Science and the Torah



   
    February 2012          
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The Age of the Earth

By Roland Teichholz

We, Jews, count years - which indeed seems a logical thing to do - from Creation. This is why we are now county the year 5772.

Other Nations count them starting from events which are of a particular meaning to them, as if the years that were before are of no importance whatsoever.

We too could have started to count from the Revelation at Mount Sinai, as our Sages have already noted, when they asked why the Torah starts with Creation, and not with the Exodus from Egypt for instance, which is the true start of the history of Jews as a people.

The reason for this is, that we carry a universal message, reaching far beyond the limits of our own specific interests, and we count years from Creation to point out that the final Redemption represents the flourishing of the seed that germinated at the very beginning of the universe. As Chazal said: that the end was already contained in the beginning.

This principle is not in fact an exclusive Jewish idea, it can be found in many other cultures as well. For instance in Greek mythology, the mythical serpent Ouroboros bites its own tail, thus forming a perfect circle, symbolizing what Chazal call: The end is present in the beginning.

The difference between us and other cultures though, is that this idea of unity imparts a profound meaning to our religious practices. Rather than becoming embroiled in complex mystical considerations, for which there is no room in this article, let me just refer you to the "Chessed Leavrohom by Rabbi Avraham Azoulay, the Klalim Richonim of the Ramchal and the Derech Emmeth.

All this sounds fine, yet many amongst our dear brothers and sisters feel uneasy when comparing their modest 5772 years to the generous millions of years the irreligious revel with. The latter indeed rarely fail to cause us complexes and guilt feelings when they show off the scientific evidence supporting their magnanimity.

In what follows, we shall demonstrate that at least some of the scientists' arguments do not in any way contradict, or even infirm the fact that our little planet is only 5772 years young.

First of all, let us make clear one important point: when scientists report the results of their experiments, they usually tell the truth - insofar as they are honest. Scientific experiments are irrefutable. The whole argumentation can only focus on the interpretation of the facts that have been duly established through these experiments.

For instance: when Darwin tells us that all living organisms are built along one and the same model, he is evidently right and no one would ever dream of contradicting him. But when he jumps to the conclusion that therefore all forms of life on earth have one, unique common ancestor, he is talking sheer nonsense. His experimentation is objective and scientific, his interpretation though, is subjective - it suits him well to erase divine intervention - and mere gratuitous conjecture, supported by no evidence at all. Indeed, in more than five thousand years of history, we have never heard of anyone noticing any mutation - if ever so slight - from monkey to man; the other way round.maybe!

For Jews, G-d's existence is not less factual than any scientific evidence. Therefore, when we hear that all living things are similar, we take it as proof that all life has one and the same creator, the Almighty, blessed be He.

Which explanation seems the most logical to you? The choice is yours, yet, with all due respect, I would be ashamed to support the first one in public, the second one being more practical and much more honorable for mankind.

This having been said, let us now turn our attention to the scientific proofs of our planet's senility. Four main arguments come to mind:

1) Every night, we can admire in the sky above, the millions of twinkling stars that poets have so brilliantly celebrated. Most of them are so distant that, even at the speed of 300000 kilometers per second, it takes millions of years for their light to reach our eyes, so that we can never see the stars the way they appear while we are looking at them, but rather, the way they looked several millions of years ago. So much for the romantics! And since we do see them, the world must obviously already exist for millions of years.

2) At Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon and other exotic sounding places, skeletons have been found that seem to reveal the existence of intermediary humanoids, half monkey, half man. This, they say, proves the exactness of the evolutionary theory. Besides that, when dating these skeletons, they appear to be old millions of years.

3) Carbon 14 radio-isotope, the all purpose atomic clock. Carbon 14 has the peculiar property of disintegrating at the incredible speed (everything is relative) of 50% every 5730 years. The percentage of disintegrated carbon present in an object is used to compute its antiquity, within an accuracy margin of plus-minus 500 years, which is not much when dealing with millions. Fossilized bone material has thus been found to be old millions of years.

4) Nowadays, we have the like of Ahmedinejad and Nasrallah to amuse us, but in days of old, they had to be satisfied with dinosaurs, brontosaurs, pterodactyls, tyrannosaurus rex and Co. These monsters (which incidentally I happen to find quite cute) have long disappeared, millions of years ago, due to - so they say - inexplicable cataclysms or extreme climate changes.

Let us now go over these four arguments one by one and look at them with the unflinching eyes of a true "Ben Torah".

1) How long does starlight need to travel to reach us?

The question is not new, it already disturbed Rabbi Yehoshuah ben Levy's sleep, almost 2000 years ago, when he looked through the window at the star studded sky of Bagdad.

Before revealing his answer, let me just remind you of the verse in Bereshith I-17: "And G-d set them (the stars) in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth."

Since our good old earth is the focal point of Creation, the Almighty created stars, not in their own merit, but rather for the benefit of men, the inhabitants of the earth. It seems then logical, since the purpose of the stars was to "give light upon the earth", that when Hashem created the stars, He did not kindle their light and waited patiently, for millions of years, for their light to reach the earth. Since He is indeed the Almighty, He created the stars with full fledge rays reaching the earth from the very moment of creation. Just like Adam did not evolve from a fragile embryo, but was created in his adult state.

This is exactly what Rabbi Yehoshuah ben Levy means when he tells us in tractate Rosh Hashanah 11b: "All objects of Creation were created in their perfect, mature state." So too, in tractate Sanhedrin, our Sages tell us that Adam was created on a Friday, so that he should find a perfect world, ready for consumption. He did not have to wait for millions of years to be able to dream under a starlit sky.

