When worlds collide
Bereshit, Genesis 1:1-6:8
Many people today think that disagreements between the Torah and science are recent, having arisen since the modern emergence of scientific theory. This is actually not true. A major point of conflict between science and Torah raged for thousands of years up until the 20th century.
Well into the 20th century it was held as a cardinal scientific truth that the universe had always existed and that the universe did not have a beginning. This was called the Steady State Theory. Scientific observation and historical maps of the constellations demonstrated that there had been no changes in the heavens since recorded time.
Jews, who believed that the universe had a beginning, were mocked by Greeks, Romans and, later, modern scientists as foolish simpletons who were clinging to an ancient myth found in Genesis.
This was, of course, until science observed the ongoing expansion of the universe and concluded after much gnashing of teeth that there certainly was an indescribably hot, brilliant explosion, which gave birth to the universe. The words, “In the beginning G-d created…” which had heretofore been roundly derided by science for hundreds of years, suddenly became accepted scientific truth. Except science, which avoids
theology at all costs, leaves out the part about G-d. This is appropriate since science is not about theology; it is about observing data and creating theories about those observations.
But, one must ponder, imagine the power and wisdom of the one who caused this beginning.
I once saw a T-shirt in Jerusalem that had at its top the words, “In the beginning G-d said. …” Below these words was a long complex equation covering most of the shirt. Below the equation were the words, “… and there was light.”
This shirt made a salient point: If the Big Bang Theory is true, the verse, “And the L-rd said, let there be light” is a brilliant understatement of that cataclysmic beginning in words that human beings in every century could grasp and appreciate. G-d is the first cause.
The Torah does not come to teach us how the physical world works. That is the task of science. The Torah comes to teach us something far more important. It comes to answer the question, “why?” It comes to teach us why we are here. Torah comes to teach us what we need to do to live deeply purposeful, meaningful lives. It teaches us which human behaviors and attitudes G-d loves and which he hates. None of these questions are within the realm of science.
Torah and science cover different areas. Science addresses “how?” Torah addresses “why?” With this distinction, and a bit of humility, we will realize that perceived conflicts between the two are irrelevant. In a millennium or two they will all resolve themselves anyway.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)