Lectures in Science and Torah

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Age of the Universe, the Big Bang, and Creation

Scientists calculate the age of the Universe to be approximately 15.8 billion years. The age of the earth is around 4.5 billion years, and the fossil record stretches back over 500 million years. The Torah account of Genesis and the creation of the Universe, the celestial bodies, the earth and life itself seems to suggest that this all happened over a six-day period. How are we to reconcile this very stark conflict? Is the Torah simply out of touch or is there more to this enigmatic text that meets the eye? This lecture explores the scientific basis for the age of the Universe, the earth and life and delves into the depth of the Genesis account in the Torah from classic Jewish sources.

Evolution and Design

The Theory of Evolution is perhaps one of the most controversial and yet tested theories in science. Scientists argue that there is more evidence for evolution than any other scientific concept of its kind. Yet it implies that God was not necessary for the diversity of life we see on earth. Rather random mutations and natural selection perfectly explain the different species with man classed as simply part of the animal kingdom. How does this compare to the Torah’s account of creation and in particular the special status of mankind and his relationship with God? Does evolution do away with God or is there more to the concept of Biblical creation? In this lecture we will discuss the Theory of Evolution and look at contemporary approaches to evolution. We will then discuss the impact on belief in God and the creation narrative while dealing with the fact that homo sapiens have existed for around 200,000 years whereas the Bible claims that Adam and Eve were created around 6,000 years ago. This will lead us to uncover the Jewish concept of mankind and his special place in the cosmos.

God and the Butterflies: Chaos Theory and Divine Providence

Divine Providence is the idea that God interacts with the world in order to bring about the full purpose of creation. He provides us with opportunities which guide us towards the many directions we may choose from in our lives. This lecture will explain the concept of Chaos Theory and the famous Butterfly Effect. We will explore classic Jewish texts which appear to link the ideas of Chaos Theory and Divine Providence to help explain how God interacts with His creation while allowing for humans to have Free Will. This will lead to a discussion on why God appears to allow evil to flourish and lets the righteous suffer.

Neuroscience and Free Will

The concept of Free Will is axiomatic to Jewish thought. If we are not free to choose to do good or bad we cannot be held accountable for our actions. The problem is that Free Will appears to violate the scientific idea of determinism; all physical actions must have a physical cause. This implies that all of my actions are in fact merely the results of my neurons which fire as outputs of a plethora of inputs. There is no ‘Ghost in the machine’ which directs my thoughts and actions, they are only a result of the complex interplay between my upbringing, environment, and nature, together with a multitude of other stimuli. There appears to be some scientific evidence to back this up and during the course of this lecture we will explore the structure and function of the brain, the evolution of the brain and the interplay between different brain structures. We will then look at the Jewish perspective of Free Will and determine that in fact this may be something which is not testable by science.

And God said: “Let thy Torah go viral!” – Information Theory and the Transmission of Torah

The explosion in information technology over the last century has presented scientists and engineers with a range of challenges which can be summed up by the following statement: how can we reproduce at one point, either exactly or approximately, a message selected at another point? The resolution to the problem is the basis for Information Theory and this lecture deals with the issues of data compression and error correction. We then relate these fascinating concepts to the transmission of Torah from Sinai, treating Torah in the widest sense as a communication from God. Is the message genuine and has it been corrupted? Do we see evidence of a good communications system and what bearing does this have on Jewish faith?

Goldilocks and the Multiverse: Why do we live in a world that is not too hot, not too cold, but just right?

One of the most difficult issues to grasp in science is the fact that the Universe appears to be finely tuned for life. It appears to be a ‘put-up job’, designed by a grand Creator rather than a set of happy coincidences. In this lecture we explore the Anthropic argument for the existence of God and the scientific answer to this problem, known as the Multiverse.

Something from Nothing: Determinism and the problem of a First Cause

In a deterministic Universe, every effect is preceded by a cause or set of causes. If we could trace all of the causes and effects back in time we would reach the Big Bang, the beginning of the Universe. The problem is that it appears that the Big Bang violates the concept of cause and effect; if the Universe came from ‘nothing’, what caused the Big Bang to happen? There must have been an Ultimate Cause which started the whole process. Yet this implies the existence of a Creator. How do scientists deal with this issue of ‘something from nothing’ and do their arguments hold water?

The Fabric of Reality: What are we made of?

We all know that matter is made of molecules and atoms, and that atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons. But what are the protons and neutrons and electrons made of? Where does matter come from? Why were scientists so excited about the discovery of the Higgs Boson and why was it dubbed the ‘God Particle’? Additionally, how does matter interact with other matter? The forces of gravity and magnetism appear to allow matter to influence other matter, acting over large distances without touching. Can the study of high energy physics help us to understand the nature of God’s Creation?

Such stuff that dreams are made on: The psychology and spirituality of dreams

Dreaming is universal experience which has fascinated and excited mankind for thousands of years. From literature to poetry dreaming appears to tap into the mysterious and unknown. Could our dreams be premonitory or carry portentous meaning, or are they simply the result of random brain activity when we sleep? Do dreams have significance in Jewish thought and if so, how?

A Journey through Time 

Time appears to be one of the axiomatic realities of the world. We know it exists because we constantly experience it. We never seem to have enough of it and yet from a scientific perspective, time is not as simple as it seems. This lecture will look at time as a concept both from a purely scientific perspective and from the view of the Torah.

The Enigma of Consciousness 

Every human being experiences a flow of consciousness; thoughts pop in and out of our heads on a constant basis. We are bombarded with a plethora of stimuli, some of which our brains effortlessly process. But at the same time, we have a sense of being ourselves; we don’t associate with being our body or our face, we associate our sense of being to something beyond our bodies. Yet scientific materialism would imply that there is nothing beyond the physical world. Is our sense of consciousness merely an illusion? Are out thoughts simply an elaborate result of the almost countless interactions between our neurons? Could we associate consciousness with the idea of a soul and how would test its existence?

Science, Faith, and Cognitive Dissonance 

The American social psychologist, Leon Festinger coined the term ‘Cognitive Dissonance’ to mean having two opposing ideas or beliefs which cause internal conflict. He was investigating an eschatological cult called ‘the Seekers’ led by Chicago housewife Dorothy Martin. She claimed to have received messages in her home from alien beings from the planet ‘Clarion’ via psychographic writing and claimed that a UFO landing was imminent. Only believers would be saved from the destruction of the world.

When the prophecy didn’t come true, she claimed that the world had been spared because her followers had spread the ‘force of good and light’ throughout the world. To rational, thinking people, this was clearly nonsense. Yet it highlighted Festinger’s theory that the psychological pain of cognitive dissonance compels us to seek ways of restoring the balance in our minds while maintaining the integrity of our belief systems or justifying our behaviour.

Yet could we propose that all faith and religion is no different to Martin’s cult? Doesn’t belief in God carry the same deficiency of evidence as a belief in alien invaders, and if science comes to contradict religious ideas, surely this leads to cognitive dissonance.

This lecture deals with the human effect of the conflict between Science and Religion.

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