"Our species is not the creation of design but the result of accumulated errors." Robert Pollack is a molecular geneticist and a Jew, who realizes that his two belief systems have a certain conflict: "Evolution through natural selection explains certain facts of life that touch on matters of meaning and purpose," but he finds that "the vision of the natural world these explanations produce is simply too terrifying and depressing to me to be borne without the emotional buffer of my own religion."
Pollack is not exactly trying to reconcile religion and science, but he's trying to show how each can illuminate the other, protecting them from their greatest weakness, dogma--thinking you have all the answers. He argues that "current practices of my religion of Judaism would contribute to an improvement in medical care." In particular, doctors should make room for patients to feel and express free will, to make their own choices and not bow to an illusionary inevitable. He also feels we should forsake the idea of a mind-body split, and give the placebo effect the respect it deserves--not as a way to "fool" the patient's body into getting well, but as an acknowledgement that treating the mind is part of treating the body.
Pollack's hope is that science and religion can pull together, so that medicine is practiced "when the doctor keeps all tools of science at her fingertips, when the meaning of those tools is given by the mysterious capacity for free will, and the choice to use them to preserve another person's life and health, and when the person who uses these tools for that purpose knows herself to be no different in any important way from her patient." --Mary Ellen Curtin
From Publishers Weekly
This fresh and unassuming look at natural selection and genetics from a Jewish perspective successfully departs from the mainstream theology-and-science literature, ringing true in spite of some theoretical gaps. Molecular biologist Robert Pollack, a recognized researcher and science commentator, wrestles with the disharmony between the "purposeless" worldview of evolutionary biology and the human need, reflected in both religion and medicine, to interpret life as meaningful. Pollack's goal is not to reconcile these competing claims, but to make room for both by cultivating "acceptance" of both scientific naturalism and religious or ethical feelings that grope beyond the limits of rational knowledge. After describing and defending a sphere of the "unknowable" that includes concepts of God, free will and the meaning of life, Pollack addresses more specific concerns about his field of molecular genetics, where what is technologically possible often runs ahead of respect for diversity and free will. Pollack's insights are original and often engagingly personal, conveying the authentic flavor of his passionate engagements with both biology and his Jewish faith. With disarming honesty, he admits to past missteps and the limits of his perspective. His thoughtfulness and candor should be appreciated by readers whose commitments to science, religion or medicine involve them in similar conflicts, although many will be uncomfortable with the cognitive dissonance he is willing to embrace. (Nov.)
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