יום חמישי, 7 בינואר 2010

A comment on Nafka Mina blog

There is a post named State, Army and Religion in the Nafka Mina blog where I offered the following comment:

The separation of religion and state is critical, especially when it comes to enforcement of religious laws on secular people. Yet it's no simple thing when it comes to Judaism which is a "religious civilization" (in the words of M. Kaplan). Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and as such it has to reflect the Jewish culture and ethos - otherwise it loses any justification for its existence.

The comparison you make with science is incorrect because of the mixing of fact with value. Modern science is about providing facts about nature, and religion as a system of values provides judgment of what to do in light of these facts[i].

The army on the other hand, is an instrument for executing a policy and it certainly has to reflect a nation’s values. Judaism aspires to encompass the wholeness of life, and therefore everything in Israel or that which concerns the Jewish people has religious significance[ii]. It’s just that we lived in the galut for so long that we have forgotten how it’s supposed to be. The national-religious therefore cannot be indifferent to what goes on in the army. They serve because it’s a mitzvah, and they follow/refuse orders because it’s a mitzvah. The only relevant discussion is what values have precedence over others: the unity of the army or the settlement of the Land of Israel[iii].

[i] A side note: had not Judaism contained a genuine tradition of rationally reconciling Torah and science, religious Jews would have had a problem being scientists. The Haredim in Israel have in fact turned their backs towards those traditions and therefore you can hardly find any of them occupying an R&D post.

[ii] I owe much to the late professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz like appreciating the need for separating religion and state. However, I disagree with him on which issues have religious significance. His determination to refine Jewish faith in the Maimonidean fashion is indeed praiseworthy, but I find his interpretations having an aura of autism …

[iii] An opinion worth reading in that matter is Rabbi Yuval Cherlow's here, where he understands the need to balance the various values which are at stake and he makes a clear Halachic stand.

8 תגובות:

  1. Judgements of what to do in light of certain facts can and should be handled scientifically.
    Religion has claimed through the years and still does claim to provide facts about nature, a minor
    example is the existence of a God

  2. Liza, I disagree completely.
    Values are our highest goals, and they are not derived from reality per se. Science can only provide he means to achieve those goals.
    Take for example smoking. Science tells us that smoking is bad for our health and even deadly. Now, I know quite a lot of people who don't even try to give up smoking, although they know it's bad for their health. Are they immoral? If "health" considered a value then yes - smokers are immoral! However, smokers may consider health to be another means to enjoying life, but not important enough to give up the little joys. Science in fact has nothing to say about their choice.

    As for God, since the 17th century it's common opinion that the existence or non-existence of God is not a scientific claim. God is outside of the system of cause and effect which science investigates.

  3. when I say judgments of what to do should be handled scientifically,what you described is in fact what I meant-science will get you to the point where you know your health is on the line. What you decide to do with that information is up to you.
    The problem is that religion tends to interfere in that scientific reasoning - it will tell you for example that eating pork is forbidden without considering the scientific aspect and consequences of such an act-it may have been considered unhealthy or somehow problematic at some point in history but science progresses, yet religion stays put.
    When you talk about morality - that can also be dealt with scientifically. what I mean by that is that moral rules have an implication on the society in which one lives. science can try to predict those implications as is done in the field of game theory.When considering one's moral behaviour I believe those implications are of great essence. Again here religion misses many of the tools which have been developed by science in order to investigate and study morality.

    Regarding the claim of God's existence - again progress in scientific reasoning shed's light on that question, you can refer to Richard Dawkin's book - The God Delusion, and see that indeed scientists are still talking about it - I would claim that no question is outside the realm of rational inquiry or scientific inquiry

  4. Liza,
    It seems that at first you agreed with me and then contradicted yourself.
    As I wrote earlier, values dictate the end, science can provide the means.
    Regarding the abstention from pork: The fundamental reason that a person follows any of the Torah is his/her will is to have a relationship with God. That's the value. Relationship is based on doing His commandment. Therefore, by not eating pork I achieves this goal by definition. What information can science add? If abstention is bad for my health, then it's a matter of balancing out my values - like those smokers in my previous comment. An extreme case is when Judaism (and most value systems)requires one to give up his life in some circumstances.
    As for morality, I can't think of an example where contemporary science had anything to contribute in that field.

    Dawkins' new book in on my reading list. I have, however, read his previous books and articles. I can only comment that he does a very poor service to both science and to self proclaimed atheists alike. While his explanation of evolution is fascinating, his outlook to life is like that of an autistic person. If he cannot reduce something to atoms or genes he denies its existence. He therefore thinks that science can provide meaning and purpose to life, but as in the case of values vs. facts, meaning and purpose transcend scientific data.

  5. I searched for the contradiction mentioned without much luck.
    Regarding Dawkins - I mentioned him to show that your claim that "since the 17th century it's common opinion that the existence or non-existence of God is not a scientific claim" is problematic. His book and opinions are definitely worth a discussion as autistic as they might seem.

    Regarding science as a means for making moral decisions - what science can do and consistently has done through history is make us aware of the implications of the things we do - I hold the opinion which states that moral rules or any other kind of rule for that matter attains their justification from the way they effect society and individuals within that society.

     Deriving rules such as abstention from pork without any justification other than "this book says so and it also claims to be the word of God" seems a bit hollow to say the least. It can also lead to dangerous acts by people not considering the real implication of their deeds.

    In fact if we would look more closely at most moral values which Judaism holds, I believe you would find that de-facto , there is an effort to justify them beyond "the Holy book said so".
    It is when it comes to the "silly" ones that religious people need to resort to that ultimate unarguable claim of "this is the word of God and hence has to be obeyed"

  6. Liza,
    You first agreed with me that science is about means and not about the end. Then went on to say that science has something to say about values which define goals. That's the contradiction I was talking about.

    Dawkins claims that God is a phenomena to be studied scientifically. Does he give examples? He has no answer to those who claim that God is transcendent. I'll read his book, and maybe post something regarding it.

    Returning to pork...
    If I tell you that by not eating pork I maintain a relationship with God, how can science contradict this claim?
    Various thinkers did try to look into the specific reasons why the Torah forbade pork - and used their contemporary science to do so. But those reasons were always secondary to the decision to obey God's will. Rambam, for example claimed that pig has negative environmental consequences, while others claimed that it's unhealthy.
    Do you think that should science prove that those claims are wrong we could start eating pork?
    You are correct that there is danger when not considering implications of our deeds, but sometimes the implications are part of the goal and the end sometimes justifies the means.

  7. I do think that science can bridge the gap between one's actions and the values he cherishes. It may do that by helping one be aware of the consequence of one's actions. Your smoking example is a good one - science tells you that smoking is bad for your health and you decide what you want to do with that information. Hopefully this resolves the contradiction.

    The God discussion is a worthy one -my point was that it is not resolved to either side and discussions still take place
    I would be happy to have this discussion

    Regarding the pork, personally as a fellow truth seeker, I am highly un-content when inquiring why I do what I do, when my final answer
    resorts to - "because this is what other people told me". While we are at it I would also recommend to your reading list a book which I have not read but who's author I highly appreciate - it is a book by philosopher Daniel Dennet which is called "Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon" I plan to read it soon.

  8. To make things more interesting, and possibly make it harder for me to get my point across - I found this talk by Nobel Prize laureate Israel Aumann who is a religious Jew:

    He talks about social situations where different parties have different interests .The questions he asks are what are optimal rules of conduct in such situations.

    Aumann obviously holds different views than my own when it comes to matters of religion, morality and God. Nontheless I believe his rational, scientific approach towards these questions are the way to deal with them.