Those who have discussed religion and science were mainly interested in two aspects of this matter: the age of the world and the origins of life. A common assumption, which we will use in spite of its superficial character, is that science has established that the world is about 16 billion years old and that man developed from an ape-like ancestor, while the Torah feels that the world is about 6000 years old and that man was created directly from primeval mud.
There are four classical approaches about this issue:
(1) The Torah is absolute truth, and therefore it is eminently clear that science is wrong. This is the approach of those who are looking for the warmth of closure.
(2) Science is true, which means that the Torah is in error. This approach can be found in positivist circles.
(3) The Torah tells us the truth, and this can be proven by scientific methods. People who hold this opinion can show proofs that contradict the idea of evolution, and they explain the existence of fossils by postulating that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created the world with the fossils in the rocks. They also use the concept of relativity of time in order to shorten the astronomical eras of the existence of the world.
(4) Science is the truth, and the Torah affirms that this is so. People who believe this bring proofs of primal eras of millions of years from books of Kabbalah and from statements that the Holy One, Blessed be He, built previous worlds and destroyed them, and they suggest that the “days” mentioned in the story of Creation were very long periods of time. They may also mention that the Midrash teaches us that Adam had a tail, and so on.
The common denominator of these four approaches, which is not true, is that the Torah and science are both involved in the same common ground, and that they both come to give answers to the same questions. However, the truth is that when science gives a number for the age of the world it is answering the question “What?” while the Torah is answering a different question, “Why?” Thus, there is no contradiction between the two approaches and they also do not correspond with each other. Rather, they are both relevant for different areas of interest.
In addition to the above, Yeshayahu Leibowitz suggested a fifth approach, one that is so simple that it is very tempting:
(5) There is no common ground at all between Torah and science, just as in essence humanitarianism and science are intrinsically different from each other.
At first glance this seems to agree with what we noted above about the first four approaches, which are based on the erroneous assumption that religion and science try to give answers to the same questions. However, this approach ignores the internal unity that exists in the world that the Holy One, Blessed be He, created. G-d both gave the Torah and also created science. It is therefore clear that there must be a link that joins these two subjects. Therefore, we must adopt the relatively complex approach of Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook:
(6) This approach has two main concepts:
- Religion and science are not linked on the level of facts.
- There is a very deep connection between the Torah and the development of science in that the rate of development of new scientific discoveries is linked to the need to expand humanity’s level of knowledge about G-d. One example is the transition from belief in a flat world into a round one, which puts mankind at the center of existence and further implies the need for an approach full of humility, viewing the round earth as a minute speck of dust in the cosmos. Another example is the move from viewing creation as a sudden act to seeing it as a gradual process of the advent of life, which corresponds to the Kabbalic viewpoint of the progression from one world to another and to the concept of redemption “kim’a kim’a” – proceeding slowly, step by step.
Source: “THE ROOTS OF FAITH: Basic Tenets of Jewish Philosophy” – a biweekly column in Shabbat B’Shabbato (Zomet Institute). See: http://www.zomet.org.il/eng – Vayechi 5777, issue 1656.