Quote of the Week

Sep 01, 2011 Published under Introspection


The following quote comes from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and was shared by my friend Ari Cartun:

"Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean."
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks 

To see the full context, read below.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

"Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean."
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks  

We open up our traditional evening prayers with an acknowledgment that the skies have changed their course and that God, with great wisdom, has replaced day with night. Science and religion do not fight in this expression of gratitude. Instead, religion celebrates the miracles of astronomy, praising the divine force behind it. The same is true when we open a Bible, skim through its pages and find within them a similar strain. "When I behold Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars that You set in place, what is man that You have been mindful of him?…You have made him little less than divine and adorned him with glory and majesty" (Psalms 8:4-6).

Many of our greatest sages were also astronomers; the rabbis of the Talmud made many observations about the way the world works, sharing notions that are not accurate to today’s science but were up-to-date at the time. Maimonides, a medieval Jewish thinker and physician, wrote a work of astronomy in addition to his legal and philosophical writings. Jews were among the first to attend medical school in sixteenth century Italy. The study of science has always been regarded as a handmaiden of religion, another way to understand and feel blessed by the blueprint of our majestic universe.

The integration of religion and science present in our ancient writings has taken a turn for the worse in contemporary modern life. Many fundamentalists have denied the theory of evolution and even insisted in some states that American science textbooks reflect the theory of intelligent design for public schools. This frightening "development" in the world of religion has come with an ugly counterattack made by atheists who believe that there is no God and that religion has had a disastrous impact on culture. We’ve all heard the likes of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett treat religion as either irrelevant or poisonous. Instead of the integration favored for centuries by religious thinkers and scientists, we have created a bifurcated framework for thinking about two disciplines that should complement each other rather than remain mutually exclusive.
Where do Jews stand on this? We have always believed in both domains. We study science. We live through the ethics and rituals of religion. Many of the world’s most famous scientists have been Jews, even if they have not been committed to tradition. We don’t view their accomplishments as antithetical to religion; we treat them as a badge of pride for our people. Unfortunately, since fundamentalists of every faith are so noisy, people often assume that what they believe is true for all proponents of faith. We have not done a better job of articulating passionate moderation and how our worldviews are integrated.

Fortunately that has been done for us by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, an English Lord and the Chief Rabbi for the United Synagogue of Britain, who has tackled this issue in his latest book, The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning. The title itself is a give-away on his position. Religion and science need to live together symbiotically and not exist in an adversarial relationship. He waxes eloquent on this point, and although the passage is long, it’s well worth a peek:
Science is about explanation. Religion is about meaning. Science analyzes, religion integrates. Science breaks things down to their component parts. Religion binds people together in relationships of trust. Science tells us what is. Religion tells us what ought to be…Science sees the underlying order of the physical world. Religion hears the music beneath the noise. Science is the conquest of ignorance. Religion is the redemption of solitude.

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