“The scientific theory I like best is that the rings of Saturn are composed entirely of lost airline luggage.” – Mark Russell
Did you know that every modern scientific discovery already appears in the Bible and its various interpretations? Perhaps you didn’t know that tidbit, but many Orthodox Jews are brought up with this knowledge. This includes not only things that science has already found, but also things not yet discovered.
Purely from a mathematic point of view, there are not enough bits of information in the Bible to cover all of modern scientific knowledge (part of which is scientific research of the Bible itself). Nevertheless, you’ll often hear about the vast knowledge of our holy fathers in the areas of math and physics, as if Abraham had been busy solving differential equations between prayers.
A preacher would say, “Only nowadays are scientists starting to discover things long known by the Holy Bible.” This is usually accompanied by the simple yet effective sales pitch: “Scientific theories keep changing all the time, while the Bible is eternal.” and sometimes, even, “Science keeps proving that the Biblical knowledge is right”.
Furthermore, over the years, many ultra-Orthodox Jews have sort of studied science from their holy texts. For example, one just need to delve a little into the tractate of ‘Chulin’ in the Jewish Talmud to find how scientific decisions were taken by the process of comparing the sayings of various rabbis, rather than by actually examining things in the real world. This art of gedanken experiment (German for ‘thought experiment’ that one carries out in his or her head) has been very popular as a major substitution for modern scientific research. Note that in many cases, from the believer’s point of view, the belief is the reality.
It’s a fact that science and religion do not always get along. Evolution is just one example, as is the study of the age of our planet. Archaeology in the Middle East is yet another branch of science where religious stories and interpretations are found to be in conflict with tangible evidence. Did the ancient people of Israel in fact participate in the massive Exodus from Egypt around 1500 BC? Was King Solomon’s kingdom truly so large and strong around 950 BC? Was the human female created from a rib of the human male around 3700 BC? Scientists and archaeologists suggest a simple no for an answer to each of these questions (as well as many others).
In the core of this argument we frequently encounter the question: What is evidence?
Nicolaus Copernicus published his Little Commentary in the beginning of the 16th century, when he reached the conclusion that the Earth revolves around the Sun. At that time these ideas were too revolutionary for most people to believe for it would compel them to combine their religious education with evidence that wasn’t concrete. People simply knew the Earth was stationary. Some hundred years later, Galileo Galilei provided the evidence using a new invention – the telescope. Galileo was of-course prosecuted by the Vatican for heresy. It took 359 additional years for the Catholic Church to officially admit that the Earth revolves around the Sun (Pope John Paul II in 1992) and thus to absolve Galileo of guilt.
Do Galileo’s observations constitute evidence? Perhaps the Earth is still at the center of the universe and the rest of the planets move in very complex paths, which look as if the Earth and they circle the Sun?
In 1887, Albert Michelson and Edward Morley conducted their famous Michelson-Morley Experiment, using another new invention – the Michelson Interferometer. By measuring the speed of light in various situations, they managed to prove that the Earth was not moving relatively to the ether – the stuff that was considered to fill space itself. The Michelson-Morley Experiment triggered a whole new branch of science that yielded, among other things, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.
Neither the Old Testament, New Testament, Koran, nor any other ancient collection of stories and rules, knows anything of light interference or of modern relativity. It is true, however, that the notion of absolute evidence in physics is not always defined. In fact, this is exactly the thing that initiates the advancement of science, as opposed to the stagnation of religiously-based knowledge.