Science Vs. Divine Order

By Rabbi Yoseph Kahanov Jax, FL.

“Both religion and science are base on beliefs.” (Milton Steinberg)

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“It seems to me that when confronted with the marvels of life and the universe, one must ask why and not just how. The only possible answers are religious. . . . I find a need for God in the universe and in my own life.”(Arthur L. Schawlow (Professor of Physics at Stanford University, 1981 Nobel Prize in physics))

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"Sometimes you just have to look reality in the eye and deny it." (Garrison Keilor)

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If you are like most people, you’re probably of the mind that logic is above human biased. This is to say, that if there is anything in the world that is universally binding, it is logic. Logic is after all, “Logic.” It is ostensibly the objective and indisputable truth, upon which all reality is predicated. Logic and its immediate offshoot, “Science,” might as well be Divine. Nothing is perceived to be more revered and more sacred.

Scientists have throughout history been paid the highest regard; they are credited for being the men and women whose lives are selflessly devoted to innovation based solely on the purest of truths. They have earned the reputation of overcoming torture and ridicule, in pursuit of their erudite theorems, which are entirely responsible for human advancement and modern civilization.

Well, dare I be the one to point out the elephant in the room? It would actually be an honor, except for the fact that I have been beat to the punch by far greater thinkers. It is not news anymore that not all science is synonymous with truth. In fact the number of skeptics and the amount of junk science is ever growing. To that extent it may be argued that we have at last arrived at the post scientific era.

What better example can there be than the “Global Warming,” or “Climate Change” fiasco. Analysis of the contents of thousands of emails and documents taken from the computer archives of the Climate Research Unit at England's University of East Anglia, concluded that a number of the world's most important scientists, determined to prove that global warming really does exist, have cooked the books.

The CRU has been a major source of data on global temperatures, relied on by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The emails suggest that CRU scientists have been suppressing and misstating data, in order to prevent the publication of non corroborating views in peer-reviewed science periodicals.

The cooking of the temperature data, to provide support for the idea that man-made global warming, is, according to analysts and top scientists, a scandal of most serious proportions. It should force policymakers to reconsider the role that science ought to play in the formulation of policy if its conclusions can be manipulated the way those concerning climate change appear to have been.

Some of the individuals involved in the email chains that are now under examination, have concocted what can only be described as bizarre explanations for the things they said, much of which boil down to the claim that their words did not mean what they mean. Something akin to reinterpreting what the meaning of the word “is” is.

They have been engaged in a political war, asserts the media, using science as a weapon. The emails reveal the dangers inherent in relying on “Approved science” as the last word on anything. That is especially true in light of the fact that some of the more prominent and influential supporters of global warming were involved in the data manipulation, with the clear intent to insure that contrary projections and evidence would never see the light of day, at least in any reputable scientific journal.

This scandal – the largest in modern science – involving conspiracy, collusion, possibly illegal destruction of  information, organized resistance of disclosure, manipulation of data, private admissions of flaws in their public claims and much more, has not only exposed the elephant in the Global Warming theory but in science itself.

A similar example of the loss of objectivity within the scientific domain, which I happened to chance upon this week, was the scientific debate over the “Bible Codes.” The Bible Code (also known as the Torah Code), is a series of messages alleged to exist within the Bible text, that when decoded from words and phrases demonstrate foreknowledge and prophecy. The study and results from this cipher have been popularized by the book entitled The Bible Code.

Contemporary discussion and controversy around one of the encryption methods became widespread in 1994, when Doron Witztum, Eliyahu Rips and Yoav Rosenberg published a paper, “Equidistant Letter Sequences in the Book of Genesis,” in the scientific journal, Statistical Science. The paper, which was presented by the journal as a “Challenging puzzle,” claimed to present strong statistical evidence that biographical information about famous Rabbis was encoded in the text of the Bible, centuries before those Rabbis lived.

In 1999, four authors, the Australian mathematician Brendan McKay, the Israeli mathematicians Dror Bar-Natan and Gil Kalai, and the Israeli psychologist Maya Bar-Hillel (collectively known as “MBBK”) published a paper in Statistical Science, in which they argue that the case of Witztum, Rips and Rosenberg (WRR) is “Fatally defective, that their result merely reflects on the choices made in designing their experiment and collecting the data for it.”

