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Questions from the Field
by Dr. Arnie Gotfryd
"At first glance, the question seems simple enough, especially since the concepts are straightforward and the terms familiar. But this apparent simplicity is deceptive, and to address the question properly requires clarity of language and careful definition of terms."  The Rebbe, Mind Over Matter, p.2
Questions from the Field (Part 1) 
Here are some responses to five questions posed to me by Chabad House rabbis. Some of these questions may be yours.
Q) One of the students on campus tells me he's opposed to Chassidic ideology, as he is an agnostic. Do you have a good quote for agnostics?
A) Not so much a quote but a story.
A ra
bbi was in Jerusalem "picking guys off the wall," or more precisely, speaking to tourists at the kotel and inviting them to a Torah class.
After approaching one young man with this invitation he was told, "Rabbi,
you've got the wrong guy. I'm an atheist."
The rabbi says, "That's wonderful! I've never met a real atheist. Tell me, what is it like to firmly believe in the non-existence of G-d?"
"Umm... firmly believe in the non-existence of G-d? Well, I wouldn't go that far exactly. Maybe atheist isn't the right word. Actually I'm more of an agnostic."
"Hmm. An agnostic. Well, that's interesting. I've never really met an agnostic before."
"What are you talking about, rabbi? There's millions of agnostics out there. Why, most of the people I know are agnostics."
"Really? In that case, maybe you could enlighten me. How did you come to the belief that it cannot be known whether or not G-d exists?"
"Cannot be known!? Well I wouldn't say that it can't be known. Let's just say that I don't know."
"Oh, I see. So you're ignorant. So why not come and learn?"  
*     *     *         

Q) I was told, "Intelligent Design is, by definition, not scientific because it cannot be demonstrated or disproved". So, in effect, scientists are stuck with the evolution idea because the alternative is not scientific. Thoughts?
A) To address this, let's ask whether another idea is scientific on the same grounds. The idea I am referring to is causal reasoning. The idea that everything has a cause can neither be proven nor disproven. It is an article of faith that underlies the entire enterprise of science. Still no one would say that causal reasoning is not scientific. It's the way that scientists think about nature. 
Now let's look at the idea called "Intelligent Design" which is simply the notion that if nature is intelligible, then there needs to be an intelligence that made it so. This idea is neither provable nor disprovable so according to his definition, he is right and ID is not scientific. But then again neither is causal reasoning.
On the other hand, if we say that causal reasoning is indeed a scientific principle (and every scientist would say so), then we can look at order in nature as a phenomenon. Our eyes see light; our ears hear sound; our brains detect order. Order is a natural phenomenon. That's why math works to describe nature.
The fact that the laws of nature are describable in mathematical terms begs the question: Are we imposing mathematical models on the world simply because we think in those terms? Or in the words of Physicist Paul Davies (a self-avowed atheist) in his book, The Mind of G-d, "Are we reading math into nature or are we reading it out?"
And if we are reading mathematics out of nature, how did it get there in the first place? And where was the math before the matter and energy in our universe arrived on the scene? If natural laws are real, and scientists believe they are, then their mathematical relations are too. And since these are intelligible, it only stands to reason that an intelligence that preceded the cosmos (Let's call it G-d) made nature in such a way that another intelligence (Let's call it man) could detect it.
Albert Einstein summed it up nicely, "The only thing incomprehensible about the universe is that it is comprehensible." But the again truth is stranger than fiction.

Reprinted with permission from



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