After having several of your books banned, you're out with a much-expanded and revised edition of “The Science of Torah,” which you've titled “The Challenge of Creation.” What does your new book tell us about science and how it can work with traditional religion that you hadn't said before?
In my new book, I have elaborated upon many other topics, such as other cases in history where Torah scholars confronted challenges from science, the issue of literalism in interpreting Scripture, and questions posed by the existence of ancient civilization. There is also a lengthy discussion of intelligent design, which is a hot topic these days.
You find intelligent design very problematic, not from a scientific standpoint, but a theological one. Why is that?
I am very much in favor of an intelligent designer. But what most people mean with the term intelligent design is that there are certain specific biological phenomena that science can't explain, and that that is where we see God. This is problematic in that it restricts God's role to those things that science can't at present explain--an area that is constantly decreasing in size. I believe that it is important to see God in things that science CAN explain. That gets to one of the main elements of your thesis--that scientific explanations make one more in awe of God, right?
Absolutely. It is a more sophisticated understanding of God to realize that His greatness is in working in a rational, ordered manner--via the remarkable laws of nature--rather than being some kind of cosmic magician zapping things into existence.
Your books were banned by leading ultra-Orthodox rabbis. What's that been like for you?
Well, of course it was very traumatic. But over time I have come to terms with it, and I have realized that my books are simply not suited to that community. Fortunately, there is a large Orthodox Jewish community which is very receptive to my work.
There are communities that are trying to maintain a very pure and simple religious way of life and do not wish to complicate it by addressing the challenges raised by modern science. My books, on the other hand, are for those who are already engaging the modern world.
I can't speak for Yeshiva University or anyone else, but many rabbis believe, like me, that Klinghoffer's column was profoundly problematic. He claimed that Darwinian evolution would render Judaism void and meaningless, which is simply not the case. The "randomness" of evolution that he found so objectionable is no more antithetical to Judaism than the "randomness" of history, in which Judaism perceives the creator as working within the laws of nature and the seemingly arbitrary forces of chance and circumstance. Do you see a Jewish parroting of evangelical Christian positions on science and religion going on--either on the part of Klinghoffer and others who support his perspective, or among those who banned your books?
Actually I don't think that those who banned my books have any knowledge of what goes in the Christian community. On the other hand, there seem to be those in the ultra-Orthodox community who have adopted intelligent design based on the presumption that if there are Christians backing it in a battle against atheism, then intelligent design must be a good thing, without analyzing it more carefully.
How broad a trend do you think that is, and what do you think the likely ramifications of it are?
No matter whether one is Christian or Jewish, there will always be a tendency for some people to want to hold on to the simple literal meaning of Scripture, and to the simpler idea of perceiving God through miracles rather than seeing Him in nature. This kind of approach works well in an insular society, but as science increasingly makes inroads on this view, it is a dangerous approach.
Could this mean that Jews start opposing stem-cell research and other areas of scientific inquiry based not on an analysis of Jewish texts, but upon what appears to be a more conservative approach?
No, I don't think so. When it comes to technology, the Jewish community is universally very progressive. All these issues are researched carefully, but there is no long-standing opposition, as there is with evolution.