The MBBK paper was reviewed anonymously by four professional statisticians prior to publication. In the introduction to the paper, Robert Kass, the Editor of the Journal who previously had described the WRR paper as a “Challenging puzzle” wrote that “Considering the work of McKay, Bar-Natan, Kalai and Bar-Hillel as a whole it indeed appears, as they conclude, that the puzzle has been solved.”

Among MBBK's arguments was the claim that the method used in the Code was not strictly mathematical in nature. It asserted that the WRR authors and contributors had a) selected the names and/or dates in advance and b) designed their experiments to match their selection and thereby achieved their “Desired” result.

What we have here is not just scientists disagreeing with each other’s conclusion, but actually discrediting the validity of each other’s modes operands – disapproving of the way they have gone about gathering and computing their data. Now, if scientists themselves dishonor and call into question the means and methods of members of their own field, what have we simple folk to make of it?  

Moreover, what is being exhibited in this case is the complete self reversal of a prestigious scientific journal. What it originally referred to as a “Challenging puzzle” and “Strong statistical evidence,” it later labeled a method that is “Not strictly mathematical in nature.” If their level of knowledge and capacity to discern correctly, only five years earlier, is now considered entirely wrong, who is to say that in the next five years they shall not encounter new discoveries that will render today’s axioms erroneous and “Not statistically mathematical in nature?” What does all this say about the accuracy of science as a bellwether of truth and reality?

Nor is the discovery of errors in earlier scientific premises a rare and unusual phenomenon. It happens all the time. Just this week there were several such items in the news. In one story researchers from George Washington University and the Smithsonian Institution have discovered evidence to debunk the theory that Neanderthals’ disappearance was caused in part by a deficient diet – one that lacked variety and was overly reliant on meat. After discovering starch granules from plant food trapped in the dental calculus on 40-thousand-year-old Neanderthals’ teeth, the scientists believe that Neanderthals ate a wide variety of plants and included cooked grains as part of a more sophisticated, diverse diet similar to early modern humans.

“Neanderthals are often portrayed as very backwards or primitive,” said Amanda Henry, lead researcher and a post-doctoral researcher at GW. “Now we are beginning to understand that they had some quite advanced technologies and behaviors.”

The recent discovery provides direct evidence that they made sophisticated, thoughtful food choices and ate more nutrient-rich plants. Until now, anthropologists have believed that Neanderthals were outlived by early modern humans due in part to the former’s primitive, deficient diet. As such, during major climate swings Neanderthals could be out-competed by early humans who incorporated diverse plant foods available in the local environment into their diets.

The new discovery suggests otherwise. The researchers’ findings indicate that Neanderthals’ diets were more similar to those of early humans than originally thought.

Another item in the news is the find of Eight human teeth, dating back as far as 400,000 years ago, at the prehistoric Qesem Cave near Rosh Ha’ayin – discovered recently by Tel Aviv University researchers. The find provides “The world’s earliest evidence” of modern man (Homo sapiens)...

The Qesem Cave is dated between 400,000 and 200,000 years ago, and archeologists working there believe that the findings indicate significant changes in the behavior of ancient man…

Until now, remains of humans from only 200,000 years ago have been found in Africa, and the accepted approach has been that modern man originated on that continent. Archaeologist Avi Gopher said further research is needed to solidify the claim, but if it does, he says, "This changes the whole picture of evolution." Given the above how much credence can actually be placed on the scientific discipline?

To be sure, there is a form of science that is as true as truth itself, this type of science can be described as “Hard core” science. There is however a growing segment within science, which might be referred to as “Soft science.” This segment is questionable and even outright rejected by a broad segment of the populous, among which are a goodly number of scientists as well. Among the reasons for the rejection is the tendency for vast overreaching, as well as agenda driven theorems.

An even more fundamental reason for the dissonance and tension with regards to truth and reality is the fact that logic itself is not entirely objective but rather subject to self influence. This is to say that the very logic and reason upon which science is predicated, rather than being mutual and unbiased, is prone to human subjectivity.

