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» Almost a Miracle
» The Bite of Rationalism
» The March of Science
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Sfarim
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** The Bite of Rationalism **
disconnection from self-evident knowledge

Generally speaking, the Torah sages have discouraged delving into rational inquiry without proper guidance. Here is a quote from Rabbi Matisyahu Solomon (Matanas Chelko commentary to shaar bechina) regarding the philosophical approach to G-d of the famous work Chovos Halevavos:
"The custom practiced in the yeshiva world is not to study the Shaar Yichud. And even though, there is no doubt whatsoever that all of what he says there is absolute truth, nevertheless, his words are of philosophical inquiry and this inherently leads to many questions in the mind of the person studying them, and not every person is capable of fully understanding them. It is possible therefore that one could remain with unresolved questions, or at least with doubts, that would not have occurred to him had he not studied this work. Therefore, it is customary to walk simply and accept as a given, simple faith that the Creator is One. And the explanation of One is that there is no power in the world besides Him, no place in the world devoid of Him, and nothing in the world without Him. These things are above the powers of our minds to grasp.
Hence, according to this, there is a danger in rational inquiry that a person will be left with doubts. One must be careful when treading the path of logical inquiry for he is not assured from stumbling and erring in treading this path, as in fact there are many, many casualties strewn along this path. We can see in our times, that those groups which believe only that which they can fully understand logically wind up engulfed in doubts and eventually drift away from the Torah and become atheists.

Therefore, it is essential for one to be simple with G-d. To not rely on his own limited intellect and to accept the faithful Tradition he received from his elders and mentors as the Chovos Halevavos himself writes in Gate 5 ch.5:
"Be careful that your steps not stray from the path of the forefathers and the path of the early ones towards a new path you have devised, and be careful to not rely on your intellect nor to take counsel only with yourself. Do not reason on your own. Do not distrust your forefathers in the tradition they bequeathed to you as to what is good for you. Do not reject their advice in what they taught you".
The Bite of Rationalism
Scientists used to be alot more religious than they are today. Some would answer that this is because, science has revealed more. But I think the answer is something different.

When you choose to believe only that which can be proven logically, you start to cut yourself off from what may be called "self-evident knowledge".

Certain things we "know" exist though we can't describe them logically. An example of this, is morality. We can recognize evil. We can recognize good. We see it, we detect it. But we cannot logically describe it or prove its existence.

Another example, is the soul. When we look into the eyes of another person, we "know" that the person is more than just a biological computer. There is something "else" there, though we cannot describe what it is or quantify it. If you were to look at the same exact smiling face in a 3-D statue, it would not register the same sensation inside your mind. By looking into the face, you are picking up vastly more information than you could possibly get simply from the surface of the face. There is some kind of interaction of consciousness with another cognitive being outside yourself only superficially represented in the face.

What is it then that you are noticing when looking into the eyes of a human being? This is the soul, the spiritual, self-aware "personality" living in that body. You notice the soul through the medium of the eyes and face. It's an amazing thing. (People can live a whole lifetime without realizing this. They are constantly noticing the souls of others without even realizing that this is what they are seeing. They are so absorbed in the physical that they don't realize that what they are detecting is the spiritual.)

Another manifestation of this is the longing of the soul. Most of us have experienced this longing, especially in one's youth. One may have felt this perhaps peering out at the starlit sky or at the open ocean. He may have felt an indescribable longing. He knows the ocean is just a vast wasteland, but nevertheless, he feels "something". Sometimes, one feels this when hearing a piece of music. We cannot describe it in words or explain it logically but we know it is there.

Similarly, we can say regarding knowledge of the existence of G-d. I don't mean some nonsense gods like Zeus, etc. But G-d. simple as that. There is a certain self-evident knowledge of the existence of G-d. One just needs to humble himself and weaken his desires for this world and it will come to the surface.

Hence, when one resolves to believe only that which his mind can prove logically, he starts to disconnect from all these things. Doubts start to creep in. If the illness progresses further he starts to disconnect from other self-evident truths, such that only an intelligent agent can produce things displaying wisdom.

He starts to believe life arose through random, naturalistic processes. No amount of wisdom in life-forms is ever enough for him. Though he knows evidently from reason and experience that left to their own, things only stay the same or decay. Order gravitates towards chaos. Nevertheless, since he cannot actually see that an intelligence was involved, he waves the belief through for lack of a better rationalistic explanation.

