Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE GREAT PARTNERSHIP by Jonathan Sacks Kirkus Star


Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning

by Jonathan Sacks

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-8052-4301-7
Publisher: Schocken

A leading Jewish theologian argues that both religious fundamentalists and neo-Darwinian atheists such as Richard Dawkins have it wrong when they contend that science and religious faith are incompatible.

Instead, Sacks (Covenant & Conversation: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible Exodus, 2010, etc.), chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, believes that both are necessary, complementary ways of looking at the world. “Science takes things apart to see how they work,” he writes. “Religion puts things together to see what they mean…neither is dispensable.” As a metaphor for this duality, the author uses the distinction between right-brain intuitive processing and left-brain analytic functioning. Religious faith is interpretative (“the search for meaning constitutes our humanity”), while scientific knowledge increases our well-being. Sacks dismisses rage-filled, self-righteous biblical fundamentalism but also deplores the equally intolerant stance of scientists like Dawkins, who has compared religious belief to a virus. Sacks refers to traditional Jewish interpretations of the Bible to explain his own search for God in the bonds of family, the small compassionate acts of people toward strangers and the necessity of challenging injustice. He views the Creation as a work in progress begun billions of years ago by a God who “delights in diversity,” and he interprets Darwin's “wondrous discovery” as showing that “the Creator made creation creative.” The author compares his own Jewish view of God—consistent with the notion of emergence and evolution—to a literal interpretation of Genesis and suggests that God has called upon us “to become his partners in the work of redemption.” To accomplish this, he writes, we require “people capable of understanding cognitive pluralism."

A brilliant exposition of the possibility of science and religion, each in its own way, contributing to a better world.