There are in fact two fundamental systems of logic to which all intellectual variations can be traced. At the core of the two systems lies the ever pervasive and all-encompassing issue of G‑d versus no G‑d, which translates into: Creation versus evolution; intelligent design versus randomness and Divine purpose versus self purpose. Within these two opposing world-outlooks, lies rooted the entire gamut of rational human spectrum and all its opposing views. This insightful weltanschauung is the subject of the classic confrontation between Moshe and Pharaoh as described in this week’s Parsha Vaeira.

In our Parsha, Moshe and Aharon faceoff with the Egyptian magicians in the challenge of turning a staff into a serpent. What is the meaning of this test? What is its purpose?

The confrontation with the magicians was not aimed at seeing who could perform better magic. The challenge was rather meant to prove something far more profound. It was over the Divine reality versus scientific reality.

According to the natural order, Israel is on its way to extinction. The Egyptian empire rules over the world and Israel is completely enslaved, despised and downtrodden, but according to Divine reality, reality is not bound to the forces of nature; Divine rule extends even over that which appears all-powerful. Even Pharaoh the great serpent himself is transient; he too is destined to be swallowed up.

True, the magicians achieved wonders within the “Scientific” realm, using “natural wisdom.” What they failed to understand, however is that there is a reality beyond the forces of nature; a Divine order of reality. Only G‑d could overturn the reality of Pharaoh's reign over all the world and free Israel from Egypt.

The confrontation in the end leads to an acknowledgement of G‑d. The magicians ultimately come to recognize and to declare that “It is the finger of G‑d.”

The message is not merely about dry wood and not only about the victory of one nation over another. It is a battle of Divine sovereignty over the Pharaoh mentality, which declares itself to be its own maker; a battle between intelligent design versus the Big Bang theory; super natural order versus natural order.

The significance of the staff turning into a serpent is best described in Yechezkel in a series of prophesies (Yechezkel 29-32). His first prophecy, which is also read as the Haftora for Parshas Vaeira, opens with a description of Pharaoh's pride, and the end that awaits him:

“In the tenth year, in the tenth month, on the twelfth day of the month, the Lord's word came to me, saying: ‘Son of man – set your face against Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and prophesy about him and about all of Egypt. Speak and say: “So says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh, king of Egypt – the great serpent that crouches in the midst of its rivers, and who says: ‘My river is mine;’ I formed it for myself. I shall put hooks in your cheeks, and make the fish of your rivers stick to your scales, and I shall bring you up from the midst of your rivers… And I shall forsake you in the wilderness – you and all the fish of your rivers; you shall fall upon the open fields, you shall not be gathered nor shall you be brought together. I have given you for food to the beasts of the land and for the birds of the sky. And all the inhabitants of Egypt shall know that I am the Lord, because they were a reed staff to the house of Israel.”

The prophet calls Pharaoh “The great serpent.” Pharaoh presents himself as a great serpent, ruling over everything, as having created the Nile itself: “My river is mine; I formed it for myself.” The prophet informs the great serpent of his future downfall, and that of the river – which will bring all the inhabitants of Egypt to the recognition “That I am G‑d.”

In the battle between religion versus nature/science, the scientist will ultimately declare, “It is the finger of G‑d,” i.e., the scientists themselves will cry that their theories make no sense, as the magicians were forced to realized the limits of their secular scientific powers.

The arrogance of the serpent will then be broken, as is described in following striking Midrash: “Take your staff and cast it before Pharaoh' – the Holy One, blessed be He, said: This wicked one, in his arrogance, calls himself a serpent, as it is written, 'The great serpent.' Go and tell him: ‘See this staff – it is dried-out wood, and it becomes a serpent, with a life-force and a spirit; it swallows all the [other] staffs and ultimately returns to being dried wood. Likewise you – I created you from a putrid drop, and gave you kingship, but you have become arrogant and you say, “My river is mine; I formed it for myself.” Behold, I shall return you to nothingness! You have swallowed all the staffs of the tribes of Israel – now I shall remove what you have swallowed from your mouth.’” (Yalkut Shimoni, Parashat Va'era, remez 181):

May we merit to realize the fruition of this prophecy and witness the sovereignty of G‑d proclaimed by all mankind with the coming of the righteous Moshiach BBA.