The Science of Torah

The Reflection of Torah in the Laws of Science, the Creation of the Universe, and the Development of Life
Rabbi Natan Slifkin

Republished as: The Challenge of Creation.

General Information

The Science of Torah The Science of Torah is a fascinating look at the profound topics of the nature of scientific laws, the age of the universe, and the evolution of life. It discusses a range of approaches to Torah and science, and also presents its own unified approach to all these issues. It shows that Judaism can approach these topics in a sophisticated and honest manner, without being either dogmatic or apologetic. The Science of Torah is an essential read for every thinking Jew.

"The Jewish Theory of Everything has arrived! Rabbi Nosson Slifkin examines currents of modern thought that others suspected to be hostile to traditional Judaism, and proves them to be more friend than foe. He blends cutting-edge science, philosophy and responsible Kabbalah into an elegant whole that will change the way you look at the universe. The author quickly wins the confidence of the reader with thorough scholarship, using restraint instead of hype, and giving full voice to positions that differ from his own. The Science of Torah is a considered discussion of issues, rather than a pitch for a quirky private theory. It is a book you will be proud to share with thinking friends - both traditionalists and skeptics."
—Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, author, Maharal: Be'er HaGolah (Artscroll)

"...Shows convincingly that it is possible to debate these questions within the framework of modern science, while remaining completely loyal to the fundamentals of emunah... for its scope and depth of treatment I think it is the best book presently available on this subject."
—Rabbi Aryeh Carmell, Yeshivas Dvar Yerushalayim
Read Rav Carmell's full approbation here.


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Review from HaModia Magazine, 15 June 2001

The second in The Torah Universe Series, a collection of separate works dedicated at examining the relationship between Torah and the natural world, Rabbi Nosson Slifkin's new book The Science of Torah boldly tackles "The Reflection of Torah in the Laws of Science, the Creation of the Universe, and the Development of Life".

One of the central contemporary issues that the religious Jew is forced to grapple with is the 'supposed' opposition between science and religion. And at the fore, lie those issues relating to the age of the universe and the development of life.

A pioneering kiruv lecturer at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach, Jerusalem, Rabbi Slifkin is wary how an all-out dismissal of science can cause irreligious people with scientific training to lose respect for Judaism. Neither content with faulty science nor content with inaccurate explanations of Torah reconciliation, the author discusses those areas of commonality shared by science and Torah and those areas of conflict and contention.

In an absorbing manner he approaches these issues with sensitivity and with the respect that they deserve, spurned on by his deep appreciation of the Divinely created universe, the rare ability of illuminating contemporary and classical scientific thought in a Torah light, and by an unquenchable thirst to search for the emes and to draw others close to Yiddishkeit. The writer well recognizes how these issues, when understood within a solid Torah framework, can provide a valuable tool for emunah in today's clouded, searching society.

As the natural world and science are nothing other than a concealed representation of G-d's working of this universe, the study of science should complement and not contradict religion. Debunking the notion that science is god, Rabbi Slifkin sets out to reconcile the immutable truths of Torah with science. He notes, for example, how Big Bang, the concept that the universe had a beginning and has not always existed in its present form, and the "fortuitous coincidences" that are fine-tuned to make life possible, have led to an increasing trend for modern scientific thought to converge with religion, to proclaim the Creator and Designer of the Universe. The reader discovers how the implications for science's search for a grand unified theory of everything, at root, recognize G-d Who possesses the ultimate Unity. The author notes the bias among some scientists to embrace every facet of evolutionary thought as a vindication of a carefree existence.

He observes how the Jewish concept of hishtalshelus, the unfolding of a pattern from greater scales to lesser scales, is fascinatingly reflected in fractal mathematics and moreover, finds expression in nature within the branching out of blood vessels through the body and how a tiny section of fern leaf looks the same as a complete frond, which in turns looks the same as the whole leaf.

In an ever-readable lucid style that will delight layman and academic alike, this stimulating work tackles these complex issues by reviewing all the current known data on these topics, differentiating the various components and strands of scientific thought. Through an honest examination of the evidence, Rabbi Slifkin carefully differentiates theory, facts and speculation, as he attempts to legitimately reconcile these issues with Torah thought as based upon sound hashkofic principles, drawing on the teachings of the Ramban, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch and Rav Dessler.

Appropriately described by Rabbi Aryeh Carmell shlita in his haskomah as "the best book presently available on the subject", this beautiful and ambitious work is to be commended to every serious thinking Jew as a Torah perspective and framework with which to approach and further delve into these important issues.


Updates ↑ Back to top

Additional source material:

Rabbi Gedalyah Nadel, BeToraso Shel Rav Gedalyah, p. 91: "...The expression "one day" that the Torah uses, according to its literal translation, refers to one [conventional] day. Maimonides and the other early authorities truly held of this view, that each of the six days of creation lasted for one [ordinary] day, because they had no reason to believe otherwise. However, for us, there are indeed such reasons."


