The Age of the Universe
By the Grace of G‑d
18th of Teveth, 5722 [December 25, 1961]
Greeting and Blessing:
After not having heard from you for a long time, I was pleased to receive regards from you through the young men of Chabad who visited your community recently in connection with the public lecture. I was gratified to hear that you participated in the discussion, but it was quite a surprise to me to learn that you are still troubled by the problem of the age of the world as suggested by various scientific theories which cannot be reconciled with the Torah view that the world is 5722 years old. I underlined the word theories, for it is necessary to bear in mind, first of all, that science formulates and deals with theories and hypotheses while the Torah deals with absolute truths. These are two different disciplines, where reconciliation is entirely out of place.
It was especially surprising to me that, according to the report, the said problem is bothering you to the extent that it has trespassed upon your daily life as a Jew, interfering with the actual fulfillment of the daily Mitzvoth. I sincerely hope that the impression conveyed to me is an erroneous one. For, as you know, the basic Jewish principle of na'aseh (first and v'nishma (afterwards) makes it mandatory upon the Jew to fulfill G‑d's commandments regardless of the degree of understanding, and obedience to the Divine Law can never be conditioned upon human approval. In other words, lack of understanding, and even the existence of legitimate" doubts, can never justify disobedience to the Divine Commandments; how much less, when the doubts are illegitimate, in the sense that they have no real or logical basis, such as the problem in question.
Apparently, our discussion which took place a long time ago, and which, as I was pleased to learn, has not been forgotten by you, has nevertheless not cleared up this matter in your mind. I will attempt to do so now, in writing, which imposes both brevity and other limitations. I trust, however, that the following remarks will serve our purpose.
Basically the problem has its roots in a misconception of the scientific method or, simply, of what science is. We 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. Scientific speculation is actually a terminological incongruity; for science, strictly speaking, means knowledge, while no speculation can be called knowledge in the strict sense of the word. At best, science can only speak in terms of theories inferred from certain known facts and applied in the realm of the unknown. Here science has two general methods of inference;
(a) 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.
(b) 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 2000.
Of the two methods, the second (extrapolation) 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 than at 1001.
Let us note at once, that all speculation regarding the origin and age of the world comes within the second and weaker method, that of extrapolation. The weakness becomes more apparent if we bear in mind that a generalization inferred from a known consequent to an unknown antecedent is more speculative than an inference from an antecedent to consequent.
That an inference from consequent to antecedent is more speculative than an inference from antecedent to consequent 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 (the number 2).
However, if we know only the end result, namely, the number 2, and we ask ourselves, how can we arrive at the number 2, The answer permits several possibilities, arrived at by means of different methods: (a) 1 plus 1 equals 2; (b) 4-2 equals 2; (c) 1 x 2 equals 2; (d) 4 2 equals 2. Note that if other numbers are to come into play, the number of possibilities giving us the same result is infinite (since 5 - 3 also equals 2; 6 3 equals 2 etc. ad infinitum).
Add to this another difficulty, which is prevalent in all methods of induction. Conclusions based on certain known data, when they are ampliative in nature, i.e. when they are extended to unknown areas, can have any validity at all 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, I will refer to one of the points which I believe I mentioned during our conversation. In a chemical reaction, whether fissional or fusional, the introduction of a new catalyzer into the process, however minute the quantity of this new catalyzer may be, may change the whole tempo and form of the chemical process, or start an entirely new process.
We are not yet through with the difficulties inherent in all so-called scientific theories concerning the origin of the world. Let us remember that the whole structure of science is based on observances of reactions and processes in the behavior 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 - to the extent that any science can be certain, namely that the reactions of single atoms upon each other is totally different from the reactions of one conglomeration of atoms to another.
We may now summarize the weaknesses, nay, hopelessness, of all so-called scientific theories regarding the origin and age of our universe:
(a) These theories have been advanced on the basis of observable data during a relatively short period of time, of only a number of decades, and at any rate not more than a couple of centuries.
