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Thought for the Day: Permission to Question -- Lowering Science from TRUE to Plausible

My son-in-law the NCSY rabbi provided me with an incredible opportunity for failure.  The task sounds simple enough, just speak on the topic of science and Torah.  Three aspects of the job transformed the task from something I always enjoy into the 11th labor of Hercules.
  1. This was a group of teenagers.
  2. They had been brainwashed by the public school system that science is True and Torah is (at best) a beautiful tradition.
  3. They were teenagers.
We decided, therefore, not to attempt to convince them that Torah is True, but simply that science it not.  Again, not that science is false, just that it's not True.

There were 20 or so teenagers; I specifically did not stand in front of them at a podium, but sat with them.  I started with a modified presentation of Pascal's wager.  Instead of couching it in philosophical terms, I asked them to imagine going to a carnival that has two games.  They can only play one of them; in fact, they must play one of them.  Both games cost a dollar to play.  Game A: if you lose, you lose your dollar; if you win, you get $1,000.  Game B: if you win you get nothing (playing the game is its own reward); if you lose you have to pay $1,000.  Even though they were all teenagers and therefore programmed to give whatever answer you don't want; they all agreed that game A would be their choice.  So far, so good.

So I asked them, "Since that is the essence of Pascal's argument to be christian; why aren't you all christian?"  At this point my son-in-law broke into a cold sweat; "Umm... we are not suggesting you consider that as a possibility; right, Abba?"  That got them smiling and after some discussion, they were led to the conclusion that you can only play a game that exists.  Since they believed science was True, it simply wasn't rational to contemplate anything else.  They saw the logic of that (whew!) and were now ready to hear the arguments that science may not, in fact, be the end all and be all of Truth.

We structured the discussion around three pillars of support for science: evolution (it ain't science), age of the universe (things are not always as they appear), and the contradiction of free will vs divine providence (this is even worse for science, so not a discriminator).  It was a very lively discussion and I knew they were really involved when I heard one of them comment, "Wow!  This is even more fun than TV!"

I knew we were on track when one young man raised his hand to ask, quite incredulously, "Wait.  Are you saying that you don't believe in evolution?"  Since I had established my credentials and demonstrated that I really did know science, they did not shut down when I answered, "I think evolution is nonsense."  I knew that we had achieved our goal, however, when another said, "Ok; we've heard lots of disproofs of science.  Where's the proof of Torah?"  Once you invite Torah in, there's no going back.

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