For the Religious Scientist, a “Divided Mind” Needn’t Be the Only Path to Follow

The MIT physicist Jeremy England, whose research concerns nonliving things that act like living things, is also an Orthodox Jew—and the inspiration for a character in a novel by the bestselling author Dan Brown. In an interview with Rachel Scheinerman, he discusses his reflections on the tensions between science and religion:

There are lots of Jews who are very observant and religious . . . who are also highly technically educated and find modern science very credible. But I think that one has to raise the question of how that level of intellectual comfort is achieved.

One possible way that it can be achieved is by creating a kind of divided mind. . . . And I don’t mean to denigrate that, but . . . I don’t want to have a divided mind. It’s necessary to acknowledge that the Tanakh [tries] to make you uncomfortable with the idea of fixed laws of nature. That’s at least one current within [scripture]. There are [also] countercurrents, [for instance], the Psalmist’s idea of “How many are the things You have made, O Lord; You have made them all with wisdom”—the idea that God made everything in His wisdom and it has a natural order and regularity to it. [T]hese currents are in tension with one another.

Papering over that tension and saying, “It’s easy, we don’t have to worry about it”—that can come at a cost. I think it’s possible to be very committed to the Torah in ways that are very authentic and ancient, and still be fully committed to scientific reasoning. . . . [But] there’s [also] a real, serious danger [of] turning science into not just a way of reasoning about what is predictable about the world, but into a full-blown belief system that has a mystical component to it. . . . [I]t can get very doctrinaire.

Here’s an example. Someone might say, “The rules of the universe are fundamentally mathematical and probabilistic. Furthermore, there is a very parsimonious mathematical theory that is the explanation of everything, and we are just trying to refine our understanding of that model. But the universe is mathematical.” That is, in a sense, a mystical claim. It is beautiful and nourishes the souls of people who devote themselves to it. And it’s very common . . . in my line of work. But I staunchly reject that way of talking, because I think the laws of physics are human contrivances.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Science and Religion


How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy