In the traditional view of the Bible, the world is a mere five and a half thousand years old and was created in six days. Surely modern science proves that the world is billions of years old and man evolved through a process of evolution, thus laying to rest the Biblical story of Genesis? Can one honestly follow antiquated religious beliefs when science proves otherwise?
The definition of science and religion
Science, broadly defined, means knowledge. Specifically we refer to science as knowledge ascertained by observation and experiment, critically tested, systemised and brought under general principles. Being even more specific one must distinguish between empirical or experimental science dealing with, and confined to describing and classifying, observable phenomena, and speculative science dealing with unknown phenomena, sometimes phenomena that cannot be duplicated in the laboratory. The term “scientific speculation” is actually a terminological incongruity since no speculation can be called knowledge in the strict sense of the word. At best, scientific speculation can only describe theories inferred from certain known facts and applied in the realm of the unknown.
Religion means a belief in something. In terms of the Jewish religion this is belief in the Divine nature of the Torah – Torah min Hashamayim; that the Torah received by Moshe and given to the Jewish people is Divine in source and is the word of G–d. Being so, Torah is Divine wisdom, and since G–d is true so is his Torah. Torah is often referred to as Torat Emet meaning the True Torah. Torah reveals the truth.
From these two definitions we see that science formulates and deals with theories and hypotheses while Torah deals with absolute truths. These are two different disciplines and “reconciliation” is entirely out of place. Torah is the realm of truth of the absolute. What Torah says is true not because it has been scientifically proven to be true, rather it is true because the truth was revealed by G–d. Science does not deal with absolutes, rather it deals with the realm of observable phenomena and produces principles based on its observations.
The science of yesterday & the science of tomorrow
In the 19th Century it was the prevailing view of scientists and modernists that human reason was infallible in “scientific” deductions and that sciences such as physics, chemistry, mathematics etc., were absolute truth, that is to say, not merely accepted truths but absolute. Speaking in Jewish terms this meant the establishment of a new idolatry, not of wood and stone, but the worship of the contemporary sciences and philosophies.
In fact, in the face of dogmatic and deterministic views of science prevailing at that time, a whole apologetic literature was created by well-meaning religious advocates and certain rabbis who saw no other way of preserving Torah heritage in their “enlightened” communities except through tenuous and spurious reinterpretations of certain passages in the Torah in order to accommodate them to the prevailing world outlook. No doubt they knew inwardly that they were suggesting interpretations in Torah which were at variance with Torat Emet, but at least they felt they had no alternative.
In the 20th Century, however, and especially in recent decades, science has finally come out of its medieval wrappings and the whole complexion of science has changed. The assumed immutability of the so-called scientific laws and the concept of absolutism in science in general have been abrogated and the contrary view is now held, known as the “Principle of Indeterminism”. Nothing any more is certain in science but only relative or probable, and scientific findings are now presented with considerable reservation and with limited and temporary validity, likely to be replaced at any time by a more advanced theory.
Most scientists have accepted this principle of uncertainty – enunciated by Werner Heisenberg in 1927 – as being intrinsic to the whole universe. The 19th Century dogmatic, mechanistic and deterministic attitude to science is gone. The modern scientist no longer expects to find truth in science. The current and universally accepted view is that science must reconcile itself to the idea that, whatever progress it makes, it will always deal with probabilities, not with certainties or absolutes.
Let us give two examples of the metamorphosis of scientific discovery. There is a verse in Ecclesiastes 1:4, “The earth stands forever”, that seems to suggest that the earth stands still and the sun revolves around the earth. This presentation was entirely acceptable in the early common era, especially when, in the second century, Ptolemy perfected Aristotle’s construction of how the sun and the planets revolve around the earth in circular orbits with additional rotation around certain points on these orbits.
That view was adopted by all scientists and especially amongst religious clergy who viewed the earth as the centre of the universe. About 1,500 years later Nicholas Copernicus made a revolution in astronomy by describing the earth as going around the sun. Suddenly this new scientific discovery threw all religious belief into disarray. Even today in most schools children are taught that the earth revolves around the sun and that this is a fact proven by science. To suggest otherwise is considered unscientific.
