Monday, December 29, 2014

Science Increasingly Makes the Case for God

Wall Street Journal    In 1966 Time magazine ran a cover story asking: Is God Dead? Many have accepted the cultural narrative that he’s obsolete—that as science progresses, there is less need for a “God” to explain the universe. Yet it turns out that the rumors of God’s death were premature. More amazing is that the relatively recent case for his existence comes from a surprising place—science itself. 

Here’s the story: The same year Time featured the now-famous headline, the astronomer Carl Sagan announced that there were two important criteria for a planet to support life: The right kind of star, and a planet the right distance from that star. Given the roughly octillion—1 followed by 24 zeros—planets in the universe, there should have been about septillion—1 followed by 21 zeros—planets capable of supporting life.

With such spectacular odds, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, a large, expensive collection of private and publicly funded projects launched in the 1960s, was sure to turn up something soon. Scientists listened with a vast radio telescopic network for signals that resembled coded intelligence and were not merely random. But as years passed, the silence from the rest of the universe was deafening. Congress defunded SETI in 1993, but the search continues with private funds. As of 2014, researches have discovered precisely bubkis—0 followed by nothing. 

What happened? As our knowledge of the universe increased, it became clear that there were far more factors necessary for life than Sagan supposed. His two parameters grew to 10 and then 20 and then 50, and so the number of potentially life-supporting planets decreased accordingly. The number dropped to a few thousand planets and kept on plummeting.

Even SETI proponents acknowledged the problem. Peter Schenkel wrote in a 2006 piece for Skeptical Inquirer magazine: “In light of new findings and insights, it seems appropriate to put excessive euphoria to rest . . . . We should quietly admit that the early estimates . . . may no longer be tenable.”

As factors continued to be discovered, the number of possible planets hit zero, and kept going. In other words, the odds turned against any planet in the universe supporting life, including this one. Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here. [...]


  1. Why is Judaism increasingly dependent on fundamental Christains for evidence of G-d? It is no surprise that there is a branch of Christianity that presents this type of article as evidence for G-d. It is not surprise that there are many scientists who strongly disagree. If a scientist presents evidence of G-d, that may be interesting to your readership. But what does a Christian inspirational speaker have to do with Daas Torah?

  2. I once took a special course in space physics at Columbia's Goddard institute and they said in the course that the atmosphere filters out much of the radiation in the band between infrared and ultraviolet and if the filtration were slightly larger or slightly smaller life on Earth could not exist. This led me to think of the posuk toleh eretz al blimah.

  3. The author here is only presenting scientific facts. What difference does it make what his religion is? If scientists have a refutation of this, let them state it. On the face of it, it's a worthwhile piece of information.

  4. "Probability said that even we shouldn’t be here."

    They could have saved themselves some calculating and just asked me, instead of "Probability". Oh, you can ignore that I said that -- I just woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

  5. I sometimes throw out bread for the birds, and it is amazing how intelligent they are, especially the crows. Even insects display intelligence, eg wasps cut leaves and then tuck in their larvae in the leaf cuttings, to protect them. It is difficult for sicentists to give an explanation of this intelligent behaviour. Do the molecules in DNA get together and look at the outside world, and discuss what is the best evolutionary strategy for the organism to take? I think there is a cut off between molecular order and intelligence - sechel, or binah.

  6. Chovos Halevavos and Chosen Yehoshua also discuss scientific proofs for creation.

  7. Bina is something else (see rashi two weeks ago --- "ish chacham ve'navon.")

  8. The difficulty with the kind of analysis in this article, it seems to me, is the preconception of what "life" is. Well, sure, if someone wants to be parochial, provincial, insular, narrow-minded, sectarian, what have you, and define life as what he sees in the mirror, then, yes, doesn't seem like much out there in the universe at large. Science fiction writers have poked fun at this approach, such as Douglas Adams in "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", and the Jewish writer Stanislaw Lem in "The Star Diaries". Here is an excerpt from Lem's book that succinctly makes the point:
    In short, Ijon Tichy is on another planet where a scientific explanation is given why life on Earth is an impossibility. When he points out that he is from Earth, he is told that he must be a freak.

  9. וקבל האמת ממי שאמרה (רמב"ם, שמונה פרקים)

  10. Chaim, would you accept this statement in the context that Rambam uses throughout, especially when he differs from Chazal's (and geonim) views on science and logic?

  11. 1. Are you asking - in a nutshell - where I stand on the issue of whether Chazal's scientific knowledge was infallible or not? (Re. Meiselman Slifkin et al.)

    2. Also, you've piqued my interest - where does the Rambam cite opinions, and endorse them, when they differ with Chazal in matters of logic?

