We live in an age of disbelief: Traditional (non-Muslim) religious practice and belief has almost disappeared in Europe and is waning in America. Science, it is widely assumed, has somehow disproven G-d, and provides answers to the questions for which human beings formerly turned to religion. That general climate of disbelief inevitably has an impact on the Orthodox Jewish community as well.
The challenge of science to religion is not a new one. Nearly a century ago, Rabbi Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler devoted considerable time with the youngsters he tutored in London to debunking the authority of scientists as disinterested, objective observers, untouched by personal biases. Now, in Nonsense of a High Order: The Confused World of Modern Atheism, Rabbi Moshe Averick has written, in the words of Rabbi Aharon Feldman, "an important book that pulls the rug out from under atheistic philosophies and will strengthen every reader's belief in the Creator." (I would also commend the work as a perfect gift for non-observant Jews who have been raised to believe that science has disproved G-d.)
First, let us emphasize what Nonsense of a High Order is not. It is not an attempt to answer every challenge to religion posed by science. Nor is it a proof of Torah M'Sinai. Averick's sole purpose is to establish the case for the Creator of the Universe – and to do so based largely on the words of the world's leading scientists themselves, even when they deny the evidence before them.
PROPONENTS OF THE THEORY of evolution, such as Richard Dawkins in the Blind Watchmaker, claim to have solved the riddle of how creatures so perfectly suited for their environment could have developed that way unless designed by G-d. But their theories avail them nothing, for they are clueless as to how the simplest bacterium, from which they claim all life evolved, could have come into being. Nobel Prize winning biochemist Jacques Monod summarizes the problem: "The [genetic] code is meaningless unless translated. The modern cell's translating machinery consist of at least fifty macromolecular components which are themselves coded in DNA; the code cannot be translated otherwise than by products of translation." But where did the first translator come from?
Averick provides a virtual compendium of quotations from Nobel Prize winners and other leading scientists as to the Origin of Life, and the near mathematical impossibility of the simplest life form coming into being. "The essential problem in explaining how life arose is that even the simplest living things are stupendously complex," writes Origin of Life investigator Dr. Paul Davies. Even Dawkins calls this question the "central hole" in the naturalistic account of life.
"The origin of life field is a failure . . . not due to a lack of effort," writes microbiologist Dr. Eugene Koonin, "but to the extraordinary intrinsic difficulty and complexity of the problem. A succession of exceedingly unlikely steps is essential for the origin of life . . . [T]hese make the final outcome seem almost like a miracle . . . ."
If we were to find magnetic letters arranged on the refrigerator to form a complete shopping list and instructions, we would instantly conclude that someone had left the message, not that the letters had randomly arranged themselves. That shopping list, however, would be nothing compared to the protein hemogloblin, which consists of 600 amino acids, requiring 1800 nucleobases (the basic letters of DNA) to be arranged in the proper order.
The Origin of Life is, then, "almost a miracle" (Francis Crick, the discoverer of DNA), "a unique occurrence" of "near zero probability" about which "science can say nothing" (Nobel Prize Laureate Jacques Monod).
WHEN SCIENTISTS REJECT INTELLIGENT DESIGN, i.e., the Creator, they do so not on scientific or philosophical grounds, but as an article of quasi-religious faith. The more honest among them admit as much. Nobel Prize Winner in Chemistry Harold Urey, for instance, wrote, "We all believe as an article of faith that life evolved from dead matter on this planet. It is just that its complexity is so great that it is hard for us to imagine that it did." His fellow Nobel Laureate George Wald, put that matter clearly: "There are only two possibilities as to how life arose. One is spontaneous generation arising to evolution; the other is a supernatural creative act of G-d. There is no third possibility. I will not accept [a supernatural creative act] because I do not want to believe in G-d. Therefore I choose to believe in that which I know is scientifically impossible, spontaneous generation arising to evolution."
Wald's Harvard colleague Richard Lewontin has described all the "unsubstantiated just so" stories advanced by scientists due to their "a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanation, no matter how counterintuitive." And that materialism of the scientists, Lewontin concludes, is "absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine foot in the door."
