Monday, January 09, 2006

6th Miami International Torah And Science Conference

Following our discussion of evolution vs. intelligent design, I have decided to get myself a basic education in science.

I am now In Miami, where I am participating in the 6th Miami International Torah And Science Conference. My father is going to make a presentation on Thursday, so my presence isn’t too obtrusive. So, while taking a brief vacation in gorgeous Florida, and spending quality time with my parents, I am trying to absorb the ideas casually tossed around over dinner by these great minds. (The picture below is of my parents chatting with other scientists over dinner.)

To my knowledge, this is the only serious conference on the topic, and anyone who’s frum and has a connection to science shows up. (Elf’s DH, are you here too?)

Immediately after checking into my hotel and Maariv and dinner at The Shul, we were taken to Florida International University, where the program commenced.

Rabbi Lipskar and some of the organizers gave the introductory remarks and then the fun began. Rabbi Moshe Tendler, who outlined his personal views on the “contradictions” between science and Torah, presented the first speech, sort of a mission statement.

According to Rabbi Tendler, apologies are uncalled for. Jews have the light of the world, the Torah, and we have to consult the Torah before seeking out the truth of science. Once we learn the Torah, and stop feeling insecure about it, we will find the answers to our most pressing questions. That which doesn’t figure as of yet, does actually figure in the larger picture, which is still hazy only because of our stupidity!

For example, in previous generations, many parts of man’s body were considered “useless”. Religious people in past times could have accepted this then scientific “truth”. But this “truth” is irreconcilable with the concept of Hashgacha Pratis, which claims that an intelligent Creator doesn’t create useless things. Only today we understand that every part of the human body has a function. So the idea is to hold tight and wait for science to come to terms with Torah, before jumping to render the Torah obsolete and unscientific.

He then suggested that instead of presenting intelligent design as either a religious theory, which has no place in a science class, or as a replacement of a theory, which is unnecessary because evolution is a scientifically sound theory for the most part, ID should be presented on much, much stronger grounds.

Now, I must interject before you read his suggestion, and say that while his suggestion is so simple that it seems improbable, let’s not forget that simplicity isn’t grounds for rejection. In fact, it is grounds for acceptance. That established, I loved his proposition.

Rabbi Tendler begins by stating that the theory of evolution is based on certain assumed phenomenon, which can’t be verified, but are more or less logically sound. Why not resort to something much simpler: The Torah documents all the great miracles G-d did for the Israelites upon their exodus from Egypt. Besides being the account as presented in the Torah, that is our messorah too. Now, if there is a G-d who punished the Egyptians with ten plagues, and then split a sea before revealing himself upon a mountain, it is safe to assume that this G-d created the world, too. Either way, it much more scientifically sound to rely on the testimony of millions of people, than to make assumptions based on fossils, which may, or may not have evolved.

Rabbi Tendler ended with a problem in evolution, which is that there is no evolution in microbiology. He again asserted that Frum Jews need not be ashamed of their beliefs which are competitive, and we must settle outstanding halachik issues that rely on Torah’s application to science.

Rabbi Tendler is dean of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological seminary, Professor of Biology at Yeshiva College, and the Rabbi Isaac and Bella Tendler Chair in Jewish Medical Ethics at Yeshiva University.

The next presentation was given by a South African doctor, Rabbi Arthur Seltzer, who pointed out some fascinating similarities between Jung’s “shadow”, and The Alter Rebbe’s presentation on the Nefesh habhamis.

The final speaker of the night was Professor Nathan Aviezer, Professor of Biology at Hebrew University, who explained that the documentation of creation in Genesis is now scientifically sound. He went through each day of creation, and explained how it is understood in light of modern science.

• Day 1- What is the meaning of the creation of light? But there was no sun, and there was no matter to transmit light. Previously, this had to be interpreted as a metaphor of sorts because it didn’t make any sense. But with the theory of the big bang, we know that the first matter was energy, or light.

• Day 2- Again, the account of the creation of the “waters above” and the “waters below” may have seemed like narrishkeiten to a scientific mind of the past generation, but the space program has revolutionized our understanding of the solar system, and we now know that a small comet consists of billions of tons of ice! And the Oort cloud that exists at the edge of the solar system contains hundreds of billions tons of ice. The most common element in our solar system is H2O! So much for the water above, and the waters below.

• Day 3- Hashem moves the water to a specific point… What’s this all about? Well, we now know that in the beginning our world was just water, and when it froze, it became concentrated in the South Pole, and the dry land was then ready to grow life!

• Day 4- Dr. Aviezer wanted the audience to buy his book, so he left one day out of his presentation.

• Day 5- According to Darwin, the variation of life forms should have evolved gradually over billions of years, so what can we make of the variety “created” on the 5th day? Well, all scientists concede that the diversity of species is still mysterious. Dr. Aviezer quoted Science magazine, and Scientific America, and also Dr. Francis Crick, a leading proponent for Evolution, saying that the “origins of life appear to be almost a miracle.”

• Day 6- Was man created, or did he evolve? Dr. Stephen Guill, an atheist too, writes that, “human intelligence is staggeringly improbable.”

He concluded with a recent study that established that every single star, in every single solar system, is necessary in the balance of our universe, so to believe in Hashgacha Protis today isn’t scientifically incorrect.

And now I must go to sleep, for shachris tomorrow is at 7 AM, followed by a full day of intelligent fun.

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