(b) On the basis of such a relatively small range of known (though by no means perfectly) data, scientists venture to build theories by the weak method of extrapolation, and from the consequent to the antecedent, extending to many thousands (according to them, to millions and billions) of years!
(c) 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 cataclystic factors, were totally different from those existing in the present state of the universe.
(d) 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 that cataclystic potency of which is known even in minimal doses.
(e) The formation of the world, if we are to accept these theories, began with a process of colligation (of binding together) of single atoms or the components of the atom and their conglomeration and consolidation, involving totally unknown processes and variables.
In short, of all the weak scientific theories, those which deal with the origin of the cosmos and with its dating are (admittedly by the scientists themselves) 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 some of them 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 subatomic 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 readily accept the creation of atomic and subatomic particles in a state which is admittedly unknowable and inconceivable, yet should 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 the fossils is by no means conclusive evidence of the great antiquity of the earth, for the following reasons:
(a) In view of the unknown conditions which existed in prehistoric" times, conditions of atmospheric pressures, temperatures, radioactivity, unknown catalyzers, etc., etc. as already mentioned, conditions that is, 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 5722 years ago, and became fossilized under terrific natural cataclysms in the course of a few years rather than in millions of years; since we have no conceivable measurements or criteria of calculations under those unknown conditions.
(b) Even assuming that the period of time which the Torah allows for the age of the world is definitely too short for fossilization (although I do not see how one can be so categorical), we can still 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 it be true as above (b), 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 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 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 subatomic 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.
The question may be asked, If the theories attempting to explain the origin and age of the world are so weak, how could they have been advanced in the first place? The answer is simple. 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.
You may now ask, In the absence of a sounder theory, why then isn't the Biblical account of creation accepted by these scientists? The answer, again, is 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 one's analytic and inductive ingenuity. Hence, disregarding the Biblical account, the scientist must devise reasons to justify his doing so, and he takes refuge in classifying it with ancient and primitive mythology and the like, since he cannot really argue against it on scientific grounds.
If you are still troubled by the theory of evolution, I can tell you without fear of contradiction that it has not a shred of evidence to support it. On the contrary, 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 into another, much less to turn a plant into an animal. Hence such a theory can have no place in the arsenal of empirical science.
The theory of evolution, to which reference has been made, actually has no bearing on the Torah account of Creation. For even if the theory of evolution were substantiated today, and the mutation of species were proven in laboratory 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. The main purpose of citing the evolutionary theory was to illustrate how a highly speculative and scientifically unsound theory can capture the imagination of the uncritical, so much so that it is even offered as a scientific" explanation of the mystery of Creation, despite the fact that the theory of evolution itself has not been substantiated scientifically and is devoid of any real scientific basis.
Needless to say, it is not my intent 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 (the evolutionary theory is a case in point). No technical progress would be possible unless certain physical laws are accepted, even though there is no guaranty that the law will repeat itself. However, I do wish to emphasize, as already mentioned, that science has to do only with theories but no with certainties. All scientific conclusions, or generalizations, 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., as already indicated. If you will bear this in mind, you will readily realize that there can be no real conflict between any scientific theory and the Torah.
My above remarks have turned out somewhat lengthier than intended, but they are still all too brief in relation to the misconception and confusion prevailing in many minds. Moreover, my remarks had to be confined to general observations, as this is hardly the medium to go into greater detail. If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to write to me.
To conclude on a note touched upon in our conversation:
The Mitzvah of putting on Tefillin every week-day, on the hand facing the heart, and on the head - the seat of the intellect, indicates, among other things, the true Jewish approach: performance first (hand), with sincerity and wholeheartedness, followed by intellectual comprehension (head); i.e. na'aseh first, then v'nishma. May this spirit permeate your intellect and arouse your emotive powers and find expression in every aspect of the daily life, for the essential thing is the deed.
Analysis of Geochronology
By the Grace of G‑d
17th Cheshvan, 5723
[November 14, 1962]
Greeting and Blessing:
My secretary, Dr. Nissan Mindel, has brought your letter of October 23rd to my attention, and I am pleased to note that you took time out to review my letter of the 18th of Teveth, 5722, and to put down in writing your observations thereon. Many thanks.
