rudimentary discussion of how Torah is not a contradiction to the rational thought of the scientific method. Certainly a discussion like this can go for a lot longer. As we start our yearly adventure into our heritage, consider the relationship between the so-called mystical and fantastic stories that we will read and the scientific.