Dr. Gerald Schroeder is an MIT trained physicist and an Orthodox Jew. His previous books, including Genesis and the Big Bang, and The Science of God, focus on the connections between science and faith. His new book, God According to God, published by HarperCollins, comes out this week. Dr. Schroeder was kind enough to answer a few questions pertaining to his latest research.
Jeremy Moses: You’re writing focuses on the connections between science and religion. As a physicist and a Jew, have you ever experienced a “crisis of faith?”
Gerald Schroeder: The world is like an Escher painting, figure/ground reversals constantly. Sometimes the staircase goes up in an impossible way and sometimes equally impossible down. Sometimes the wonder of the world is so apparent that there is no option other than a divine-based explanation and sometimes it all looks natural with chance, free will and the laws of nature running the show. But when the total picture is taken into account, the energy of the big bang creation evolving over time into life and consciousness, the Divine becomes too apparent to ignore.
The wonder of life is not whether it took billions of years or a mere few days to appear. The wonder of life is life itself in all its wonder and ordered complexity. Life and consciousness formed from the rocks and water and a few simple molecules on the once barren surface of the earth. How? It takes a huge stretch of the imagination to attribute life and consciousness to being the result of random events, even over billions of years.
JM: Why do you feel a need for your new book? What are people getting wrong when they talk about God?
GS: There is a vast misconception of how God, as described in the Bible, interacts with the creation It brought into being. And that misinterpretation has led many persons to reject the idea of a God, biblical or otherwise. We form an image of God as being the ever-in-control Force guiding the world with only our free will choices left to us. But that is not the God of the Bible. Both Maimonides [rationalist] and Nahmanides [kabalist] insist that accidents happen; that God’s control is over the group, but not totally over the members of the group.
Rava, in the Talmud (Moed Katan 28A), brings examples that three aspects of life happen by chance: length of life, children, and material wealth. These are exactly the three most precious parts of life for which a person might pray. The more a person lets God into his or her life, Maimonides and Nahmanides tell us, the more that person has a God-directed life.
This is very empowering. We control God’s presence in our lives. Earthquakes and tsunamis are not necessarily sent into the world by God as a wake-up call. They happen by the way of nature. How we react to them is our choice. We are partners with God in making our world, for example, an earthquake proof world. That goes equally with the need to find cures for illnesses, and purified water to prevent droughts and famine. That is what our part in this divine partnering is all about.
JM: Who is your intended audience for the book?
GS: As with my first three books, the target audience is composed of those persons wondering how and why the world works the way it does, from both a Divine and a natural perspective. Most poignantly here, why amidst the vast beauty of the world, tragedy occurs. Why isn’t the world perfect if there is a perfect God who created the world? In God According to God, I drop preconceived notions of what God is supposed to be and how God should act. Instead by basing our understanding of God totally on the Bible’s description as brought by the many biblical episodes, we resolve the seeming conflicts between the Bibleâ€™s claims and the reality we observe around us.
JM: Did your notion of God change when writing the book?
GS: I wrote the book because my notion of God had changed the more I studied the reality of the world. I felt there was a need for such a book in order to counter, with the authority of the Bible, those arguments that attempt to prove the absence of God either by claiming that life and consciousness could arise from non-living matter by random reactions or by demonstrating the imperfections readily found in life and in nature.
JM: Do you think faith needs science to remain relevant for people?
GS: Blind faith does not require science. But as Maimonides and others point out, in order to know, and not merely believe, that there is a Divine Force acting in this world, then a knowledge of science as well as of Bible becomes a necessity. The two together change believing into knowing.
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