To my chagrin, that organization offers programs like “Scientifically grounded Judaism,” which makes sense only if they purge Judaism of everything that’s not scientific. And if you did that, you’d be left with a form of secular humanism absent any supernatural beliefs, which is what most liberal Jews espouse anyway.
Mitelman’s piece has a heartening title as well: “Sorry, science doesn’t make a case for God. But that’s OK.” The good news is that he’s on the mark here, even rejecting the “fine-tuning” argument so beloved by apologists as a powerful argument for God. He also says this: “But science is a search for an accurate understanding of our world, which means that it can change. And if we’re basing our view of God on the latest scientific research, we’re going to have a very fragile theology.” But that would seem to make hash of the “Scientifically grounded Judaism” program in his own Sinai and Synapses foundation (I have to chuckle when I write that name).
The bad news is that Mitelman, even though realizing that science doesn’t make the case for God, apparently still thinks that something makes the case for God. But what is that something? He doesn’t say, but instead spews out Gould’s discredited hypothesis of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA):
Using science to prove God’s existence confuses two very different ways of thinking. Science progresses as new hypotheses get tested, questioned, refuted, expanded upon, discarded, and revised.
Religion, on the other hand, is a way to make sense of the world. It is an appreciation of awe and mystery, justice and compassion.
In other words, science is a search for truth, while religion is a search for meaning.
. . . In other words, religion doesn’t need science to prove God’s existence, because the question of God is not a scientific one.
Science is the best method we have for understanding how we got here. But religion isn’t science. It is not (or at least should not) be about provable or disprovable claims, because that’s not its purpose. Instead, it should be designed to help us improve ourselves and our world, here and now.
For me, as I look out at the universe, I am in awe of the fact that we are living here on this Earth. But that awe wouldn’t change for me if the parameters for life are actually one in a hundred rather than one in a septillion.
Instead, I am guided by the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel: “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.”
NOMA has been rejected by philosophers and secularists for two reasons: religion isn’t the sole bailiwick of morality, philosophy and meaning: we have a long tradition of secular morality and philosophy beginning with the ancient Greeks. Second, as we all know, religions don’t limit themselves to questions of meaning alone. Creationism in America is the most obvious example, but so are any religious assertions about reality, such as those about the existence of God and Jesus, the nature of God, the existence of an afterlife, and so on. Religion, except for the most Sophisticated™ and apophatic sort, is resolutely wedded to claims about what is true. Mitelman either doesn’t see this or simply rejects what most religious people see as the nature of their faith.
And that is why NOMA has been largely rejected by theologians and believers, as I noted in my discussion of Gregg Caruso’s edited volume: Science and Religion: 5 Questions. In that book, one of the questions posed to the scientists, philosophers, and theologians was this:
Some theorists maintain that science and religion occupy non-overlapping magisteria—i.e., that science and religion each have legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority, and these two domains do not overlap. Do you agree?
The almost universal answer among the 33 people asked was “no.” And the theologians’ answers were largely based on existence claims made by their religion. Mitelman’s “yes” answer is a rare exception.
So what makes Mitelman believe in God? The article, and the excerpt above, don’t say. Perhaps it’s the “feeling of awe” he gets by looking at the universe. Or perhaps he buys into Rabbi Heschel’s notion that living itself is holy, which is simply an assertion without proof, and wouldn’t convince anybody not already in the asylum that there was a God.
I’d like to ask the good rabbi whether he thinks that there’s any literal truth in the Old Testament, and, if so, what that truth is. Does he really think the Exodus happened, when archaeology shows that it didn’t? Where does he get the idea of God, and what kind of God does he believe in? Why does he reject the idea of Jesus as the son of God, belief in which is necessary to be saved? And if God is just the universe, then he’s a pantheist, not a true believing Jew.
I appreciate Rabbi Mitelman’s candor about the inability of science to give evidence for God. But if he really believes that, then he’s left with no credible evidence for God, and should become a humanist. In other words, “Sinai and Synapses” is just one neuron shy of pure atheism.