In reply, I can either follow the order of my letter in the light of your remarks, or take up your remarks as they appear in your letter. I will choose the latter method.
In any case I trust that our views will be reconciled, since, as you indicate in the introductory paragraph of your letter, you are in full sympathy with the aims of my said letter, namely, to resolve any doubts that science presents a challenge to the commandments of our Torah.
I must begin with two prefatory remarks:
(a) It should be self-evident that my letter did not imply a negation or rejection of science or of the scientific method. In fact, I stated so explicitly towards the end of my said letter. I hope that I will not be suspected of trying to belittle the accomplishments of science, especially as in certain areas the Torah view accords science even more credit than science itself claims; hence many laws in Halacha are geared to scientific conclusions (as e.g. in medicine), assigning to them the validity of objective reality.
(b) A remark has been attributed to you to the effect that just as Rabbinic problems should be dealt with by someone who studies Rabbinics, so should scientific problems be left to those who studied science. I do not know how accurate this report is, but I feel I should not ignore it nevertheless, since I agree with this principle.
I studied science on the university level from 1928–1932 in Berlin, and from 1934–1938 in Paris, and I have tried to follow scientific developments in certain areas ever since.
Now to your letter:
(1) I quite agree, of course, that for the aim mentioned above, scientific theories must be judged by the standards and criteria set up by the scientific method itself. This is precisely the principle I followed in my letter. Hence I purposely omitted from my discussion any references to the scriptures or the Talmud, etc.
(2) Your wrote that you can heartily applaud my emphasis that scientific theories never pretend to give the ultimate truths. But I went further than that. The point was not that science is not (now) in a position to offer ultimate truths, but that modern science itself sets its own limits, declaring that its predictions are, will always be, and in every case, merely most probable but not certain; it speaks only in terms of theories.
Herein, as you know probably better than I, lies a basic difference of concept between science today and 19th-century sciences: where in the past scientific conclusions were considered as natural “laws” in the strict sense of the term, i.e. determined and certain, modern science no longer holds this view. Parenthetically, this view is at variance with the concept of nature and our own knowledge of it (science) as espoused by the Torah, since the idea of miracles implies a change in a fixed order and not the occurrence of a least probable event.
Acknowledging the limitations of science, set by science itself, as above, is sufficient to resolve any doubt that science might present a challenge to Torah. The rest of the discussion in my said letter was mainly my way of further emphasis, but also because, as already mentioned, according to the Torah, i.e. in the realm of faith and not that of science, it is admissible for the conclusions of science to have the validity of “natural law.”
(3) Next, you deplore what you consider a gratuitous attack on the personal motives of scientists. But no such general attack will be found in my letter. I specifically referred to a certain segment of scientists in a certain area of scientific research, namely those who produce hypotheses about what actually occurred thousands upon thousands of years ago, such as the evolutionary theory of the world, hypotheses which contain no significance for present-day research (see in my said letter the paragraph immediately following the paragraph you cite); hypotheses which are not only highly speculative, but not strictly scientific, and are indeed replete with internal weaknesses. Yet lacking any firm basis, these scientists nevertheless reject absolutely any other explanation (including the Torah narrative): it is the motives of these scientists that I attempted to analyze, since their attitude cannot be equated with a desire to promote the truth, or to promote technological advancement, scientific research, etc.
I did not want to accuse them of anti-religious bias, especially as some of them, including some of the originators of the theory, were religious. I therefore attempted to explain their attitude by a common human trait, the quest for accomplishment and distinction. Incidentally, this natural trait has its positive aspects and is also basic in our religion, since without the incentive of accomplishment, nothing would be accomplished.
(4) Your remark about the misuse of the terms fission and fusion in relation to chemical reactions is, of course, valid and well taken. I trust, however, that the meaning was not unduly affected thereby, since it was twice indicated in that paragraph that the subject was chemical reactions. Undoubtedly, the terms combination and decomposition should have been used. Actually, I believe, the different usage of these terms in nuclear and chemical reactions is more conventional than basic. Nevertheless, I should have been mindful of the standard terminology.