However such education is prejudiced since Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity eliminated the idea of absolute space and absolute movement. According to Einstein, science in principle cannot decide whether the earth stands still and the sun revolves around it, or vice versa. In The Philosophy of Time by Hans Reichenbach, a disciple of Einstein, he demonstrates that all the following concepts are clearly shown possible from a scientific point of view:
1. The earth stands still and the sun revolves around it,
2. The sun stands still and the earth revolves around it,
3. Both are revolving around a certain point. There is no way to prove which of the above is correct or preferable.
For practical purposes it is simpler to calculate astronomical events if we assume that the sun is standing still and the earth is moving around it. Copernicus’ main motive was to make calculation easier but this is not good enough reason to ascribe “truth” to this concept. To dismiss the Biblical verse that suggests that the earth stands still is wholly unscientific.
The problem with the science v religion debate is as previously mentioned – that most people accepted scientific discovery as absolute, which precluded and excluded religious belief. Even today, some eighty years after the theory of relativity was published, although scientists accept the theory in their professional capacities, they ignore it in the context of philosophical debate, preferring to support old-fashioned ideas of absolutism. They continue to be governed by ideological preconceptions, blindly opposed to Torah, which have been absorbed into their consciousness since childhood, even when these preconceptions contradict professional knowledge.
Another good example of an ever-changing theory is that of light. The ancient Greeks developed a “corpuscular” theory of light, i.e. that light is a flux of tiny particles emanating from a source and moving linearly in all directions. The theory of geometrical optics was developed on the basis of this assumption. This theory successfully served mankind for centuries in designing and building lenses, prisms, flat and curved mirrors, vision aids, and later microscopes, telescopes, and other optical systems. Then it was discovered that light also follows a wavy motion and so it was reinterpreted as electromagnetic waves of a very short wavelength. Scientifically, the corpuscular theory developed into a wave theory. In the beginning of the 20th Century, Albert Einstein suggested that, in fact, light possesses a dual nature, i.e. the unification, in one entity, of two opposite concepts of a particle of matter and of a wavy motion. This new idea became the basis of the new fundamental theory of quantum mechanics.
It is most interesting to note that the Kabbalah uses light as a metaphor for the power of G–d. It speaks in terms of the Or Ein Sof – the Infinite light. One of the principles of faith is that G–d is omnipotent and may carry opposites. The fact that light possesses a dual nature and can carry an opposite makes it the perfect metaphor for Divine energy. In this third stage of the development of the light theory it becomes apparent that this unification of two concepts underlines the unity of G–d within creation. (See “The Lubavitcher Rebbe on Science and Technology” by Professor Herman Branover in B’Or Ha’Torah, Vol.9)
The age of the universe
A problem that bothers many is the seemingly irreconcilable contradiction of science claiming the world to be billions of years old and the Torah view that the world is 5,763 years old (at the date of this publication).
Furthermore, this contradiction has led some well-meaning religious scientists to reinterpret the passages of Genesis to the effect that the days of creation refer to periods or aeons, rather than ordinary days. They suggest that since the sun, moon and stars were only “hung in the sky” on the fourth day of creation, therefore the 24 hour day could not have come into effect until at least the fourth day. Furthermore, they claim, if one were to ascribe vast periods of time to each of the days of creation, all the theories of evolution and the Big Bang could fit in quite nicely with the Torah.
However such interpretation tampers with the commandment of Shabbat – a mitzvah which is considered by our Sages to be equivalent to keeping the entire Torah. For, if one takes the words “one day” out of context and plain meaning, one ipso facto abrogates the whole idea of Shabbat as the seventh day stated in the same context. The whole idea of Shabbat observance is based on the clear and unequivocal statement in the Torah, “For in six days G–d made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He ceased from work and rested” – days, not periods.
As previously mentioned, such attempts at reinterpreting the Torah are, of course, the outmoded legacy of the 19th Century. Nowadays there is surely no justification whatsoever to perpetuate this “inferiority complex”. Certainly there is no basis for holding on to views which have come down in outdated elementary and high school textbooks on science.
