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

Schocken Books  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.

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