Thursday, October 18, 2012

Science, one of the greatest gifts to religion

How old is the universe? It's a question that almost as old as the universe itself (however old that is!). The frum answer might cite Noah's flood: in terms of disturbing the ability to accurately date the world using its minerals; and the logistical problem of stuffing dinosaurs into the ark (though some suggest the Nachash - the snake with feet which persuaded Eve to eat the forbidden fruit - was not unlike a Tyrannosaurus-Rex.) Whatever the outcome, the story of the flood has continued to be one of science and religion. Which leads us to another point of contention: whether or not there is life on other planets?
After, listening to the highly informative "Life Scientific" programme on Radio 4, I once again realised how science is more of a supporter to religion than it is an adversary. Science serves as a great advantage to the believing man or woman. This week, as the Rover Curiosity continues exploring Mars, Monica Grady, a Professor in Planetary Sciences at the Open University, spoke about ‘Life on Mars’. Interestingly, she begins by clarifying that "life on Mars" does not mean little green men, or little green animals for that matter: “They would have been seen by telescope," she says. Rather, they look for signs of "micro-life, hidden from view and highly un-evolved”. Life therefore would be no more than micro movement. So what does religion think of life on other planets? In the book of Judges, chapter 5, the Prophetess Devora (yes, there were women leaders) sings a song of praise to God for helping Barak win his battle against his enemy, Sisera. In verse 20: "The stars in their course fought against Sisera." And then, in verse 23, she continues: "Curse Meroz, said the angel of the Lord, curse bitterly its inhabitants, because they did not come to the help of the Lord...against the mighty men." Just who is this Meroz? The context in which the reference to Meroz is found compels one opinion in the Talmud to define it as a planet (and not as a neighbouring city), as it is preceded by the verse that states "the stars in their course fought against Sisera". So it follows that Meroz refers to a celestial body whose ‘inhabitants’ did not come to Barak’s aid, indicating there is life on another planet. Of course, it's problematic to consider these ‘inhabitants’ as intelligent beings, since Torah defines intelligent to mean the capacity to make decisions with free will which is only possible where there is Torah. So some sort of (unintelligent) life on other plants may not be contrary to Torah. In fact Dr. Velvl Greene, a biologist enlisted by NASA to determine if there is life on Mars, asked the Lubavitcher Rebbe if this was something he should be doing. The Rebbe replied: “Dr. Greene, look for life on Mars. And if you don’t find it there, look somewhere else in the universe for it. Because for you to sit here and say there is no life outside of planet Earth is to put limitations on the Creator, and that is not something any of His creatures can do!” Which leads us to the way Monica marvellously and poetically describes her passion for stones and meteorites and how, for her, it all began: The rocks from the moon were beautiful, the colours are so deep and so clear, beautiful cerise and turquoise and pink, yellow and beige and can see such sharp outlines of the crystals, you can look and you can see how this rock has come from a magma from a lava that has crystallized, and you can see how all the grains and how all the mineral fit together so beautifully. It was the thin sections of the Apollo rocks that inspired me”. Rocks generally are the most inanimate organism, the lowest on the rung of creation, a rock from the moon, noch. Yet herein lies a blessing and support for all of us that believe: "You alone are the Lord; You made the heavens, the heavens of the heavens and all their host, the earth and all that is upon it, the seas and all that is in them, and You give life to them all", the true wonders of this most beautiful creation.

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