It is very saddening to think that those who should be the champions of the Torah outlook and its advocates, especially among Jewish youth in general, and academic youth in particular, are timid or even ashamed to expostulate it.
The above is not meant to belittle science or the scientific method, rather there must be a differentiation between ephemeral science and theories drawn from scientific speculation. This is in contrast to Torah, which is eternal and immutable. When the Torah is modified or altered by compromise, to whatever extent, it ceases to be the truth. And the truth remains the same for all people and for all times. If one accepts the eternity of the Torah, and this can only be on the basis of Torah min Hashamayim, then it would be absurd to say that, while it is true that Torah was given by G–d, times have changed, as if the Creator and Governor of the universe could not have foreseen that there would be a 21st Century when certain groups of people, such as scientists or “modernists”, would be inclined to accept only a compromised Torah, not the Torah of truth.
Let us now inspect more closely the methods scientists have employed to discover the age of the universe. Science has two general methods of inference:
1. The method of interpolation (as distinguished from extrapolation), whereby, knowing the reaction under two extremes, we attempt to infer what the reaction might be at any point between the two.
2. The method of extrapolation, whereby inferences are made beyond a known range, on the basis of certain variables within the known range. For example, suppose we know the variables of a certain element within a temperature range of 0 to 100 and, on the basis of this, we estimate what the reaction might be at 101, 200 or 2,000.
Of the two methods, the second is clearly the more uncertain. Moreover, the uncertainty increases with the distance away from the known range and with the decrease of this range. Thus, if the known range is between 0 and 100, our inference at 101 has a greater probability that at 1,001.
Let us note at once that all speculation regarding the origin and age of the world comes within the second and weaker method. The weakness becomes more apparent if we bear in mind that a generalisation inferred from a known consequent to an unknown antecedent is more speculative than an inference from an antecedent to consequent as can be demonstrated very simply.
Four divided by two equals two. Here the antecedent is represented by the divided and divisor, and the consequent by the quotient. Knowing the antecedent in this case gives us one possible result – the quotient – number two.
However, if we only know the end result, namely the number two, and we ask ourselves how can we arrive at the number two, the answer permits several possibilities, arrived at by different methods: 1 + 1 = 2, 4 - 2 = 2, 1 x 2 = 2, 4 ÷ 2 = 2. Note that if other numbers come into play the number of possibilities giving us the same result is infinite (since 5 - 3 = 2, 6 - 4 = 2 etc., ad infinitum.)
Add to this another difficulty which is prevalent in all methods of deduction: Conclusions based on certain known data, when extended to unknown areas, can only have validity on the assumption of “everything else being equal”, that is to say, on an identity of prevailing conditions and their action and counter-action upon each other. If we cannot be sure that the variations or changes would bear at least a close relationship to the existing variables in degree, if we cannot be sure that the changes would bear any resemblance in kind, if, furthermore, we cannot be sure that there were not other factors involved – such conclusions of inferences are absolutely valueless!
For further illustration, in a chemical reaction, whether fissional or fusional, the introduction of a new catalyst, however minute the quantity, into the process may change the whole tempo and form of the chemical process or start an entirely new process.
Now the whole structure of science is based on observances of reactions and processes in the behaviour of atoms in their present state as they now exist in nature. Scientists deal with conglomerations of billions of atoms as these are already bound together and as these relate to other existing conglomerations of atoms. Scientists know very little of the atoms in their pristine state – of how one single atom may react on another single atom in a state of separateness – much less of how parts of a single atom may react on other parts of the same or other atoms. One thing science considers certain is that the reaction of single atoms upon each other is totally different from the reaction of one conglomeration of atoms on another.
We may now summarise the weaknesses of so-called scientific theories regarding the origin and age of the universe:
1. These theories have been advanced on the basis of observable data during a relatively short period of time of only a number of decades; at any rate, not more than a couple of centuries.
2. On the basis of such a relatively small range of known (though, by no means, perfectly known) data, scientists venture to build theories by the weak method of extrapolation, and from the consequent to the antecedent, extending to, according to them, millions and billions of years!
