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Perspectives from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism

An introduction to Jewish Spirituality by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner




  What Do Our Neighbors Believe?  

JUDAISM Christianity | Islam
What is the view of the relationship between religion and science?

by Howard Greenstein

One of the fundamental precepts of Judaism is that everything in the universe is a unified whole, that there are no dichotomies between the physical and the spiritual, or between the sacred and the mundane. A corollary of this conviction is that our ethics also flows from this universal harmony; reality will not permit double standards, be they in matters physical or moral. Unity is an essential key to understanding how all existence functions.

Science informs us that the universe is indeed one in ways our ancestors could not even have imagined. Time and space are one; we are told that they are in fact aspects of the same ultimate reality.

We have also learned that matter and energy are one. As difficult as it may be for some to understand, one may even speak of matter as energy at rest; energy may simply be matter in motion.

Biologists further add that the organic and inorganic are actually one; they no longer think in terms of total separation between animate and inanimate life forms. The potential for life was present even before life itself first appeared; viruses, for example, may well be a transition or bridge between the inorganic and organic.

We now know, as our ancestors could only have hoped, that the same physical laws that operate on a macro scale also apply in the same way on a micro scale. With the benefit of the most powerful radio telescopes, we can now confirm that the chemical elements that make up the components of our own bodies exist as well in the farthermost reaches of outer space. The movement of protons, electrons and neutrons within the atom corresponds strikingly to the movement of planets in a solar system around the sun.

The arrangement of chromosomes within living cells is precisely the same in number and function in a celery stalk, a toad or a human being. The evidence is impressive and can be documented repeatedly. The entire universe in its vast complexity is one ultimate basic reality. As Judaism proclaims in the watchword of its faith, the Shema, “Hear, O Israel, the Eternal, our God, the Eternal really is one!”

The blending of modern scientific thought with ancient Jewish teaching has been noted by many competent observers. One such eminent scholar, Dr. Ralph W. Burhoe, has noted,

The scientific faith that all things are variants in a single system, that one law rules the cosmos from end to end, from the largest to the smallest, is a faith that grows stronger with each succeeding new discovery that shows the relationship between phenomena that previously did not seem to be related. We can be confident now with the knowledge we possess that a clear continuity exists from molecule to amoeba to humanity. Every individual is inextricably linked to every other human being and to every other life form in the universe. We are indeed all brothers… 1

Judaism can also acknowledge that nature provides us with ethical guidelines for personal behavior. Much of that confidence rests upon an appreciation for the teachings of evolution. A study of evolution manifests decisive trends toward organization and order, toward uniqueness and individuality, toward increased freedom and enlarged spirituality. Prior to the appearance of humanity, evolution proceeded automatically in these directions. From the human point forward, however, they are no longer automatic. Further movement in these directions will continue only with human initiative, only if people act in harmony with those patterns. Judaism can apply these modern, scientifically oriented terms to explain its conviction that people are partners in God’s creative work.

The Shema is seemingly just a statement of faith, but in the larger context of science and secular knowledge, this pronouncement proclaims an entire world view not just about God, but about the universe, humanity and life itself. In Jewish terms, science and religion are indispensable partners in deciphering the mystery of existence.


1. H. Shapley, Ed., Science Ponders Religion, (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1960) p. 80f.

Copyright ©2006 Howard Greenstein

Howard R. Greenstein serves as Rabbi of the Jewish congregation of Marco Island, Florida. He has previously served congregations in Florida, Ohio, and Massachusetts. Greenstein has been a Lecturer at the University of Florida, University of North Florida, and Jacksonville University. He is the author of Judaism: An Eternal Covenant (1983) and Turning Point: Zionism and Reform Judaism (1981).

Excerpts from What Do Our Neighbors Believe?: Questions and Answers on Judaism, Christianity and Islam by Howard Greenstein, Kendra Hotz, and John Kaltner are used by permission from Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky. The book will be available for purchase in December 2006.


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