Sunday, November 10, 2013

Religion: Getting Credit Where Credit Is Not Due

Recently, a friend introduced me to an article "Neuroscience +Rabbinic Wisdom=Better Jewish Education", by Rabbi Justus N. Baird. The essay which was published  in discusses a  supposed link between neuroscience and rabbinic teachings about the mind and memory.  But as I see it, by making this  connection. Baird's conclusion is a forced marriage between science and religion.

His attribution to ancient rabbis scholars of having sophisticated awareness brings to mind  the old popular misconception that the ancient rabbis prohibited pork for consumption by Jews because undercooked pig's meat caused trichinosis. But they couldn't possibly have known such a thing. The parasite that causes this disease, Trichinella, was not discovered  until the 19th Century  through the use of microscopy, a process that was not used until the 1600's.  Furthermore, chickens and other fowl  also root in the dirt like pigs and likewise cause illness if not properly cooked.  Yet they're not considered traif (unclean under ancient Jewish dietary laws).

Similarly, there's no way that these men could have comprehended brain functions and the workings of the mind. One of the examples given in the article that supposedly demonstrates their keen awareness of  mental activity is spending years learning Torah and progressively forgetting this accumulation of this knowledge if it is not then regularly reviewed. However, awareness of this lapse  is just plain common sense (but has nevertheless  been validated by scientific studies). As my wife, a psychologist, who agrees that the phenomenon is not rocket science aptly expresses it, "What you have you may either use or lose".

The point is that there's no basis for the author to project specialized knowledge to people who didn't even have an awareness of the concept of science, let alone of the discoveries that have been made about the  mind and body in modern times. And as I pointed out in a previous post, the more we have come to understand the natural world by using the scientific method, the less need we have to look to biblical tales and a mythological supreme being  for answers. So in short, believing that the square peg of science can be joined with the round hole of religion under any circumstances in order to gain an understanding of humankind is utter folly.