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  Saturday, December 16, 2017 - 28 Kislev 5778
 
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Faith and Reason

Some may hesitate to consider religious belief as integral to every day life. One might assume the notion that afterlife is the domain of religion, and the present should be dictated by the forces we can readily perceive. However, there may be some inconsistencies with such an outlook.

If G-d is not present in the every day this is contrary to the basic idea of G-d as an unlimited Being. Thus, either He's right here as in the afterlife, or there is no such thing as G-d. If religion has any relevance whatsoever it must be relevant here in this world as well.

It is known that this world is not merely physical in nature. Thoughts and emotions are real and although they cannot be described as physical they most certainly exist in this world. Even such spiritual entities as the soul have not been scientifically challenged.

In principle it is conceivable to combine religious belief with every day reality and indeed we may need only to perceive a connection that already exists.

Let's launch an exercise by analyzing how we perceive faith, reason, and science.

Do we perceive people of faith as naïve, gullible or brainwashed? Perhaps we see them as out-of-touch with reality or lacking smarts?

On the other hand, how do we judge people who put reason first? Do we assume they are trustworthy, reliable or sensible and intelligent?

Where would we put the scientist on this spectrum? Most people would not hesitate to identify the scientist as a rational person. One must possess and use a lot of intelligence to pursue science. The sciences are constantly refining our understanding of nature and yielding ever-more sophisticated technologies to improve our standard of living.

What we may not realize is that science cannot exist without faith. Faith does not necessarily mean religion. The faith required by science is rather the acceptance of certain theories as true without having to absolutely prove them.

Everyone has his or her givens, including the scientist. The givens of science include definitions, assumptions, axioms, and the rules of inference. Among these types of ideas not all are known by reason, yet scientists will accepts them as true and valid. Most scientific conclusions contain implicit faith in the givens of science.

For example, Sir Isaac Newton described the force of gravity as absurd yet it is accepted as fact. No one has ever seen or felt a wave or particle of gravity. The idea of gravitational force requires action at a distance with no intermediary, which is literally impossi­ble according to classical physics and human reason. And yet, we affirm gravity to be true, real and proven beyond a shadow of a doubt.

Science even presumes faith in the traditional sense, of belief in a Creator. All of science is built on the principle that everything that happens has a cause. This implies a chain of causation back to the first cause of creation.

In the last few decades, science has come to an even greater dimension of faith than ever before. The most recent experimental advances in physics, and the latest conceptual advances such as chaos and string theories, have shown clearly that we must accept a view of reality that is totally beyond anything the human mind can begin to comprehend. What's relevant here is that science can offer a newfound humility based on the recognition that nature and its laws are in essence beyond rational comprehension altogether.

In light of all this, it is perfectly acceptable for the modern man to accept and live with the concept and reality of Moshiach. Contrary to popular opinion, science provides us with prime exam­ples of how mechanisms, which are entirely beyond our understanding, come to be accepted.

This does not mean that we should not employ our intellect at all. There is a real and valid role for logical analysis and intellectual comprehension, both in dealing with worldly matters and in our spiritual life.

Where people often delude themselves, however, is in believing that with reason alone they can solve all meaningful questions about nature and issues of lifestyle.

Even logic itself has come to recognize its own limitations. A revolutionary theorem proposed by the mathematician Kurt Godel (and which has gained universal academic acceptance) essentially states that any system of logic is either incomplete or inconsistent. This means that there is always something beyond our rational mind that we have to come on to, in order to complete our knowledge of anything.

An example of the necessity of faith comes from IBM think-tank mathematician Joe Halpern, whose research into synchronicity led him to discover that even the simplest acts of communication require a leap of faith. He explains using the follow­ing illustration. Two generals have been planning a surprise two-front attack on their enemy. One general signals the other 'We attack at dawn.' Having sent his signal, is the general confident enough to strike at dawn? No, because he needs confirmation from the second general that his signal was received. Now let's say #2 sends his confirming signal. Are they now ready to roll? No, because #2 does not know that #1 received confirmation.

How many confirmations are actually necessary? Halpern deter­mined that for any number of confirming steps, one can always devise a plausible situation in which one more step is actually necessary. Consequently there is no such thing as complete confir­mation of a signal and all communication including everyday conversation is based on the unsubstantiated belief that the other party 'knows what we mean'. But do you know what I mean? I don't know - I just believe you do.

The same applies to our study of nature. The human mind is not capable of visualizing even the most basic of natural processes that surround us every day. Events which the rational mind assumes should be relatively simple continually prove to be elusive on closer inspec­tion. Therefore we should accept that the mind is a limited tool when endeavoring to decipher the full complexity of life.

If this is the case with basic natural entities and processes, how much more so would it be the case with regards to the more complex issues of how to achieve the healthiest lifestyle, physically, psycho­logically, socially and spiritually?

The above matters have been encountered from day to day for generations. The lesson of our inherent limits would apply to an even greater extent when we consider the much larger issues of the future of mankind, and most specifically Moshiach and Redemption.

Has mankind, in the last century, made the progress in human rela­tions as promised by the so-called enlightenment and the age of reason? The supposedly most advanced era of history has yielded two of its greatest monsters: one in Russia and one in Germany. They had many tens of millions murdered, including millions of Jews. Both regimes employed cruelty, terror and torture that not only compare to, but even' greatly surpass the worst of the Medieval era. This discredits the notion for a maturing of civilization that comes with the discarding of religious belief and replacing it with a materialistic worldview.

If human intelligence alone is insufficient to comprehend the little things, it is surely all the more insufficient to fathom the progres­sively more intricate realities. And now let's imagine using the mind to predict the future and to evaluate the nature of the redemption. Of course one will not be able to come close to apprehending these greater realities. The human mind is not geared for it.

The most brilliant minds of 50 years ago could not even dream of the wonders of science and technology today. Similarly, now that we are trying to peer ahead beyond the edge of the new millen­nium, it's high time to internalize the lessons of 20th century science, including the following: the world is beyond our under­standing and what we cannot grasp with our rational faculty will only be accessible through faith.

…Faith and reason are not trains in collision. They are more like trains in series; one picks up where the other leaves off…

   
 

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