Science is Becoming a Religion

Those of you who do not yet see science drifting inexorably into the realm of religion need to clear their minds of prejudice and read this brilliant essay (“Hawking contra Philosophy“) by Christopher Norris in Philosophy Now.

Norris takes on Stephen Hawking’s recent writings in particular, but in so doing points up a growing – and disturbing – tendency for science to become as much about credo as it is ego obseruo.

NYT: Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts

Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts –

This is a brilliant, thoughtful, and deeply disturbing article that bodes ill for our future. Moral relativism, whatever its advantages in enhancing tolerance, may well prove to be a bauble we cannot afford.

Church, State, and Faith in Education

I think we all can agree that there should be a separation of church and state. Where we might have a divergence of opinion is in someone – including the state – telling me what I can or cannot teach my child.

The community, via the state, can tell me that my child must learn about evolution in school. It cannot tell me what I can and cannot teach him in the privacy of our home or in the confines of our house of worship. While I am not a constitutional lawyer, it seems reasonable to me that trying to enforce such a restriction would be an outright violation of the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment.

For the record, some of the best discussions we have in our house are about the apparent contradictions between Darwin’s Theory of Evolution and the common English translations of Genesis, and how Jewish scholars (starting with Maimonedes) reconcile the two. But that’s another topic.

Logic and Truth

In the course of an absolutely stunning deconstruction of Ayn Rand libertarianism, the Nation strikes a bone-deep blow to the corpus of several schools of ethics, not least utilitarianism, that contend that logic and reason are adequate paths to a functioning moral code. (Emphasis mine)

Rand also liked to cite Aristotle’s law of identity or noncontradiction—the notion that everything is identical to itself, captured by the shorthand “A is A”—as the basis of her defense of selfishness, the free market and the limited state. That particular transport sent Rand’s admirers into rapture and drove her critics, even the friendliest, to distraction. Several months before his death in 2002, Harvard philosopher Robert Nozick, the most analytically sophisticated of twentieth-century libertarians, said that “the use that’s made by people in the Randian tradition of this principle of logic…is completely unjustified so far as I can see; it’s illegitimate.” In 1961 Sidney Hook wrote in the New York Times,

Since his baptism in medieval times, Aristotle has served many strange purposes. None have been odder than this sacramental alliance, so to speak, of Aristotle with Adam Smith. The extraordinary virtues Miss Rand finds in the law that A is A suggests that she is unaware that logical principles by themselves can test only consistency. They cannot establish truth…. Swearing fidelity to Aristotle, Miss Rand claims to deduce not only matters of fact from logic but, with as little warrant, ethical rules and economic truths as well. As she understands them, the laws of logic license her in proclaiming that “existence exists,” which is very much like saying that the law of gravitation is heavy and the formula of sugar sweet.

It goes without saying that this is also a gutting indictment of Objectivism.

Scientists and Scripture

Fossils and Faith: Understanding Torah and Science by Nathan Aviezer, Klav Publishing, November 30, 2002

Genesis and the Big Bang: The Discovery Of Harmony Between Modern Science And The Bible by Gerald Schroder, Bantam, November 30, 1991

I trust science and believe in (and trust) God, and the more I look around the more I find that I am not alone. Applied physicist Gerald Schroeder out of MIT and solid state physicist Nathan Aviezer from the University of Chicago (both now in Jerusalem) are two examples of observant Jewish scientists who feel the same way.

Each man explores the issues at the intersection of faith and science, taking a physicists’ look at what he sees are the essential compatibilities of the evolutionary narrative and the account of creation provided in the Torah. The cases they make are thought provoking, but will undoubtedly pose issues for both atheists and biblical literalists. Atheists will see their efforts as rationalizations after-the-fact, more elegantly and persuasively argued than the case for Intelligent Design, perhaps, but in the end no more convincing to skeptics. For their part, observant Jews and literalist scholars are likely to take issue with how both scientists reject the idea that the account in Genesis as literal history.

Yet I approach their efforts a bit differently. I believe that there is an answer to the apparent conflict between the scientific and scriptural accounts that legitimizes them both, and I see both Schroeder and Aviezar as laying the foundations for a theoretical and scholarly exploration of where that link might be. They are, like good scientists, putting forth hypotheses and rationales to support them. They are not declaring quod era demonstratum, but they are going beyond mere credo.

The open-minded among atheist, agnostics, and the faithful would do well to read through the explorations of these scientists. They provide a valuable starting point that, if nothing else, lays the groundwork to prevent extremists of both sides taking control of the agenda.

A Thought with which to Start the Year

“It is customary to blame secular science and antireligious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats. Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless.”

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
Insecurity of Freedom