I thought that this article would provide some interesting points for conversation! Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a good weekend!

Intelligible Design By Rabbi Avi Shafran

Among the unquestioned assertions that have entered public discourse through sheer force of repetition is that faith and science are utterly unrelated.

It is a mantra invoked often these days, in the context of the debate over whether “Intelligent Design,” a presentation of vexing problems in contemporary biological theory, has a place in the public school classroom. The essence of “Intelligent Design,” as its name implies, is that there are things about nature that are not easily, if at all, explainable by resort to random forces alone.   Among such things are the emergence of life from inanimate matter; the development of reproductive capacity; and complex biological systems whose multiple components confer advantage only in tandem with one another.   Noteworthy, too, are the facts that no scientist has ever succeeded in animating inanimate material, and that none has ever induced a mutation in a living organism that caused it to become a different organism

– or even to demonstrate a new ability.

Although ID’s proponents claim to have no, well, designs, on identifying the source of the plan they perceive in nature, they are viewed by some as theological Trojan horses, trying to sneak G-d into the study of science.

To be sure, design indeed implies a Designer, and so the critics are correct about the effect of including ID in science courses.   But not necessarily about its inappropriateness.   Does the possibility of a guiding force, beyond randomness, in fact have no place in the endeavor to understand the universe?   One thing is certain: that wasn’t the case for most of human intellectual history.

The word science derives from the Latin scientia, or knowledge.   And once upon a time, no essential distinction was made between what was called “natural science” and “moral science” – the latter concerning itself with teleology, human purpose and, yes, G-d.

In more recent years, however, a compartmentalization has been imposed on knowledge.   “Science” has come to mean the physical sciences alone, banishing areas of human thoughts about more fundamental, if ethereal, ideas to other, artificially created realms, like “philosophy” or “religion.”   It is interesting to note, as does Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, that in Biblical Hebrew, of all languages, there is no word for religion.   Explains the famed 19th century German rabbinic luminary: Judaism provides no separate compartment for things spiritual; the holy imbues the entire sphere of human life, indeed the entire universe itself.

Is it unthinkable, even in our open-minded world, to consider Rabbi Hirsch’s contention, and to consider, further, reinstating science’s original meaning – the quest for knowledge of every sort?

As it happens, physical science itself has been increasingly compartmentalized.   “Science” has become a plethora of sciences: biology, physics, chemistry, geology, genetics and many more.   Nor are each of those categories the final splitting of the atom, as it were.   Physics is no longer mere physics.   It is mechanical physics and sub-atomic physics, cosmology and fluid mechanics – each a discrete discipline unto itself.

We would be terribly short-sighted to prevent the consideration of one subset of science in the course of studying another.   Living things, for instance, are not only entities that undergo certain stages and display certain behaviors; they are chemical factories too.   Would a teacher of biology be out of line to include elements of chemistry in the curriculum?

“Ah!” the secularist crusaders exclaim.   “But one can observe a biological entity or process, and perform chemical experiments!   Biology and chemistry are still physical, not speculative, sciences!”

Indeed they are.   But what we cannot see or measure can still be entirely real.   There are even contemporary sciences that are only quasi-physical. Psychology, for instance.   Or pure mathematics.   Or astrophysics, which, while it deals with physical entities, largely concerns theories about realms beyond our reach.   Not to mention the counterintuitive world of subatomic physics.

“Okay,” respond the secularists, with condescension.   “But even in psychology and particle physics, observations can be made, and theories verified or disproven.   G-d is not like that!”

Maybe, though, He is.   That is precisely what ID proponents claim – that things inexplicable by resort to randomness are in fact evident in nature. One might even suggest something similar about history.   My own study of Jewish history has led me to conclude that the evidence for the existence of G-d is every bit as convincing as the evidence for the existence of DNA.

What is more, all that modern science affirms is the result of the use of our senses.   We see, we hear, we measure, we think.   And so, does not our innate sense that our lives are meaningful, that there is Something beyond us, deserve some consideration in a curriculum covering what we know and perceive and theorize about the universe?   Is the idea really so subversive?

The Orthodox Jewish community of which I am a part has no monkey in this race; we operate our own private schools, and recognition of G-d is very much a part of what our children are taught.

It is unfortunate, though, that the students in most of our nation’s public schools are indoctrinated in the religion of Randomness and Meaninglessness. They, and American society as a whole, would benefit considerably were they exposed to the possibility of design, in our universe and in our lives.   I don’t know if the Constitution permits or forbids it, but intellectual integrity would seem to demand it.

[Rabbi Shafran is director of public affairs for Agudath Israel of America.]

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1 reply
  1. Ray Duran
    Ray Duran says:

    I’m all for education in the matter of God’s work in this world. My concern is not the lack of faith by those who need it, but the potential power that someone could have wielding God’s name in a state orientated system is what concerns me.

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