3. In advancing such theories they blithely disregard factors universally admitted by all scientists, namely that in the initial period of the “birth“ of the universe, conditions of temperature, atmospheric pressure, radioactivity, and a host of other catalystic factors, were totally different from those existing in the present state of the universe.
4. The consensus of scientific opinion is that there must have been many radioactive elements in the initial stage which now no longer exist, or exist only in minimal quantities; some of them elements the catalystic potency of which is known even in minimal doses.
5. The formation of the world, if we are to accept these theories, began with a process of colligation (binding together) of single atoms, or the components of the atom, and their conglomeration and consolidation, involving totally unknown processes and variables.
In short, all of the weak “scientific” theories, those which deal with the origin of the cosmos and with its dating, are, by the scientists’ own admission, the weakest of the weak.
It is small wonder (and this, incidentally, is one of the obvious refutations of these theories) that the various “scientific” theories concerning the age of the universe not only contradict each other but, in some cases, are quite incompatible and mutually exclusive since the maximum date of one theory is less than the minimum date of another.
If anyone accepts such a theory uncritically it can only lead him into fallacious and inconsequential reasoning. Consider, for example, the so-called evolutionary theory of the origin of the world, which is based on the assumption that the universe evolved out of existing atomic and sub-atomic particles which, by an evolutionary process, combined to form the physical universe and our planet on which organic life somehow developed, also by an evolutionary process, until homo-sapiens emerged. It is hard to understand why one should really accept the creation of atomic and sub-atomic particles in a state – which is admittedly unknowable, and inconceivable – yet be reluctant to accept the creation of planets, or organisms, or a human being, as we know these to exist.
The argument from the discovery of fossils is by no means conclusive evidence of the great antiquity of the earth, for the following reasons:
1. In the view of the unknown conditions which existed in “prehistoric” times, as already mentioned – conditions which could have caused reactions and changes of an entirely different nature and tempo from those known under the present day orderly processes of nature – one cannot exclude the possibility that dinosaurs existed over 5,000 years ago and became fossilised under terrific natural cataclysms in the course of a few years, rather than over millions of years, since we have no conceivable measurements or criteria of calculations under these known conditions.
2. Even assuming that the period of time which the Torah allows for the age of the world is definitely too short for fossilisation, one may readily accept the possibility that G–d created ready fossils, bones or skeletons (for reasons best known to Him), just as he could create ready living organisms, a complete man, and such ready products as oil, coal or diamonds, without any evolutionary process.
As for the question, if the latter reason is true, why did G–d have to create fossils in the first place? The answer is simple: We cannot know the reason why G–d chose this manner of creation in preference to another, and, whatever theory of creation is accepted, the question will still remain unanswered. The question, “why create a fossil?”, is no more valid than the question, “why create an atom?” Certainly, such a question cannot serve as a sound argument, much less as a logical basis, for the evolutionary theory.
What scientific basis is there for limiting the creative process to an evolutionary process only, starting with atomic and subatomic particles – a theory full of unexplained gaps and complications – while excluding the possibility of creation as given by the Biblical account? For, if the latter possibility be admitted, everything falls neatly into a pattern and all speculation regarding the origin and age of the world becomes unnecessary and irrelevant.
It is surely no argument to question this possibility by saying, why should the Creator create a finished universe,when it would have been sufficient for Him to create an adequate number of atoms or sub-atomic particles with the power of colligation and evolution to develop into the present cosmic order? The absurdity of this argument becomes even more obvious when it is made the basis of a flimsy theory, as if it were based on solid and irrefutable arguments overriding all other possibilities.
First and foremost let it be stated that the theory of evolution has no bearing on the Torah account of creation. Even if the theory was substantiated and the mutation of species were proven in lab tests this would still not contradict the possibility of the world having been created as stated in the Torah rather than through the evolutionary process.
How much more so since the whole theory is highly speculative and, although, during the years of research and investigation since the theory was first advanced, it has been possible to observe certain species of animal and plant life of a short life span over thousands of generations, yet it has never been possible to establish a transmutation from one species to another, much less to turn a plant into an animal. Such a theory can have no place in the arsenal of empirical science.