Here a word of explanation regarding the terminology of my letter is in order. If the terms or expressions used are not always the standard ones, this is due to (a) the fact that I do not usually dictate my letters in English, and while I subsequently check the translation, the perusal may not always preclude an oversight, as the present instance is a case in point; and (b) the fact that I received my scientific training, as already mentioned, in German and French, and previously in Russian, which may also account for some of the variations.
(5) You refer to my statement that scientists know very little about interactions of isolated atoms and subatomic particles, and also question its relevance to the theories about the dating of the world.
The relevance is this. The evolutionary theory as it applies to the origin of our solar system and planet Earth, from which the dating is inferred, presumes (at least in the case of most of the hypotheses) that in the beginning there were atoms and subatomic particles in some pristine state, which then condensed, combined together, etc.
I am aware of the fact that a major part of physics research in this century has been concerned with interactions of individual units ranging from atoms to the most elementary particles known. But as late as 1931, of the subatomic particles only protons and electrons were known and explored. The bubble chamber was constructed only in 1952, and a field ion microscope (by Dr. Muller of Penn State University?), reaching into the realm of the atom and subatomic particles—only in 1962.
We have good reason to believe, I think, that just as scientific knowledge was enriched with the introduction of the first microscope, we may expect a similar measure of advancement with the aid of the latest (though it had been preceded by the electronic microscope). Therefore, it is safe to assume that all we have learned in the field of nucleonics in the last few decades is very little by comparison with what we can confidently expect to learn in the next few decades.
(6) You object to my statement that conditions of pressure, temperature, radioactivity, etc. must have been totally different in the early stages supposed by some evolutionists from those existing today, and you assert that those environmental conditions have, for the most part, either been duplicated in the laboratory or observed in natural phenomena.
Here, with all due respect, I beg to differ, and I believe the study of the sources will confirm my assertion.
(7) You state that there is no evidence that any radioactive element produces cataclysmic changes, and go on to note that there is a lack of clear distinction in my letter between cosmogony and geochronology.
The reason for the lack of such a distinction in my letter is that it is irrelevant to our discussion. The subject matter of my letter is the theory of evolution as it contradicts the account of Creation in the Torah. According to the Torah, the creation of the whole universe was ex nihilo, including the Earth, the sun, etc. The theory of evolution presents instead a different explanation of the appearance of the universe, solar system and our planet Earth.
Now, in evaluating this theory, I have in mind that strength of a chain is measured by its weakest link, and in my letter I attempted to point out some of the weakest links in both areas, cosmology and geochronology. With regard to geology and the changes and upheavals that may have occurred at a time when the whole universe is supposed to have been in a state of violent atomic instability, with worlds in collision, etc., cataclysmic changes cannot be ruled out; such nuclear reactions should have caused changes which would void any evolutionary calculations.
Similarly, in the evolution of vegetable, animal and human life on the Earth, radioactive processes of such magnitude should have produced sudden changes and transmutations which would normally take long periods of time.
(8) You state, finally, that the crucial point to consider in regard to geochronology is the existence of objects and geological formations in and on the crust of the earth which serve as physically observable clocks, etc. But I have already pointed out in my said letter that such criteria are valid only as of now and for the future, but cannot be applied either scientifically or logically to a primordial state.
By way of illustration, though you do not identify any of the objects you are referring to, let us examine radiocarbon dating, since most of the letters and questions I received on this subject pointed to it. This method assumes that the average cosmic-ray intensity has remained constant for the whole period of the dating, and that atmospheric mixing is rapid compared to the lifetime of 6C14.
Now to mention but one flaw in the criterion: it requires that the shielding power (density etc.) remain constant. But the evolution theory is built on the premise that there had been most radical changes.
Incidentally, in most recent years geologists in South Africa discovered such a disorder in geological formations in that part of the world that contradicted all the accepted theories of geology. The discovery was publicized at that time, but I do not have the informational media at hand, and I mention this in passing only. I suggest another look in my letter, p. 5, par. beg. The theory of evolution . . .
