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The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning
***National Jewish Book Awards 2012, Finalist*** Dorot Foundation Award forModern Jewish Thought and Experience
An impassioned, erudite, thoroughly researched, and beautifully reasoned book from one of the most admired religious thinkers of our time that argues not only that science and religion are compatible, but that they complement each other—and that the world needs both.
“Atheism deserves better than the new atheists,” states Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “whose methodology consists of criticizing religion without understanding it, quoting texts without contexts, taking exceptions as the rule, confusing folk belief with reflective theology, abusing, mocking, ridiculing, caricaturing, and demonizing religious faith and holding it responsible for the great crimes against humanity. Religion has done harm; I acknowledge that. But the cure for bad religion is good religion, not no religion, just as the cure for bad science is good science, not the abandonment of science.”
Rabbi Sacks’s counterargument is that religion and science are the two essential perspectives that allow us to see the universe in its three-dimensional depth. Science teaches us where we come from. Religion explains to us why we are here. Science is the search for explanation. Religion is the search for meaning. We need scientific explanation to understand nature. We need meaning to understand human behavior. There have been times when religion tried to dominate science. And there have been times, including our own, when it is believed that we can learn all we need to know about meaning and relationships through biochemistry, neuroscience, and evolutionary psychology. In this fascinating look at the interdependence of religion and science, Rabbi Sacks explains why both views are tragically wrong.
Jonathan Sacks' The Great Partnership, while not short and very far from simplistic, is very readable. His basic premise is that "Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean." He argues lucidly and persuasively that the two are complementary, rather than conflicting, and that it is when people use one in the place of the other that things go horribly wrong. "Both are necessary, but they are very different. … Whole civilisations made mistakes because they could not keep these two apart and applied to one the logic of the other. "When you treat things as if they were people, the result is myth … Science was born when people stopped telling stories about nature and instead observed it; when, in short, they relinquished myth. "When you treat people as things, the result is dehumanisation: people categorised by colour, class or creed and treated differently as a result. The religion of Abraham was born when people stopped seeing people as objects and began to see each individual as unique, sacrosanct, the image of God. "One of the most difficult tasks of any civilisation - of any individual life for that matter - is to keep the two separate, but integrated and in balance. … Things are things and people are people. Realising the difference is sometimes harder than we think."After setting out his basic case, he systematically explores a number of themes including: finding God, human dignity, political power, freedom, morality, relationships, Darwin, the problem of evil and when religion goes wrong. Sacks argues - rightly - that his argument related primarily to the monotheistic, Abrahamic faiths as a group, but also to each of them individually. While he obviously draws predominantly from the Jewish scriptures and traditions, he does a good job of considering Christianity. However, he doesn't really cover Islam sufficiently well to prevent that becoming an afterthought, which is a pity. Sacks focuses heavily on relationship and covenant at times, and therefore probably needed to consider the Islamic conception of man's relationship with God in contrast to those of Judaism and Christianity. It is, despite Sacks' efforts to the contrary, a book very much centred on Judaism. There's a helpful summary of rabbinic thought included for those who are unfamiliar with historical Jewish teaching on creation, evolution and the age of the universe. As someone whose understanding of Genesis comes very much from the Christian interpretation, and predominantly the Protestant evangelical tradition, I found Sacks’ analysis of the Jewish perspective on what the book is trying to say enormously helpful. And not merely of the creation stories: Sacks’s analysis of the stories of Abraham and Joseph, as well as of the book of Esther, are both a useful contribution to the book and an interesting insight into the Jewish scriptures.Where Sacks really shines is his ability to set out his argument clearly, in small blocks, and put those blocks together to create a larger narrative which says something important about the world, science and religion. To do, in other words, precisely what he is claiming that religion does and ought to do. But his argument is as deeply grounded in philosophy as it is in the Jewish scriptures - as is to be expected from a philosopher rabbi.This is, above all, a thought-provoking book. It is a book—and an argument, and a narrative—which needs to be pondered and wrestled with, rather than assessed on a simple, binary true/false basis. In that, it both embodies its own argument, and repays the effort.(Also, for further examination of the problem of confusing people and things seen from a slightly different perspective, see Terry Pratchett's Carpe Jugulum.)read more
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The ideas behind the book were really interesting. Unfortunately, the author rehashed the same couple thoughts over and over. I quit halfway through.read more
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Since 1991, the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth has been Sacks, who is retiring in 2013. Educated in philosophy at Cambridge and Oxford, he holds an earned Ph.D. as well as several honorary doctorates. He wrote more than 20 books before tackling the knotty problem of the relationship between religion and science. In clear language, he sets forth the arguments put forward by atheists, respectfully demolishing them in favor of the religious stance that he forthrightly espouses. The range and depth of his familiarity with authorities in both camps, some relatively obscure, are most impressive. His erudite position is largely compelling, but he is somewhat less successful when discussing the issue of theodicy: how can a powerful and just God permit evil in the world? He devotes a chapter to this enigma, but along with other authorities who have confronted it, he is unconvincing in his response, especially since he omits any reference to the Holocaust. This book is essential reading because of Sacks's splendid range of knowledge and his powerful ability to tackle tough issues. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.