By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Now that Tisha B’av has passed, I would like to resume our discussion of a number of thoughtful questions by the young student in New Jersey:
“ … Atheism, by definition, is logical. If anything, belief in God is illogical. It’s a very simple equation: Atheism equals scientific explanation of the existence of the world. Science equals logical, possible explanation of things.”
I have a few issues with your “equations” (which you name, later in your letter, evolution as the scientific explanation for the existence of the world).
For one, where do we find that a scientific explanation of the existence of the world precludes the existence of, or its creation by, a Creator? Why does one need to resort to atheism in order to be scientific? Many of the greatest scientists of all time, including Einstein, were strong believers in God as the Creator.
Furthermore, why is atheism more logical than the belief in God?
Let us address the crux of your argument: the assumption that science has an explanation for the existence of the world. Science, by definition, is the study of the world once it exists, not the study of what (or who) brought the world into existence. Although there are scientists and scholars of evolution who speculate how life may have begun according to evolution theory, nothing has been proven. On the contrary, there are over half a dozen theories to that effect, every one of which excludes the others as illogical or impossible. And this is a dispute about the beginning of life, not of the source of the world or the universe, none of which have anything to do with evolution. Science, by definition, can’t discuss the world before it exists; if a scientist will do so he will be crossing over the line of a scientist to that of a theologian. According to Steven Hawking, all science and mathematics begin after the Big Bang; before the Big Bang all of science and physics break down. (By the way, the Big Bang was mentioned in our Torah commentaries many hundreds of years before it became accepted by science).
As to your assumption that atheism/science is a more plausible explanation of the world as it exists than the creation by God; this argument, even if we should accept it, only takes into consideration a purely physical existence bereft of a spiritual realm. It would have to assume, as atheistic proponents of evolution indeed do, that there is no human soul. A human being is nothing but a hyper-developed animal which accidentally, by chance mutations and survival of the fittest, developed into what Homo sapiens is today.
Without us getting into the nitty-gritty of evolution, if we are being intellectually honest, we will have to agree that to hold that position one would have to admit that there are no absolute morals existing in the world; any morals espoused by individuals or society were arbitrarily arrived at and nobody has the right to say what is right or wrong. Hitler felt it was better for the world to relieve it of the “scourge of the Jews.” If he felt that way and there is no absolute right or wrong, nobody has the right to say he was absolutely wrong. The only logical way to explain our belief, religious or not, that he was absolutely wrong, or anyone who believes we are not just animals to be disposed of at anyone’s whim, is that there is a God who has endowed this world and the people in it with a sense of right and wrong and with iron-clad morals which transcend the whims of society. The only logical way to explain that aspect of the world is a creation by God.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.