Should you wish to continue the discussion, please do not hesitate to write me.
With esteem and blessing,
P.S. I have just been able to trace and borrow one of your books, The Attenuation of Gamma Rays and Neutrons in Reactor Shields. May I say that I was greatly impressed with the effort, material and clarity of presentation. Incidentally, I noted in it your observations about the discrepancies between theory and experimentation which I found more than once in your book. Such a statement as “Not only is the simplest organism an incredibly complicated entity whose chemistry and physics are barely glimpsed at (the underscoring is mine), but the classical scientific pattern of experimentation is necessarily not available (ditto) in studying radiation efforts”—is very significant and has a direct bearing on the theory of evolution which involves an age of unimaginable radioactivity both in the universe and our planet Earth.
11 Tishrei, 5712
Peace and Blessing
…Re your question as to my opinion of the theory of evolution. You do not mention what evolution you are referring to. Presumably the evolution of vegetable and animal life.
My opinion is, as stated in the Torah, that during the six days of creation, G‑d created the Four Kingdoms (minerals, vegetation, animal and man independently of each other. Our sages have enlarged upon this question in detail. However, this Creation does not deny the possibility of evolution after that of particular species through various mutations.
Conjectures and Refutations
Conjectures and Refutations
…There seems to be a contradiction between the researchers’ view about how much time is needed for “writing to have appeared, and the evolution and development of languages and cultures,” and the Torah’s view. Their estimation conflicts with the simple, literal meaning of the Torah, the statements of our Sages, and the tradition that has been accepted by our entire people for generations with regard to the count since Creation. According to tradition, it is now 5716 years since the creation of the world, as we write in all documents, etc.
In my opinion, however, there cannot be any contradiction at all, since it is impossible to contradict a fact from a theory, as follows:
There is a famous rule (named after Heisenberg) with regard to all scientific conclusions, that all of the “laws” in all branches of science are no more than the assumptions and suppositions that seem to fit best or are most probable. In other words, nobody knows with any certainty what will happen in the future. One can only estimate. One of these estimations is that the greater the number of events, the greater the proportion of such events that fit the assumption we are calling a “law” — relative to the proportion of events that will not fit the “law.” Even this itself is only a possibility, and not a certainty. For instance, it would not be considered a contradiction to science if one saw a stone floating upward rather than downward; it would just be contrary to the norm, not to scientific conclusions.
The same is true with regard to all of the “laws of nature,” without exception. It is all the more true regarding the theory of evolution, for even among scientists there are many different opinions, which completely contradict and negate one another.
Furthermore, even if there did now exist a law (a true one, not just a supposition) and an evolutionary process established to be in force today, there would be no way to assert from it any law or process in effect during a prior epoch many thousands of years ago.
When one wishes to discuss evolution from times gone by, one must rely on numerous assumptions, many of which have no practical experiential basis. All researchers readily admit that environmental and biological conditions then were completely different than they are now. These highly variable unknown quantities included temperature, atmospheric pressure, ambient levels of radioactivity, interactions between flora and fauna, etc. etc.
In fact, it is astounding how researchers use current evolutionary processes as the basis for retroactive conclusions about the distant past, as if nothing had changed. They set forth assumptions and they reach conclusions (without anyone even trying to test these theories under conditions that may have been around then), and these are accepted without any doubt, and announced as “laws.”
In our era of dramatic scientific progress, any tenuous claims to validity previously held by evolutionary theory have since dissipated. For instance, it has now been proven that even the minutest amount of radioactive material completely changes the process and speed of events, sometimes to an amazing degree. This discovery completely negates any possibility of scientific proof or conclusions regarding the evolution of plant or animal species, etc., where environmental conditions include significantly greater amounts of radioactive material than are present today.
This is only a small aspect of the conditions that have definitely changed. In addition, there were many other fundamental changes, such as the composition of the atmosphere and its density, which has a fundamental effect on the sunlight and cosmic rays — of all types — with regard to how they penetrate the atmosphere and affect the earth.
In addition to all of the above,
All the theories of evolution (and therefore all of the above-mentioned questions) are based on the assumption that the world began with basic matter, and then at some point in time (for reasons completely unknown to us), evolution began. Various parts of this basic matter supposedly combined, in a cumulative fashion, until after some time matter evolved into vegetation, and later into animal life, etc. When one asks where the original basic matter came from, the response is that it is not the job of the scientist to answer that question. Or, if he is a believer, he may respond that G‑d created that matter ex nihilo. The same is true of the other fundamental question: What caused the evolutionary process in the first place and why at that specific time, rather than earlier or later?
For this too, science has no answer. Thus, from a scientific perspective, believing that G‑d created billions of atoms, for which he established certain natural laws, and that these atoms later developed and evolved from stage to stage in accordance with these laws, is no different than believing — in accordance with the straightforward meaning of Sefer Bereishit — that G‑d created the heavens and the earth on the first day, separated the waters on the second, etc. until on the sixth day He created man, who possesses an intellect, can talk, and is on a very high evolutionary level. On the contrary: From a modern scientific viewpoint, it is by far more implausible to create something from complete nothingness — even a simple single-celled organism — than to form an entity on a high evolutionary scale from basic matter, even in a very short time.
The greatest supposed contradiction between science and faith is the concept of creation ex nihilo. After all, “science” means explaining phenomena based on experiences that have been witnessed at least once. Creation of something from absolute nothingness cannot be “proven” in this manner. On the contrary: According to the “conclusions” of research done recently, destroying something so that it returns to nothingness, or the opposite — creating something from absolute nothingness — is not possible within nature.
Someone who believes in creation ex nihilo despite this “conclusion” should find it very easy to believe in the creation of fully developed humans, or animals, etc. As our Sages said, “All that G‑d created were created at full stature.” There is no logical reason to limit G‑d’s abilities to creation of something from nothing. One who could do that could certainly form man from a lump of earth.
Thus, all of the estimates about how long would be needed for the evolutionary processes, etc., fall away, since there is no scientific theory, corroboration, or proof that life forms were not created fully developed. (This is true even if one wishes to claim that other forms of plant and animal life later evolved from the original ones.)
The question has been raised: What reason would there be for G‑d to separately create matter, plants, animals, and people? He could have just created basic matter, and allowed it to evolve in accordance with the laws of evolution. Why should He have to bother Himself, so to speak, to create an entire world in six consecutive days?
Obviously, this question has no scientific meaning, and in fact is self-contradictory:
There is no scientific explanation whatsoever for creation ex nihilo or for the laws of nature. Therefore there is absolutely no reason to prefer to believe in one irrational event rather than another equally irrational event. On the contrary: Creation ex nihilo is, as mentioned, even more out of the question from a scientific viewpoint than is the forming of man directly from earth and skipping the evolutionary steps in between.
Incidentally, there are those who wish to interpret the statement of our Sages that “G‑d builds worlds and destroys them” — as well as the statements in Zohar and Kabbalistic works about primordial man — in the literal sense. In other words, that there was a physical man, and physical worlds, which were later destroyed. Only afterwards was our world created, which is now 5716 years old. This interpretation is indeed offered in several books, as well as in the works of some of the early Kabbalists.
In areas of Kabbala, as in all areas of Torah, there is only validity to opposing views until a ruling is reached and issued in accordance with the parameters of Torah discussion. Once a ruling is issued according to one opinion, only this opinion is considered true and valid with regard to practical decisions and actions. The same is true in this regard:
Until the Arizal, there was a discussion and debate. The Arizal, however, is considered authoritative on Kabbala by world Jewry, including both Ashkenazim (such as the Alter Rebbe and the Gaon of Vilna) and Sephardim. He clearly expressed his deciding view by saying that the intent was never that there was a physical world similar to the one that now exists, as a physical cosmos came about only in the current “Shemita cycle.” From the Torah’s perspective, one may no longer attempt to explain events (such as how Creation actually happened, etc.) in any manner at odds with his view.
The Emperor’s New Clothes
B”H, 10 Mar-Cheshvan, 5716
Peace and blessing!
You asked: What should be your response when told that science allegedly has proof that the world has existed for more that 5715 years? Can this be answered with the famous statement of our Sages that G‑d “built worlds and destroyed them?”
The meaning of that statement is not that G‑d actually created earlier physical worlds. Rather, the intent there is to spiritual worlds, as recorded by the Alter Rebbe — based on the Arizal’s writings — in his Torah Ohr on the portion of Shemot.
Their statement that science has proofs is absolutely false. Science has no proofs at all, only estimations built on flimsy foundations. It is hard to explain all of this in a letter of requisite length. The main point is, however, that the statement in scientific texts with regard to the world’s having existed for several billion years, etc., is based on the following theory:
Since a specific number of years are needed (according to today’s conditions, such as temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind movements, the proportions of elements in the environment, etc. etc.) for every hundred feet of sand accumulation at the banks of a river, and since there are mountains of this sand which are several miles high, therefore (if one is to assume that these mountains were gathered bit by bit from grains of sand, by the movements of this same river, and that all of the above conditions haven’t changed in thousands of years) such and such number of years would be needed. This number is far more than 5715.
When one asks, however, where these grains of sand came from, they have no answer.
When one asks: Just as it is possible for grains of sand to have come to be at a certain point on a flat plain, may it not be possible that mountains too came into being all at once? Again, they have no answer.
When one asks: How do you know that five thousand years ago all of the conditions, of water, wind, river patterns, etc. were exactly the same as they are now? For this, too, they have no response.
When one asks, in addition to all of the above: If you are claiming that your proofs are scientific, how can it be that the results of the research into the age of the world according to astrophysics, according to archeology, according to geology, and according to radioactivity, all contradict each other, from one extreme to the other? For example, one concludes that the world can be no more than half a billion years old, while the other concludes that it cannot be less than two billion!
These contradictions are clear proof that all of these discussions and research are only theories built on thin air. Here is not the place to delve into this at greater length.
Dating by Starlight
B”H, 1 Sivan, 5716
Peace and blessing!
In response to your letter from the 25th of Iyar: I was happy to read in it that many of your doubts have vanished. Our holy books explain that Safek – doubt – has the same numerical equivalent as Amalek. The intent is to the Kelipa of Amalek — the spiritual force of impurity that the nation of Amalek represented. Just like the people themselves, this force embodies the trait of jumping into even a boiling bath, just so long as it manages to cool the ardour the Jewish people. The same is true of all of your doubts — their source is clearly in the influence of Amalek.
You wrote that you read in astronomy books that there are stars whose light rays must travel far more than six thousand years until reaching Earth. How, you asked, could that fit with our holy Torah’s position that we are in the year 5716 since Creation?
Even if you were to assume that the above-mentioned calculation about the star’s distance is correct (since that, too, is a subject of dissent among scientists), it does not pose a difficulty regarding the age of the universe. Just as stars were created, light rays were also created. And Just as G‑d could create a star that begins to shine only after its creation, so could He create a star that already has rays of light shining forth from it. Especially since Torah tells us, “there was morning, the first day,” even though “Let there be luminaries” was only uttered on the fourth day; i.e. there was light even before the luminaries were set in the heavens.
You write that you saw in some book that possibly the six days of creation did not consist of twenty-four hour days, etc. etc. To our sorrow, similar interpretations are offered in several books. However, they distort the verses, because — with forgiveness asked from the honor of their Torah — they did not properly understand the “foundations” upon which the various scientific theories about the world’s age are built. Any knowledge or research into these foundations proves to any healthy mind that they are only conjectures, very far from certainties. This is the scientists’ opinion, as is clearly stated in their books. It is just that in the books generally studied in schools by beginners, they conceal their many doubts and uncertainties in the underlying assumptions.
And while there is no need to delve into this at length, the simplest proof that the six days of creation are twenty-four hour days is the fact that the concept of keeping Shabbat after six week days is connected to G‑d’s resting after the six days of creation.