Eventually the doubts on the self-evident knowledge engulf him, until he disconnects further and further away. He loses touch even more, imagining that the universe itself with all its physical laws just popped into existence from nothing, bringing "proofs" from quantum mechanics. He wanders through life aimlessly, like a ghost ship in the ocean. He eventually starts to see himself as no more than a biological computer, not much different than an animal. He may even start to believe his own self is an illusion, for after all the self-aware personality is not physically tangible. We can't see it. Therefore, it must not exist.

This is what happened to most of the scientific community. Engulfed by rationalism, they have lost touch with self-evident knowledge.

It wasn't always like this. Scientists used to be alot more religiously inclined. There was a feeling not so long ago when studying nature, before the disease of rationalism progressed, that one was treading on holy ground. Sir Isaac Newton, for example, who was one of the most influential scientists of all time said of himself:
I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.
For in truth, all the various animals, beasts, birds, fish, insects, plants, etc. etc. are in fact absolutely astonishing. Each one of them is an intense world that one can study years and years, and nevertheless know only a little bit of how it works. Despite all of our technology, we are only playing, toying with nature. Mixing this, joining that. Applying stem cells here or there. Likewise, we are only toying with the many natural laws which are placed before us. we play with the laws of motion, gravity, electromagnetism, optics, thermodynamics, quantum mechanics, etc. The wisdom manifested before us is literally infinite. It is unbelievable when one considers all that is happening seemingly on its own.

Hence, even if one were not religious, provided he had some humility and intuitive knowledge, he would wonder always that there exists before him some kind of unbelievable, awe-inspiring wisdom - and we cannot fathom in any way the source of this wisdom.

Nobody knows where this comes from. Except those few who know that it is all only a hint to us, a ladder to come to know Him. But an average person, even if he does not believe in G-d, even so, if he is only a bit humble, he should stand in awe at the infinite wisdom manifested in nature. Such an honest person is forced to admit that there is something absolutely remarkable going on here. This is how many scientists used to feel.

On this the Chazon Ish wrote:
"If a man is a baal nefesh (non-superficial), and the time is a quiet time, free from the hunger of desires, and his eye opens wide to the glorious vision of the heights of the heaven, and to the depths of the earth, he becomes aroused and aghast. For the world appears to him like an impossible riddle, hidden and wondrous. And this riddle encircles his heart and mind and he becomes faint-hearted. There is no spirit left in him except for this riddle which occupies all his desire and his aspirations. And the understanding of its answer captures his soul, until he is willing to go through fire and through water for it. Because for what is life worth to him, if this life is hidden from him with absolute concealment, and his soul is dizzy, mourning and yearning to understand its secret and to know its root. But the gates are locked..." (Emuna U'Bitachon Chapter 1)
But the disease of rationalism crept in and the awe was replaced by a fanatical belief that everything must have a rationalistic, materialistic explanation. There is nothing supernatural here. No need for a creative Power. But as scientific knowledge progressed, the questions only increased. For the more one knows of G-d's infinite wisdom, the more it becomes apparent how much more there is to know. But the rationalist trapped, continues to fool himself and those around him that all is well. There is no supernatural Intelligence behind it all. The more wisdom he uncovers, the more he corrupts himself, for he must deceive himself and others that such wisdom and sophistication arose by sheer dumb luck.

On this the Chovos Halevavos writes (Gate 1 ch.10):
For spiritual matters, once we are convinced of their existence, it is not proper to investigate their nature because this approach only ruins our intellect. This is like one who tries to understand the sun from observing its light, radiance, shine, and its power to dissipate darkness. If he accepts its existence, he will benefit from it, use its light, and attain all that he seeks from it. But one who strives to study its roundness and focuses his eyes to stare at it - his eyes will dim and (eventually) their sight will be lost and he will not benefit from the sun.

The same thing will happen to us. If we study the existence of the Creator from the evidence of His signs in the creations, the wisdom manifested in them, His power shown in all His creations.. then our minds will be illuminated with knowledge of Him and we will attain all that is possible for us to attain.. But if we exert our minds to understand the matter of His glorious essence, and to try to liken or represent Him in our minds - we will ruin/diminish our intellect and understanding, and we will not grasp even what was known to us, as would happen to our eyes if we stared at the sun.
This, according to the Midrash (Raba Gen.1:10), is the opening teaching of the Torah - the beginning of wisdom is to realize that some things cannot be fully understood by man.
Rabbi Jonah taught in the name of Rabbi Levi that the world was created with a letter bet (the first letter in Genesis 1:1, which begins the Torah, "In the beginning G-d created"), because just as the letter Bet is closed at the sides but open in front, so one is not permitted to investigate what is above and what is below, what is before and what is behind.


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