The New York Times had a great article in today’s paper about Young Earth Creationists earning science degrees at regular universities. I’m always interested by mainstream media coverage of conservative Christianity because Orthodox Judaism shares many of the same beliefs, but is rarely covered in quite the same way.
The article dealt with whether doctorates should be awarded to students who do legitimate scientific work while harboring non-scientific beliefs, especially if those beliefs are specifically related to their fields of study. Can a university legitimately award a degree in, say, paleontology to a student who doesn’t actually believe that the fossils she studies are billions of years old? How can we accept the scholarship of a person who decries the same work from another scientist as false?
It’s interesting that the article doesn’t cover how the Christian scientists integrate their beliefs or resolve the dissonance between their two life choices. We get a quote from Dr. Marcus Ross, a creationist and geoscientist, who explains that he views the world through two separate paradigms, one religious, and the other scientific. I wish the author of the article,or perhaps Dr. Ross himself, had gone into more detail.
Orthodox Jews don’t always fall into the Biblical literalist camp. Enough opinions within the Mesorah allow for a more allegorical view of the seven days of creation, but even then, specifics of belief vary. Some attempt to reconcile the order of the days of creation with current evolutionary theory. Most don’t acknowledge that Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are different and incompatible stories of Creation, regardless of their views on a young or old earth. Still others claim that though the earth is young, it was created to appear old, despite the issues raised by the duplicitous God that they must posit.
Perhaps none of these accommodations to scientific reality hold much water. I’m no expert, that’s for certain. Personally, I believe in an allegorical approach to Genesis rather than an historical approach, but as a person who venerates Midrash as an impressively encoded repository of knowledge, the title of allegory is high praise indeed, and the story of Genesis earns a reverence no less than the account of the parting of the sea, the giving of the Torah, or the conquest of the land of Israel. What seems clear is that Orthodox Jews who honor and respect science as a tool for discovering truth have found means by which to fervently believe in the early chapters of Genesis without rejecting science.
I think a difference exists between the Christian and Jewish approaches, though. Whereas Jews often seek to create a space for belief in science within their theology, Christian theology, or at least fundamental Christian theology, is well, fundamentalist. Jews are more likely to reinterpret their understanding of their own texts and traditions in light of scientific evidence rather than undermining science to buttress their faith-based claims. Christian Young Earth Creationist tend to take the opposite tack, perhaps because belief in literal Biblical inerrancy makes reinterpretation impossible.
Whatever the differences, the question regarding degree-granting remains. If a mathematician seeking a doctorate explained that because of his faith he did not believe that two and two made four (an idea akin to disbelieving evolution in many scientific circles) would he qualify for a doctorate? Perhaps the analogy overstates the case, but I can understand a PhD review board insisting that a candidate submit a doctoral thesis that she believes is true.
What are some of the ways in which Jews compartmentalize these beliefs? Any Young Earth Creationsts want to further explain what Dr. Ross meant when he spoke of two paradigms?