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Comments from readers will be posted here. To send a comment, write to zoorabbi@zootorah.com

Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
Ever since reading "The Science of Torah" I have eagerly purchased and read all your other books. I very much appreciate your honest approach to dealing with difficult topics and I'm always impressed with the depth and breadth of research that you bring to bear in the subjects that you tackle.
Yours truly,
DBK, Toronto

Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
I read The Science of Torah and found it both fascinating and liberating. No longer do I need to feel uncomfortable with supposed contradictions between science and Torah, and a major barrier to perfect faith in Hashem and His Torah has been lifted.
All the best,
A.R., Canada

Dear Rabbi.
I very much enjoyed your book on Torah and Science... More importantly it helped further synthesize my Torah view of the world with the world of modern science. In fact I greatly recommend your Sefer as the BEST one I have read thus far in its field. It contains no apologetics and is superbly researched...
Best wishes,
J.B.

Dear Rabbi Slifkin.
I have recently finished reading your book, 'The Science of Torah'. It was a fascinating read and has expanded my understanding of how Judaism views science and how it deals with both the age of the universe and the emergence of life. I have become interested in Judaism over the last couple of years and found most of the apologetics (for the age of the universe and evolution) to be very constricting. After going through a period where I was overly skeptical of scientific works and somewhat blindingly over zealous in my defence of certain apologetic thoughts, I now find, after reading your book, to be free to look at science with an open attitude. This has helped me mature my understanding of the Torah/Science sphere, and although my views are not as clearly defined as they were (I think I have a lot of reading to do regarding this) they are far more sensible and flexible. Thank you for helping me to develop this view.
Yours,
M.F.
London, UK.

Hello Rav Slifkin!
I... deeply appreciate your publication of "The Science of Torah." I am a Baal Teshuva (or on the way)... I grew up with a great deal of appreciation and wonder for the prehistoric past, dinosaurs, and evolutionary theory. One of the toughest conflicts I had when coming to Torah was how to reconcile my fairly broad paleontological knowledge with Torah - especially as I had seen some hashkafic approaches which merely ridicule evolutionary biologists and paleontologists. Your sefer is, in my humble opinion, the best Torah/Science work that I have ever seen in its fairness, balance, and scholarship. In sum, yasher koach!
Sincerely,
A.S., Washington DC

Shalom Rabbi Slifkin,
I am writing to tell you about my husband. Many years ago he was an enthusiastic baal tshuva but the road is difficult and he has veered off course. He is a doctor and he is very smart. However, he could not resolve the conflict of the world's scientific findings with what is taught to his children in Yeshiva. Mainly, he maintained the world must be millions of years old due to the dinosaur bones and the "ancient humans" found in Africa. After studying National Geographic, and everything he learned in public school and college, he was convinced that evolution had to be where we are from. He seemed to still believe in G-d but that he is remote in his current affairs and the world in general. He was so confused, all of this and he still wears his kippah and tzitzis, but he had a hard time keeping shomer shabbos. I was desperate to help him find his way back and to find something published that could give him good answers to the reason there are dinosaur bones and ancient humans. To me the answer is obvious, it is all the hand of Hashem and is renewed daily. But he wanted an explanation from the Torah.
So I purchased The Science of Torah for him. Wow. That is quite a book. It is excellent and I am now starting to read through it for the second time. There was a lot I did not understand with the first reading. But I told you this was for my husband. That day after he read your book, for the first time in a few months, he was home before candle lighting for Shabbos and he just seemed more at ease about Shabbos. But another thing has happened as well, a bit more shalom bayis, not because my husband may have become more understanding, although I hope so, but I now understand how a type of evolution may fit well within Hashem's divine plan and how the universe and this world and all that is in it unfolded. I want to thank you for helping me and my husband to grown in Yiddishkeit and to increase our shalom bayis. I am certain your book will help many others and it will be received and appreciated successfully by the Jewish community.
S.E., New Jersey

Dear R' Nosson,
I finished reading "The Science of Torah" this weekend - It blew me away. I read a good deal on the combined topic of "creation, evolution and torah", both pro- and anti- science - yours was the best synthesis of the topics that I have seen. Some of the footnotes alone were worth the price of the book. It was a very fitting read for the new year.
S.W., New York

Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
I am a high school science teacher and am a big fan of The Science of Torah. It was an essential part of my introduction to a unit on Evolution. My daughter and I so enjoyed Nature's Song. She recites Perek Shirah each day and it makes it so much more meaningful. We thank you for your clear presentation in these beautiful works.
Family C, New York

I purchased this phenomenal book for my 18 year old Orthodox son who loves the study of Talmud and science. As a new student attending MIT it is my hope that he will always feel at peace studying both Torah and science and not feeling that the two are at odds. Your book helps make this possible!
A.K.

