Monday, September 8, 2008

The Conflict is Inevitable

Prior to discussing those areas where Torah Judaism is found to be in conflict with science and academia there is a certain realization we must face. While many conflicts may prove to be apparent, due to either a superficial understanding of Judaism or incorrect science, some are much more fundamental. There may be times when the evidence for certain position may be very persuasive and logically appealing, but our (justified) convictions demand a different conclusion. In fact, if we find that on issue after issue we can find no perceptible difference between or view and theirs we must worry that ones beliefs or independent critical thinking has been compromised.

Most conclusions we come to, or beliefs that we accept, are not supported by strict deductive proof. Our line of reasoning is frequently one of compiling, weighing, and reconciling information to arrive at the most likely conclusion based on the known evidence. Even when the specific process of inferring a conclusion from the evidence is more or less deductive, the premises which the argument utilizes are generally only known with a certain degree of certainty. And although I think the question more often than not pointless, the elusiveness of an epistemologically sound definition of knowledge is another factor that can under certain circumstances effect how we might draw conclusions.

Recognizing the extent to which the conclusions we reach are dependant upon what evidence we include for consideration, simple reflection should confirm the great potential for a chasm to develop between the conclusions derived from the perspective of materialism and conclusions of those who admit the supernatural into their world view.

Science as we know and love, and from which have derived so much benefit in the last centuries, operates on certain postulates. In our discussions we will encounter some of these postulates and discuss their importance and their limitations. “Religion”, and Judaism in particular, also asserts that certain things are true. When there is an interface between the scientific and the religious we should rightly expect that at some point the acceptance of truths associated with religion will inevitably lead one to balance the various factors in ways that will at times diverge from the way a materialist would conclude.

Already more than a hundred years ago this observation was made by the great light of German Orthodoxy Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsh zt’l, with a passing reference to this idea while discussing the pitfalls of an overzealous dismissal of the academic:

“It is true, of course, that the result of secular research and study will not always coincide with the truths of Judaism, for the simple reason that they do not proceed from the axiomatic premises of Jewish truth.” (Torah Im Derech Eretz, Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch zt’l, page 415).

One cannot reasonably expect that academic scholarship would consider such “axiomatic premises” when they hypothesize conclusions, especially given our reticence about encouraging others to adopt our religious world view. For better or worse they do not share our religious convictions. But if we are to assert that certain beliefs are true, or more specifically that we accept certain beliefs, then it would be expected that they be reflected, at least at times, in our conclusions.

Yet when I find there being no “nafka mina” between the belief founded on materialism and a priori rejection of G-d and the supernatural or metaphysical, and the opinions of the religiously faithful, I have to question whether reason isn’t being sacrificed at the expense of appearing rational. At some point one must follow ones beliefs to their logical conclusion and it strikes me as implausible that in every instance of apparent conflict between science and faith that the logical conclusion lies with the more materialistic approach. We should expect that the worldview of a believer and that of an atheist (or even an agnostic) differs on more than simply the direct question of the existence of God. While one cannot presume that this disagreement “should” be manifest on any given individual issue, the genuine acceptance of certain “beliefs” combined with following those beliefs to their logical conclusion (when pertinent to the subject being considered) should inevitably lead to a perceptible difference of opinion with those who reject or do not consider such beliefs. Most importantly, recognizing this inevitability should help us muster the courage of our convictions when confronted with those who disagree with us, even when we cannot dismiss their position as entirely implausible.

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