The theory of evolution is a typical example of how a highly speculative and scientifically unsound theory captured the imagination of the masses and has allowed them to dismiss the Biblical account despite the fact that the theory has not been substantiated scientifically and is devoid of any real scientific basis. It is almost as if the sceptics were searching for a reason to disbelieve. Their misguided axiom was that the Bible is wrong and they needed some replacement theory. Evolution was perfect. It provided a G–dless theory of creation and fuelled the atheistic bent. In truth, that is highly unscientific; pure science must be based on ephemeral data.
Human nature has also affected the debate. Although the various theories attempting to explain the origin and age of the world are weak, they are advanced because it is a matter of human nature to seek an explanation for everything in the environment, and any theory, however far-fetched, is better than none, at least until a more feasible explanation can be devised.
One may well ask why, in the absence of a sounder theory, the Biblical account isn’t accepted by the scientists? The answer is again to be found in human nature. It is a natural human ambition to be inventive and original. To accept the Biblical account deprives one of the opportunity to show analytic and inductive ingenuity. Hence, disregarding the Biblical account, the scientists must devise reasons to justify doing so and take refuge in classifying it with ancient and primitive mythology and the like, since it cannot be argued against on scientific grounds.
Converging not diverging
As time proceeds science will actually discover the truths of the Torah. Rather than being seen as diverging, science and religion are converging. There is a story of a group of scientists who were climbing the mountain of creation. As they reached the summit they found a rabbi sitting and learning. He looked up from his book and said to the weary scientists, “I told you so!”
This fact has been predicted by the ancient Kabbalistic text, the Zohar. On the verse in Genesis 7:11, “In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life ... all the fountains of the great deep were opened and the windows of the heaven were opened”, the Zohar comments:
In the six-hundredth year of the sixth millennium, the gates of wisdom from above will be opened as well as the fountains of wisdom from below, and the world will be prepared to be elevated in the seventh millennium.
The Zohar predicts that in the Hebrew year 5600, which corresponds to the year 1840 CE, there will be major developments both in the wisdom from above and the wisdom from below. The wisdom from above refers to esoteric wisdom in which major revelations were made in the dissemination of Chassidic philosophy starting in that year. It is well known that the founder of the Chassidic movement, the Baal Shem Tov, once, through mysterious Kabbalistic means, entered into the heavenly palace of the Mashiach and asked him, “When will the Master come?“ Mashiach replied, “When the wellsprings of your teachings will be widely dispersed.” The major developments in the teachings and dissemination of Chassidism that occurred after the year 1840 are a true fulfilment of that indication.
The wisdom from below refers to the major advances in science which also began around that time. The major industrial revolutions, which occurred in the mid 19th Century, paved the way for the major technological advances of recent years.
The connection between these two wisdoms is that they will converge. In the messianic era, it is prophesied (Isaiah 40:5) that, “ … the glory of G–d will be revealed, and all flesh will see together that the mouth of the L–rd has spoken.” As a preparation for the messianic revelation there will be an explosion in scientific discovery ultimately revealing the truth of the esoteric wisdom of the Torah.
Indeed, the discoveries in the natural sciences have thrown new light on the wonders of creation and the modern trend has consequently been towards the recognition of the unity pervading nature. In fact, with every advance in science, the underlying unity in the physical world has become more clearly discernible; so much so, that science is now searching for the ideal formula which would comprise all the phenomena of the physical world in one comprehensive equation. With a little further insight it can be seen that the unity in nature is the reflection of true monotheism in its Jewish concept. For, as Jews conceive of monotheism, it is not merely the belief that there is only one G–d, but that G–d’s unity transcends also the physical world, so that there is only one reality, namely G–d.
Indeed, the principle of unity is the essence of Judaism – since Abraham first proclaimed monotheism in a world of idolatry – which came to full fruition at the revelation at Mount Sinai. For true monotheism, as professed by us, is not only the truth that there is only one G–d and none with Him, but that there is “nothing besides” (Ein Od); that is, the denial of the existence of any reality but G–d’s, the denial of pluralism and dualism, even of the separation between the material and the spiritual.