  12. This is a very important/interesting discussion.

    1) I would agree with your in a nutshell question, but i would leave the modern controversy out of it. i would much rather have (Rambam, Chatam Sofer) who questioned certain areas of Chazal's expertise in science.

    2. That is a good lomdisher question. In Kiddush Hachodesh for example, he writes about empirical science, as opposed to logic. In Issurei Biah ch11, the Rambam groups the Geonim together with the Tzedukim - in regards to their interpretation or tradition of dam tahor (after birth) , i.e. the waiting time for a woman to regain her tahorah. I think that would be more logic than science, or at least interpretation.
    In his letter on Astrology, he takes issue with some "minority" opinions of Chazal on matters regarding astrology. Again, i would argue this is a crossover of science and logic.
    My final example is from his Intro. to his commentary on the Mishnah. I cannot say he is arguing directly with Chazal, but he does say that sometimes a single opinion can be so clear that it will be powerful enough to overturn or persuade the majority. I do nto know the exact mechanism of hw this works, but it does seem that he endorses arguing with chazal if logic dictates

  13. The Rambam seemed to have no problem recognizing the limitations of Chazal's knowledge in speculative matters. Note that the Rambam's version of Pesachim 94b differs from our current day more politically correct Gemara version which does not use the word "netzchu" (vanquished).

    " these astronomical matters they (the Jewish Sages) preferred the opinion of the sages of the nations of the world to their own. They explicitly say: The sages of the nations of the world have vanquished (netzchu) the Jewish Sages (Pesachim 94b)." Moreh Nevuchim II:8.

  14. in any case, people can make whatever claims they like - for example the Lubavitcher rebbe claimed that the sun really goes around the earth,and tried to "prove" this with reference to Einstein's theory of relativity. Even the frum Physics professor Nathan Aviezer rejected this claim. If he saw some iota of truth in the rebbe's claim, he would have used it in his books, but it is such a false argument that even Aviezer would not use it.

  15. Sorry - I have been away. To be brief:

    1. I find the whole discussion of the extent of Chazal's scientific knowledge fascinating - both by the relevant sources that nobody seems to quite, and by the oft-repeated sources that are hurled around based on misreading them. Meiselman and Slifkin, whatever you have to say about them, share one quality in common - we all know where they both stand!

    2. Could you tell me where the Chassam Sofer question's Chazal's knowledge of science? (I'm not saying he doesn't - I just want to know the source.)

    3. My own position, which I can back up, is that Meiselman's claim that there are NO authentic sources who maintain that Chazal's knowledge of the physical universe was limited, is wrong. (Yes, I have read his book cover to cover.) Slifkin, however, is guilty of going to the other extreme, and tries to find as many "mistakes" in Chazal as he can. He also advocates changing the Halacha based on these "mistakes". Someone who has learnt Torah and Halacha in depth can see the pervasive weakness of argument - and
    lack of humility - throughout.his later writings. His "rational judaism" cult bears no resemblance to the Torah thought of ANY accepted authority - including the Rambam. In this Meiselman is spot on.

    4.I don;t really know what you mean by "logic". Any argument, in any discipline, requires some level of comprehension and analysis. I thought you were referring to methodology. Let's avoid the abstract and deal with the actual examples you give (we'll skip over Kiddush HaChodesh, for the reason you mentioned).

    5. The Rambam in IB is arguing that a false non-Torah law crept its way into the responsa of some Geonim. What has that got to do with the subject of Chazal's knowledge of the physical world/logic? This is basic case of the Rambam rejecting a Halachic view as being אפיקורסות - a view that does not come from Chazal at all!

    6. Why do you put speech marks around "minority?The Rambam

  16. Don't know if the first part of my reply was lost in the ether - I hope not. Anyway, to address your last point of the Rambam choosing to accept a minority view because it is more logical - this is not the Rambam's invention, it comes from the Gemara (Nidda 49a):

    פשיטא יחיד ורבים הלכה כרבים מהו דתימא מסתברא טעמא דר''מ דקא מסייע ליה קראי קמ''ל

    Tosfos in Moed Katan 20a even argues that the rule of following the majority opinion in arguments between the Tannaim has so many exceptions that we can practically follow the majority only when told to do so specifically in this instance:

    כל מקום שאתה מוצא יחיד מקיל ורבים מחמירין. והוא הדין יחיד מחמיר ורבים מקילין הלכה כרבים ומשום דהכא איירי ביחיד מקיל נקיט הכי
    וכל מקום לאו דוקא דבהרבה מקומות פוסק כדברי היחיד והיכא דאתמר אתמר

    Even if we would not adopt this extreme position, the ability to accept the minority opinion when it is more מסתבר (at least for the Rishonim) is definitely mainstream, and has its roots in the Gemara Nidda which I cited.


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