October 21,2004
Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
I'm writing to extend my congratulations to you on your book "The Science of Torah", which I have recently finished reading. As a scientist and observant Jew I found your book to offer the finest reconciliation between what many see as a conflict between science and Torah. While many scientists see their understanding and explanations of how things work in the natural world as being outside the realm of religion, your book makes it clear that all of nature is part of Hashem's creation and constant supervision, and that the natural laws that scientists have discovered are simply part of the framework in which Hashem operates and interacts with the natural world. One of the most difficult points that most people have in resolving science and Torah is with the time scales invoked by scientists for the formation of the Earth and Universe, in contrast to the six days of creation in the Torah. As a geologist I regularly work with samples that are dated by many different independent methods as being billions (4.5) of years old, and there is not a serious geologist out there who does not recognize the billions of years of history recorded in the stratigraphic record on Earth. Astronomers and Physicists likewise see a 14 or 15 billion-year history of the universe.
In your book I was very pleased at the way you examined this thorny issue at several different levels. On one level, you note that some suggest that Hashem may have created an Earth and Universe that was already old, with features that would later be interpreted by scientists as particularly ancient. While observant Jews can not really discount this a possible, I like your analysis in which you state that this is unlikely since you donít think Hashem is trying to test or fool us. You also do an excellent job of discussing the impossibility that the days are referring to days as we currently measure them, since the Earth and Sun were not in existence for the first days of Genesis. You note that parts of the Torah are particularly mystical and not meant to be taken literally, including Bereshis. You mention that the days of creation may be metaphorically referring to spiritual forces and not days as we know them in our physical world. What we know are but a few drops from the ocean, as you quote from one of our early sages.
In my years as a scientist I have often pondered how the scientific and Torah worlds might come together to explain our observations, and have always believed they would and must, and in fact the sequence of events recognized by scientists is now closer than ever to that in the Torah. In your book, you have presented the most clear explanation I have ever read of how these two, the observation of the physical world, and the spiritual world recorded in Torah, may come together, for a greater understanding of Hashem's creation.
Congratulations,
Professor T.M. Kusky
Paul C. Reinert Professor of Natural Sciences
Saint Louis University

Dear Rav Nosson,
I am writing to congratulate you, and to thank you for your important work, 'The Science of Torah'. I myself work in the field of outreach, and have much experience in re-introducing young Jews across the UK to the world of Torah.
There is no doubt in my mind that the greatest shortcoming we have had, as a Torah community, when appproaching young intelligent academically trained secular Jews, is a total lack of sophistication and understanding of the complexity of the challenges posed by our current scientific knowledge. The mainstream approach within Torah education has often been to denigrate scientific knowledge, to attempt to pick holes in scientific theory (such as evolution) and to pretend scientific knowledge to be inadequate and speculative. Whilst such an approach can work for those who have grown up with the wisdom and beauty of Torah (and even then it is often an insufficient approach!) it is certainly becomes problematic when trying to communicate it to an intelligent skeptic.
I have personally witnessed prominent Rabbonim, even of the Baal Teshuvah movement, coming unstuck when challenged properly by young students of scientific disciplines, even at undergraduate level! Scientific knowledge is simply too complete, consistent and rigorous nowadays to be shrugged off. And yet since Torah is the expression of a Creator of the very phenomea that scientific knowledge is revealing, the Torah cannot possibly be unaware of these phenomena!!!
Your book provides a dramatic and critical leap forward. It is thoroughly honest and rigorous, from a perspective that is uncompromisingly Torah - clearly you are a true yirei Shomayim - and yet uncompromisingly intellectually honest. I have not only used the ideas myself - to great effect Boruch Hashem!! - but also use them in training programmes we run for educators and lay people alike in the community.
Recently as I was interviewing a prospective candidate for one such programme, he actually asked me about the book, and recent opposition he had heard to it. He was bothered, because though he had grown up chareidi here in London, attended a chareidi school, loved Judaism, and moved onto a mainstream chareidi Yeshivah in Yerushalayim, he had remained deeply bothered by the conflicts between Torah and science. Until he too came across your book. Not only he, but apparently many of his friends in a similar boat had also discovered it, and, according to this bochur, it had helped strengthen their Emunah.
May I thank you on behalf of the dozens of people I know personally who have gained so much from 'The Science of Torah'. It is nothing short of a real kiddush Hashem, a critical work that klal Yisroel could have done with long ago. Who knows how many people will be able to find their way back to Hashem because of this book... Who knows how great your zechus... May Hashem help you continue to help all of us gain clarity in understanding His infinite Torah and His beautiful creation.
Hatzlochoh Rabboh
E.R.
London, UK

Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
I can't tell you how happy I was to have read your book The Science of Torah. I have been a practicing Rabbi for the past 20 years and your book reinforced my understanding of Emunah, and reconciled many dilemmas I had. It was fulfilling to be reminded of awesome Torah sources which tackled so many issues in such a mature manner.
M.G.

Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
As a scientist, a biologist with more than 40 years of scientific research and administrative activity behind him,
I am writing to say how much I support your work. I read The Science of Torah and it gave me one of the clearest expositions of the lack of conflict of Torah and science. In this age of science, we cannot lose an entire generation of young people by forcing them to turn their back on science as they learn Torah in greater depth and show increased commitment to mitzvot.
D.M.

Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
I was most impressed by your book "The Science of Torah". It came like a breath of fresh air.
I have been a professional biologist most of my life, now approaching retirement, and having been brought up on modern science of course I experienced some difficulties when I began to do teshuva in my 40's - the age of the world, evolution etc., etc., - the usual difficulties faced by baalei teshuva.
As I advanced in yiddishkeit and got more deeply into the yeshivah world I also became aware that science and scientists - and biologists in particular - are in general derided and despised in the frum world, or at best pitied. On the other hand I happen to know, from personal knowledge, that the greatest biologists are usually highly intelligent, humble, honest truth-seekers, and not dribbling imbeciles as every cheder yingel is taught. Come to that, I myself have taught evolution and I'm not aware of being as subnormal as that. So there's something not quite right here.
For me, studying the workings of the world, and especially biology, is a way of glimpsing the workings of its Creator, a way of getting close to G-d. Pollination by insects, inflammation, cellular communication, the rain cycle - the list is awesome and endless. Your book was a balm to my troubled spirit, showing that Judaism does not have to be anti-science, that faith and intellect do not have to be enemies, and that Torah and science are strikingly similar in many ways, both being ways of approaching Hashem.
The book is honest, well-researched and brilliant. In an ideal world where all Jews were properly Torah-educated from birth there would probably be no need for it, but since that is not the case I strongly recommend your book for all thinking baalei teshuva, especially those with some scientific knowledge. They will probably learn quite a lot of science too!
Please continue with this essential work.
With best regards
D.F.

As a science teacher in a frum girl's middle school, it is both my pleasure and my privilege to introduce my students to the wonders of Hashem's creations. I have found Rabbi Slifkin's book, The Science of Torah, to be an invaluable resource. The book is divided into three different sections: the first part details the delicate balance of all the "natural" laws, which point to a unique Creator. The second part details questions on the age of the universe, and the third part details different theories of evolution.
When my students ask, "why do we have to learn science, we're never going to be scientists?" I answer that one can gain in Yiras Shomayim by contemplating Hashem's creations. The delicate balance of "natural" laws is such that life could not exist if even one thing were different. Rabbi Slifkin's book gives many examples of these natural laws, and also shows how they lead to an appreciation of Hashem's greatness. Rabbi Slifkin gives a very clear and understandable explanation of the correspondence of the physical world and the spiritual. The universe in which we live is a physical manifestation of the spiritual world simply because Torah was the 'blueprint' for creating the physical universe. Just as there is a concept of 'histahlshelus', an unfolding of layers of existence from the spiritual down to the physical, there is a corresponding unfolding of patterns in the physical world that we inhabit, termed fractals by the scientific community.
My administration feels that it is very important for me to cover the topics of the age of the universe and evolution from a Torah viewpoint so that my students have the background of proper hashkafah when exposed to them later. Rabbi Slifkin's book has a very thorough discussion of the Torah perspective on these issues, presenting ideas from many of our sages. I tell my students that Hashem created the world the way He wanted it to exist. He could have created it in any way He wanted. The fact that the world was created with evidence of an old universe, with gradual stages in the creation of animals, seemingly evolving from one to another, means that this is the way Hashem wanted the world to look. As Rabbi Slifkin quotes from the Kuzari, "Heaven forbid that there should be anything manifest or proved which would contradict anything in the Torah." It is important that my students learn the difference between actual observations, "that which is manifest", and vague theories and incorrect pseudoscience, and it is vitally important that they know what our sages have said on these topics. Too many of our people look at scientific observations and conclude that the Torah is, chalilah, wrong. Too many others look at the Torah and conclude that Hashem's actual creation is what is wrong. This is also a tragedy.
People come to Yiras Shomayim in many different ways. There are some who come to love Hashem and realize His greatness from studying Torah. Others come from contemplating the wonders of His creations. The last question I ask my students on the final test at the end of the year is: What did you learn this year that helps you realize 'Mah rabu maasecha Hashem'? I was very pleased that I had adequately conveyed the miracle of Creation, when one of my students answered 'evolution'.
I highly recommend Rabbi Slifkin's book The Science of Torah, for anyone interested in the interface between science and Torah, between the physical world of Hashem's marvelous creation and the spiritual Truth with which it was created.

—J.J., Baltimore