As noted previously, the more the physical sciences advance, the closer one approaches the principle of unity even in the world of matter. Formerly, it was the accepted opinion that the plurality and compositeness in the material world could be reduced to some hundred odd basic elements and entities, and physical forces and laws were regarded as being separate and independent, not to mention the dichotomy between matter and energy. However, in recent years, with the advancement in science, the basic elements themselves were reduced to several more elementary components of the atoms – electrons, protons, and neutrons – and even these were immediately qualified as not the ultimate “blocks” of matter, until the discovery was made that matter and energy are reducible and convertible into one another.
It is well known that the Baal Shem Tov taught, and Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi explained and amplified, that every detail in human experience is an instruction in man’s service to G–d. Thus, what has been said above about the advancement of science exemplifies also the progress of human advancement in the service of G–d. Man possesses two apparently contradictory elements, no less compatible than the incompatibility of matter and spirit, the counterpart of which in the physical world is matter and energy, namely the Divine soul and the animal soul, or, on a lower level, the Yetzer Tov (good inclination) and the Yezter Hora (the evil inclination). But this incompatibility is evident only in the infantile stage of progress in Divine service, comparable to the plurality of elements and forces which were presumed to exist in physical nature. Just as the appreciation of the underlying unity of nature grew with the advancement of science, so does perfection in the Divine service lead to the realisation of the essential unity in human nature, to the point where the Yetzer Tov and Yetzer Hora become one, through the transformation of the Yetzer Hora by and into the Yetzer Tov, for otherwise, of course, there can be no unity and harmony since all that is holy and positive and creative could never make peace and be subservient to the unholy, negative and destructive. And in this attained unity the Jew proclaims, “Hear O Israel, G–d is our L–rd, G–d is one.” This is also what our Sages meant when they said that the words, “And you shall love the L–rd your G–d with all your heart“ (the words immediately following the Shma) mean: to love G–d with both your inclinations, with the Yetzer Hora as with the Yetzer Tov.
The intent of the above is not to cast aspersions on science or to discredit the scientific method. Science cannot operate except by accepting certain working theories or hypotheses, even if they cannot be verified, though some theories die hard even when they are scientifically refuted or discredited. No technical progress would be possible unless certain physical laws are accepted, even though there is no guarantee that the law will repeat itself. However, science can only deal with theories, not with certainties. All scientific conclusions or generalisations can only be probable in a greater or lesser degree according to the precautions taken in the use of the available evidence, and the degree of probability necessarily decreases with the distance from the empirical facts or with the increase of the unknown variables etc. Bearing this in mind one will realise that there can be no real conflict between any scientific theory and the Torah. On the contrary, a careful analysis of the findings of modern science and their philosophical meaning shows a convergence and harmony of science with Torah.
Many Jews today have become alienated from Torah and the Jewish way of life because of the tremendous, almost hypnotic, effect of a seemingly omnipotent science. Thousands justify their secularism by the “fact” that they are “more enlightened“ than past generations. Many in the religious camp choose either to ignore (or ban) the discussion of the development of science and technology, or to adjust Torah to modern thought. In truth, neither approach is credible.
The correct approach is that there is no reason for the Torah observant Jew to be frightened by the science and technology explosion, or to take an apologetic position. He should always bear in mind the saying of the Zohar (Vol.1 p.161b), “G–d looked into the Torah and created the world.” This means that the Torah is the blueprint of creation, and the finished product (the universe) cannot contradict the blueprint (Torah) by which it was designed.
By definition, Torah is Divine wisdom. The Torah is therefore the only ultimate source of true, complete and definitive knowledge about everything, including the objects and phenomena which science examines. Torah knowledge stems from a perspective “from Above”, whereas scientific knowledge, obtained by the rational processing of empirical information, stems “from below”.
Ultimately, these fountains will converge. We may look forward to the messianic era in which science, which in itself is neutral, will be elevated to serve for sacred purposes. Further scientific development and analysis will help us comprehend Torah concepts. Technology will bring the world to a situation where, as Maimonides describes the messianic era, “there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor competition, for good things will flow in abundance and all the delights will be as freely available as dust. The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know G–d”.