The Great Part­ner­ship: Sci­ence, Reli­gion, and the Search For Meaning

  • Review
By – May 31, 2012

In his new book, Jonathan Sacks sets out a clear and force­ful argu­ment for the com­ple­men­tary nature of sci­ence and reli­gion, draw­ing on an eclec­tic range of his­tor­i­cal and philo­soph­i­cal argu­ments to prove the neces­si­ty of both if we are to under­stand the human con­di­tion. The Great Part­ner­ship is a mod­ern day ver­sion of Saa­dia Gaon’s Faiths and Opin­ions (Emu­not V’Deot) in which the argu­ment is made that belief in reli­gion does not involve an abdi­ca­tion of the intel­lect or the silenc­ing of crit­i­cal fac­ul­ties. Sacks demon­strates over and over again that while sci­ence takes things apart to see how they work, reli­gion puts things togeth­er to see what they mean.

Sacks tack­les the argu­ments brought forth by major athe­ist thinkers and philoso­phers and even quotes them to sup­port some of his argu­ments. He writes not as a rab­bi or the­olo­gian, but as a philoso­pher. He is well ground­ed as well in lit­er­a­ture, the social sci­ences, and a host of oth­er dis­ci­plines from which he quotes lib­er­al­ly to prove his points.

Sacks devel­ops the the­sis that we need all of our brain to under­stand and appre­ci­ate the world around us. The left brain, asso­ci­at­ed large­ly with sci­en­tif­ic activ­i­ty, and the right brain, con­cerned with reli­gious mat­ters, must work in uni­son. But they also have to be kept apart. The log­ic of one does not apply to the oth­er. The chal­lenge of our time is to keep the two sep­a­rate but inte­grat­ed and in bal­ance. This, in essence, is the main mes­sage of The Great Part­ner­ship. Humans are mean­ing seek­ing ani­mals and the cru­cial dia­logue between reli­gion and sci­ence is the nec­es­sary con­ver­sa­tion between the two parts of our brain that alone can save us from despair.

His eru­di­tion is exten­sive. He cites texts of Judaism and Chris­tian­i­ty, as well as the thoughts of not­ed athe­ists and post­mod­ern philoso­phers. He is a bit weak, though, when it comes to Islam­ic thought. Prov­ing the exis­tence of God is futile, Sacks writes, how­ev­er, he demon­strates that it is quite pos­si­ble for a ratio­nal per­son to hold reli­gious beliefs. 

Chief Rab­bi Lord Sacks is engag­ing and thought-pro­vok­ing. His explo­ration of dif­fer­ences between clas­si­cal Greek and Hebrew thought is out­stand­ing. He is an unusu­al type of pub­lic intel­lec­tu­al. He is an out­stand­ing teacher, a pro­lif­ic author, a source of advice for lead­ing politi­cians, a moral­ist, a bib­li­cal and tal­mu­dic schol­ar, and a philosopher. 

Sacks is also a for­mi­da­ble apol­o­gist and word­smith who refus­es to accept the mean­ing­less­ness of spon­ta­neous cre­ation. There is an active intel­li­gent force at work in the uni­verse, he believes, who has endowed us with the capac­i­ty to think and ask ques­tions, and to find mean­ing in life.

Wal­lace Greene, Ph.D., has held sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ty appoint­ments, and cur­rent­ly writes and lec­tures on Jew­ish and his­tor­i­cal subjects.

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