Religion and Science

Whether there is a real tension between religion and science in Judaism depends to a considerable extent on the tradition of Judaism being considered.

Judaism has very few problems in relation to modern scientific discoveries, particularly in relation to medical science. However, many Orthodox Jews may consider that some of the developments relating to issues embryo research are unacceptable interference with G-d’s will.

Also, although science may suggest that there is no evidence for an afterlife, this poses no significant problem as Judaism has no specific teachings on the issue.

The real area of debate is in relation to the creation of the world.

Because Judaism teaches that the Torah is the revealed word of G-d and is literal truth, this sometimes makes it difficult to reconcile scientific theories of cosmology and evolution with the accounts found in Genesis 1-3.

The creation accounts in Genesis show that G-d created the world in seven ‘ayin’ or periods of time. The translation of ‘days’ is unhelpful but unsurprising in that the text says:

God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day (Genesis 1:5).

The Jewish calendar starts with the year 1 dated from the creation of the world in the book of Genesis. 1 Tishrei 1 AM (anno mundi), is equivalent to Monday, October 7, 3761 BCE. 1st September 2013 is 26 Elul 5773.

This reiterates a literal belief in a timescale calculated from the scriptures which means that the earth was created just over 5,700 years ago. It is clearly not possible to take a literal interpretation of the Genesis creation accounts and marry them with scientific theory and dating for the beginning of the world and of life.

Some areas can be reconciled to a degree. It is perhaps possible to accept the Big Bang Theory and then to suggest that the Big Bang needed a Prime Mover in the form of G-d. However, it is not possible to reconcile the whole of the accounts.

The story in Genesis 1:1-2:4a places humans as the last part of creation. The order is:

Day One: darkness and light

Day Two: separation of water and sky

Day Three: earth, sea and plants

Day Four: sun, moon and stars

Day Five: sea creatures and birds

Day Six: land animals, insects and humans

While some people have argued that this is very like the scientific belief about the order of creation, a bigger issue arises in relation to the second account in Genesis 2:4b-25. In this account G-d made man before there were any plants or animals created.

From a non-Orthodox Jewish perspective where the creation stories may be regarded as myth, scientific theories do not pose a problem.

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