Averick has much fun explicating the pretzels into which leading scientists twist themselves to deny G-d. They assume that which they would prove by denying the only alternative, as not a scientific proposition and therefore not worthy of consideration. Dr. Robert Hazen, a prominent Origin of Life investigator, is typical: "Barring Divine intervention, life must have emerged by a natural process – one fully consistent with the laws of chemistry and physics." Yet what that process might be, he has no clue. He just prefers "blind luck" to Divine intervention, on grounds neither logical nor empirical.
Sir Francis Crick published articles speculating that the first living matter was sent to earth by a highly advanced extra-terrestrial civilization. Could a scientific genius on Crick's level have failed to notice that he had not solved the problem, but only removed it one level: From where did that extra-terrestrial civilization emerge according to the laws of physics and chemistry?
THE SECOND GREAT PROBLEM, besides the
origin of life, that troubled Francis Crick as a young man was how does the brain become a conscious mind. How something material could be conscious has long been recognized as the Hard Problem, in the words of Harvard's Steven Pinker. "Science's biggest mystery is the nature of consciousness. It is not that we possess bad or imperfect theories of human awareness; We simply have no theories at all," writes physicist Dr. Nick Herbert. Or as Professor George Wald put it, "Consciousness seems to me impervious to science."
At issue, Averick makes clear, in the second section of Nonsense of a High Order, is whether science has disproven what almost every human being who has ever lived has believed: We possess a non-material soul that exists apart from our physical body. Can any material process explain the universal perception
that we filter our life through an "I" that thinks certain thoughts and experiences certain experiences?
Well-known atheist author and neuroscience researcher
, Sam Harris labels that universal perception from the perspective of science." Fellow atheists Dr. Susan Blackmore and the famous philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell not only deny that basic human perception, but the possibility of a "self" that exercises free will and makes decisions. "Since the idea [of an inner 'self' inside my body] is false so is the idea of my conscious self having free will," argues Blackmore. Russell's materialism similarly led him to deny free will: The first dogma which I came to disbelieve was that of free will. It seemed to me that all notions of matter were determined by the laws of dynamics and could not therefore be influenced by human wills." But one can fairly ask: What physical processes made Russell think that and me think the opposite?
As with the Origin Life, the conclusions of the scientists are "proven" by ruling out of court and beyond the pale of consideration any alternative. Thus philosopher Colin McGinn writes, "Resolutely shunning the supernatural, . . . there just has to be some explanation for how brains [interact] with minds. . . . Consciousness, in short, must be a natural phenomenon."
But the absolute materialism that would turn all thought into the result of physical processes is itself non-falsifiable and therefore not a valid scientific statement, points out Sir Karl Popper: "Physical determinism is a theory which, if it is true, is not arguable, since it must explain all our reactions, including what appear to us as beliefs based on argument, as due to purely physical conditions."
The materialists come off sounding like the first Soviet astronaut Uri Gargarin, who "proved" there is no G-d from the fact that he did not see Him on his journey
in space. Thus Harvard sociobiologist E.O. Wilson writes with a straight face, "The brain [has] now been probed to the point where no particular site remains that can reasonably be supposed to harbour a non-physical soul." Isn't that the definition of a non-physical soul? It does not exist in a place.
Harvard's Pinker describes the brain as a "super-computer," made up of trillions of neurons, and he marvels at the fact that neuroscience can now tell through brain-mapping whether a person is working on a math problem or performing music, thinking about a place or about a face. But no matter how super a computer the brain is no machine possesses self-awareness. And no matter how much knowledge we gain of the working of the brain, we will not know who told the brain to do math in the first place instead of struggling with a complex Gemara instead.
Rather than the non-material mind being only a function of the brain, much contemporary neuroscience has uncovered how the mind can reshape brain patterns and functioning. Mind over matter can be demonstrated.
Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits' haskoma to Nonsense of a Higher Order emphasizes the "obligation of every Jew to attain absolute certainty as the Ikarei Emunah, fundamentals of Jewish belief. Rabbi Moshe Averick has provided an invaluable aid to all involved in that quest.
Related Topics: Intellectuals, Jewish Ethics, Social Issues
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