Monday, November 07, 2011

Mayim Bialik & dinosaurs

A guest post by Philo

Jew in the City has a new video that’s been making the rounds, featuring Mayim Bialik, neuroscientist, actress, and increasingly observant Jew, asking a question about how to believe in both Torah & science. Allison Josephs, in a cute video, answers her. See my reaction below the video.

While Allison’s explanation is certainly more palatable than Biblical literalism, I have a problem with science/Torah reconciliations as well. It’s basically a struggle to try to mash together two systems that are often incompatible. For example, her equating of “taninim gedolim” with dinosaurs is weak at best.

I prefer to view science & Torah as two separate spheres, utilizing views of the Rambam & others only insomuch as providing a precedent for one to view the Torah allegorically, but not attempting to shoehorn the details together.

Science tells us how the world works, and is based on observation, theories, and peer review. Torah, on the other hand, is about the spiritual realm. The historicity of Torah is irrelevant. The fact that these things may not have happened, that science tells us there was never a worldwide flood, is unimportant. The Torah informs our worship of Hashem, not of science.

The world was not created in 7 days. That’s obvious. We now know the universe is around 14 billion years old and the earth is 4 billion years old, and that we evolved from earlier primates.

Meanwhile, the Torah tells us stories, but those stories are meant to be related to spiritually and emotionally. It’s a separate sphere entirely. Trying to reconcile the two diminishes and harms both.

The further you go down the reconciliation path, the more compromises you are forced to make. When you study the Ancient Near East, you begin to realize that much of the Biblical narrative cannot be literally true, and even the authorship of the Torah comes into question. Tying oneself into knots to painfully reconcile details is a losing proposition.

But if you simply view the Torah as a sacred text, whose literal truth and even authorship are irrelevant to one’s spiritual life, then there’s never a problem, and the richness of one’s relationship with Hashem remains strong.

Update 11:15 am: Re-reading my post, I realize that someone might come away thinking that I'm indifferent to Biblical criticism or scientific problems with the Torah's narrative. On the contrary, I find it fascinating and can't get enough of it. I practically inhaled James Kugel's "How to Read the Bible." I LOVE this stuff. It makes Judaism all the more richer to me when the pieces of history begin to come together for me. But I don't let it lessen how much I cherish the Torah and how much I see it as a sacred document that is pivotal and central to our tradition. That's where I place the divide.

Search for more information about simplistic torah/science reconcilation at

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