When a Paradox is not a Disproof
The GPS is an amazing thing.
The chips in it work because of the physics of semiconductors, and the fact that the energy the electrons can absorb or emit come in fixed quantities. All of which is literally applied Quantum Mechanics.
The calculations those chips perform involve calculating the distance to multiple satellites by comparing the timestamp the satellites sent against the time they arrived. And then adjusting for General Relativistic effects caused by the satellite being in motion relative to the earth and the effects of the satellite being further from the earth’s gravity well. Then use the speed of light to convert travel time to a distance.
Using Quantum Mechanics to solve a General Relativity problem.
Here is why that is strange:
Quantum Mechanics (QM) which was born in the head of Max Planck and developed by numerous other people. Including Albert Einstein. It works well for the very small, atoms, molecules, subatomic particles, and the like. Relativity (which has two parts: Special and General Relativity) was pretty much entirely Einstein’s. It deals with the very large — planets, stars, black holes, where gravity dominates. (In between, Newton’s old system is a good enough approximation and people don’t bother with such things.)
But these theories are based on contradictory assumptions. For example, Relativity is “Background Independent.” This means it isn’t about things that happen within space and time, but the nature of space and time is itself part of the theory. This is not true of Quantum Mechanics, which is about how particles and waves (more accurately: particles which are waves) move about and evolve in a background of space and time. Figuring out Quantum Gravity — a theory of gravity that fits both QM and Relativity, is a challenge. Filling this challenge are things like the various attempts to find String and Membrane Theories, Loop Quantum Gravity, and other proposals.
Because Quantum Mechanics and Relativity each work so well so often in ways they was not originally designed for, that the typical physicist is sure some resolution of the two that will preserve nearly all of both theories is out there, waiting discovery. After all, our GPS devices do work. So, even though the two theories are built on contradictory assumptions, scientists place trust (bitachon) in them. They have faith (emunah) that each will have to be tweaked only minorly to get them to fit, not a major overhaul.
For similar reasons, science vs Bereishis questions don’t really bother me. Neither is really about what happened in the past. The central theme of religion is whether the values, ritual, and system of thought work. The issues of genesis, the flood, or the tower of Babel are tangential, and out the outskirts of the Torah as a “theory” of meaning and purpose in life.
Scientific theories make claims about the past to explain what we observe astronomically and archeologically. The Torah tells us about our past to help us work toward our future. These areas of conflict really are side-topics in each discipline. Like bringing in Quantum Machanics to explain the Relativistic effects of Black Holes.
It might even be that the reason our generation finds these topics so pressing is a flaw in today’s zeitgeist. Science and technology have brought us so much since the Industrial Revolution that we perhaps forget that it’s not the only venue. As Rabbi Soloveitchik would put it, Cognitive Man is so successful “fill[ing] the earth and subdu[ing] it”, as per Hashem’s blessing of Adam in Bereishis 1, that we forget the Lonely Man of Faith. We feel a pressure to get our religion to play ball on science’s court, when in reality we are looking at the fringes of what religion is for.
Truth must be consistent, but these problems of origins are not pressing ones.
Each “theory” works so well so consistently in their own domains, I presume that some resolution will someday be found — much like a quantum mechanical understanding of gravity, an understanding of the small-scale workings of a phenomenon only significant in the large scale. One cannot ignore science in the pursuit of the Divine, but neither can one ignore the Torah; nothing is gained by wallpapering over one source of truth in favor of the other.
And in the meantime, I can use Torah and science simultaneously to find my way in the world. No less so than my GPS.