2) Pithecanthropus and his family tree.

Just have a look at your mirror: does it suit you to think that your Grandpa was a Chimpanzee? Of course not! Even eminent paleontologists have lately cast serious doubt on the ridiculous theory claiming that humans are just fancy chimps. Indeed, they have recently discovered Homo Sapiens remains that were dated to be significantly older than known pithecanthropus specimens from which they were supposed to be descending. One more thorn in the foot of the theory of evolution!

Let us pick up sefer Bereshith again. In the 1st chapter, verse 27, we can read: "And G-d created man in His image, in the image of G-d created He him." Now we know it for sure, man was created in a divine image, and certainly not in that of a monkey. Further down, in chapter V verse 3, we can read: "And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years, and begot a son in his likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth." Thus Seth, born after Adam did Teshuvah for his sin, was in the image of his father, who was in the image of the Almighty. Nowhere does it say anything like that in the Torah about Cain and Abel, who were born right after the sin, before Adam had a chance to do Teshuvah. In whose image then were these two and Cain's children? Maybe Darwin has an answer to that?

The holy Zohar suggests a slightly different solution to our problem. It says that, during the 130 years between Seth's birth and that of his two brothers, thus too, between the sin and the Teshuvah, Adam gave birth to "Sheidim". Call these monsters, call them monkeys, call them whatever you like, but 130 years is plenty of time to account for all the funny looking skeletons having been discovered 5000 years later.

From all the above, it appears that Cro-Magnon and Homo Sapiens (wise guy), were certainly not father and son, but merely some distant cousins. Exit Charles Darwin!

4) The carbon 14 radio-isotope.

Dating with the use of C14 is done by extrapolation. First, you check the ratio between disintegrated and existing C14 in an object then, since you know that the rate of disintegration is 50% every 5730 years, you can easily calculate the age of an object, plus minus 500 years. Easy? Not really!

First of all, you are juggling with millions of years, assuming that the rate of disintegration of C14 is constant, no matter how, no matter for how long. The process being known only some 60 years, nobody can be so sure that no natural processes affect the rate of disintegration. We see that pure carbon submitted, whether in nature or in the laboratory, to extreme levels of heat and pressure, can be transformed into diamond. How then can one be sure that drastic natural changes, due to cataclysms or extreme volcanic activity, do not affect the behavior of C14?

During the Deluge, the whole world remained for days on end subjected to extreme heat, like Chazal say, the water coming up from the abyss was boiling hot. This does not mean 100 C, but temperatures much higher, as are known to exist at the inside of the earth. Who says that these temperatures, or other circumstances, did not affect the process of C14 disintegration? No one has ever watched a piece of C14 for 5730 years to see if it behaves properly, let alone millions of years!

Just for the fun of it, listen to the following story that made headlines a couple of years ago: archaeologists found the fossilized remains of an elephant and, where its stomach would have been, they found the digested remains of another animal. Having dated specimens from both remains as equally ancient, they concluded that prehistoric elephants were carnivorous. It did not at all occur to them that since they can date back objects only within a 5oo year margin, both specimens might actually have existed 1000 years apart from one another, the elephant just happening to die on top of the remains of another unfortunate beast.

This is only one story amongst many that shows that archaeology as a whole should always be taken cum grano salis.

4) Prehistoric monsters.

As far as these pets are concerned, I can only emit 2 quite plausible theories:

A) In Berashith VI-11 the Torah tells us: "And the earth was corrupt before G-d; and the earth was filled with violence." Rabbi Yonathan ben Uziel translates this verse as follows: "The earth became deformed because of the sins of men who erred from the right path." Some commentators explain that, just like humans who behaved against nature gave birth to abnormal, deformed children (maybe another reference to Neanderthal and Co.), so too did the animals, and even plants. According to this, prehistoric monsters could be the product of that unnatural behavior. Since these beasts were not part of the original scheme of Creation, they were also not allowed to enter the ark and survive the Deluge. This is why they have disappeared from the face of the earth.

The Talmud tells us that, before sinning, Adam's stature reached into the sky. If so, then maybe all living things were proportionate to his size and were also much taller? Could you imagine a 500 parasang tall Adam, walking alongside a 4 inch lizard? A Dinosaur would certainly seem much more appropriate! When Adam shrunk, after his sin, so did the animals, yet maybe many had already died in the meantime, and their monstrous remains were left inside the earth for us to find them?

To summarize, when confronting a discrepancy between Torah and science, the proper conduct should be the following:

1) Put down in A the axiom that whatever the Torah tells us, whether in the written or the oral law, is 100% absolute truth. Period!

2) Put down in B the principle that whatever can be observed or reproduced repeatedly during scientific experiments, has to be considered exact.

3) Know for sure that there is, beyond any doubt, a least one solution x that can relate B to A smoothly. The fact that x is presently unknown, does not affect in anyway the certainty of its existence.

All of the above having been clearly enunciated, all it remains for us to do, is to cite Ben Bag Bag, saying (Pirkey Avoth V-25): "Turn it (the Torah) and turn it over again, for everything is in it, and contemplate it, and wax grey and old over it, and stir not from it, for thou canst have no better rule than this.

Quod erat demonstrandum!

~~~~~~~

from the Febuary 2012 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

Material and Opinions in all Jewish Magazine articles are the sole responsibility of the author; the Jewish Magazine accepts no liability for material used.

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