Monday, October 29, 2012

Very important new book, as reviewed by David Saks in Jewish Report:

Scientific pronouncements not ‘gospel

Most people now accept unquestioningly
the notion that there is an irreconcilable
and unbridgeable gulf between “religion”
and “science” (sometimes tellingly replaced
by the respective terms “faith” and “reason”, with all that implies).
It is also by now commonly assumed
that in the quest for dispassionate, objective and intellectually rigorous answers to
the great questions of existence, the science
side of the debate has emerged victorious
by a knock-out.
Stereotypically, religious belief is now
assumed to have been an essentially regressive, obscurantist phenomenon that for a
long time impeded the onward march of
scientific discovery.
Historically, it has been defined by
such events as the confrontation between
Galileo and the Inquisition or the Scopes
Monkey Trial.
So deeply-entrenched is this mindset
that proponents of any particular religious
belief are by definition regarded as being
incapable of mounting a coherent, logical
argument in its favour that can stand up to
rigorous scientific scrutiny. Conversely, scientists are assumed at all times to conduct
their work along scrupulously methodical,
logically impeccable and solidly evidencebased lines.
So complete has been the perceived
triumph of scientific materialism over
anything smacking of theism, that today,
those attempting to defend the latter even
along strict scientific lines, are routinely
dismissed out of hand.
The very fact that scientists admit to
having religious beliefs of some kind, would
seem to be enough to discredit anything
they might have to say, as if their basic reasoning must have been somehow twisted
and subverted from the outset.
For this reason, it is de rigueur for
scientific critics of Darwinist orthodoxy to
hasten to declare their atheist credentials
up front, lest they be accused of “creationist” or “Intelligent Design” tendencies and
accordingly dismissed without a hearing.
The converse situation, in which dogmatic, knee-jerk atheism on the part of the
scientific establishment can likewise act as
a serious retarding force in the advancement of knowledge, is seldom considered.
This is beginning to change, but it will evidently be some time before serious inroads
are made into what David Klinghoffer has
called the “sealed-shut intellectual fortress
of the Darwinist worldview”.
I have just finished reviewing a compelling new book on this subject, Genesis and
Genes by one of our community’s emerging intellectual lights, Yoram Bogacz. A
Johannesburg rabbi and educator with a
background in chemical engineering, the
author provides a persuasive challenge to
the tendency of uncritically accepting the
prevailing scientific thinking as, if one can
use such a term, “gospel”.
While many members of the public “entertain fantasies of scientists as apolitical
creatures, ensconced in their laboratories
and isolated from the corrupting effects
of power”, the reality is of course that scientists, like all people, are heavily influenced
by the context - political, economic, professional or ideological - in which they work
and by their own worldviews.
That being said, Genesis and Genes is
by no means “anti-science”, but rather, as
Rabbi (Dr) Dovid Gottlieb points out in the
preface, is an argument for “caution and
the careful evaluation of the latest scientific
conclusions for their appropriate degree of
The reason why the author has involved
himself in the debate, is that in order to
challenge anti-religious scientism, it is crucial to also address the culture of docile conformism and “obsequiousness to scientific
authority” within which it has been allowed
to flourish.
The “big issue”, of course, is current
evolutionary theory. This, the author
has little doubt, is hopelessly flawed and
destined, like so many other failed scientific
orthodoxies over the centuries, to be transformed radically in the future, no matter
how much the intellectual establishment
tries to keep the genie in the bottle.
Proceeding along rigorous lines of
enquiry, he argues that the evidence in
support of it as currently accepted by many
(although not all) scientists, falls well short
of what is required to put it on a truly
sound intellectual foundation.
Encapsulating an important theme of
his book, Rabbi Bogacz declares: “When
Torah sources clearly and consistently
describe a position about the physical
universe, then that is the Torah position,
whether one finds it conveniently modern
or not.”
Nor is it incumbent on adherents of
Orthodox Judaism to always feel the need
to find ways of reconciling their religious
tradition with current scientific thinking.
This relates to another important aspect of
Genesis and Genes, namely that it does not
seek to demonstrate, as a number of recent
works have done, an emerging harmony between Torah and science. Indeed, the book
in many ways is very critical of how this is
sometimes done.
One example is the comparatively recent theory that the classical Torah sources
“support the view that hominids took eons
to evolve until, finally, they were infused
with a divine soul and made human”.
The author concludes, after carefully
examining each of the relevant sources,
that this notion is dubious at best.
Genesis and Genes, shortly to be published by Feldheim, is an impressive work
of critical scholarship and a noteworthy
contribution to the growing literature of
Torah-and-science. As a stand-alone history
of science alone – and an erudite, consistently readable one – it deserves a wide and
serious readership. In the meantime, I recommend visiting Rabbi Bogacz’s website: