Conjectures and Refutations1

…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.2

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.3

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 said4, “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.5

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.6 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.”7 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.