This blog moves, as it follows my reading list, from American sports fans to the high stakes “battle” between science and religion. 96% of American Jews are proud to be Jewish. That pride doesn’t always translate into action, like living a Jewish life, but I want to reinforce it nonetheless.
Dan Brown’s latest historical fiction (think The Da Vinci Code) is a best seller called Origin. Its protagonist is a billionaire computer scientist, futurist and inventor named Edmond Kirsch who thinks he has found the answer to the two big questions at the heart of human experience: where did it all begin? where are we going? His answers will fulfill his life goal, which is “to employ the truth of science to eradicate the myth of religion.” The event at which he reveals his very controversial findings, and the days immediately before and after it, are at the heart of the action. I don’t want to give too much away in this very engaging read.
What struck me was how Kirsch portrays the struggle of learning and science to establish themselves in the face of push back from the major religions. Thus. while the Muslim world was the world’s greatest center of learning for many centuries, with great intellectual exploration and discovery taking place in and around places like Baghdad for centuries, the 11th century scholar Hamid al Ghazali declared mathematics to be the “philosophy of the devil” and within a very short time the entire Islamic scientific movement collapsed. (You could say it is still collapsed – note in our time how few Nobel Prizes have gone to scholars from the Muslim world.)
The Christian scientific world met the same resistance. Kirsch points to the Church’s systematic murder, imprisonment and denunciation of some of history’s most brilliant scientific minds (think Copernicus, Galileo and Bruno) that delayed human scientific progress by centuries.
What is interesting to me is that Judaism isn’t targeted by Kirsch (or Brown) in this narrative. That is because Jewish tradition saw science and Judaism as manifestations of the same divine truth. The rabbis of the Talmud even used science in legal decision making– using astronomical calculations to create the Jewish calendar–and referenced many of the scientific theories of their time. And we think of Maimonides, arguably the greatest Jewish thinker ever and a physician by day, who strove to integrate Judaism and science, going so far as to assert that if the eternity of the universe was proven though science he would reinterpret the biblical passages figuratively to bring them in line with scientific truth. Some famous quotes from the Ramban: “Teach your tongue to say ‘I do not know’ and you will progress.” Or, “you must accept the truth from whatever source it comes.”
Look at our list of Nobel Prize winners some time, and be proud that we are a people and faith that isn’t afraid of truth. Best to you and Shabbat Shalom. Bill Rudolph