by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And G-d created man in His image, in the image of G-d He created him, male
and female He created them." [1:27]
The Origin of Life is back in the news, with the recent announcement by
the Cobb County, Georgia Board of Education to allow "discussion of
disputed views" in the classroom.
It seems that both parties in this argument are being unnecessarily
confrontational, as well as claiming expertise that they do not have.
Both sides assume that there is, in actuality, an argument: one claims
that the earth is roughly 6000 years old, the other says several billion
years, and never the twain shall meet.
A Jewish perspective reveals that this is not necessarily correct. Or as
Dr. Gerald Schroeder, Professor emeritus of Nuclear Physics and author of
"Genesis and the Big Bang" paraphrased Maimonides, any contradiction
results from bad Torah or bad science. This argument may result from both.
Why should we assume that the six days of Creation were 24 hours long, when
there was no sun to orbit until the Fourth Day? Jewish sources discussed
and debated this possibility long before Newton, Darwin, or Einstein, but
Dr. Schroeder made a fascinating observation.
Those familiar with general relativity know that time and gravity are
related: those outside a mass will see time pass more slowly than those
inside it. In fact, says Dr. Schroeder, where a being located outside the
great mass of the universe would see the passing of 5.5 days, those inside
would see 15 billion years go by.
Misunderstanding the limits of science is still easier. As an examination
of the natural world, it must assume the absence of unnatural events,
Yet Adam and Chava were, by the Torah's account, immediately able to think
and interact. They were hardly newborn children. The Midrash tells us not
only that they were twenty-year-old adults, but that all Creation appeared
to have developed naturally as well.
Thus the Midrash not only posits unnatural events, but tells us to expect
no lingering evidence. We cannot examine Adam and Chava today, but at the
time they truly were, physiologically, twenty years old. Trees within and
without the Garden of Eden contained age rings for hundreds, even thousands
of years that never existed.
And what of those components of their world which we can still see today?
They, too, should present themselves as having formed naturally -- and as
if they were old enough for that natural formation to have occurred.
Working from these fundamentals, other Midrashim, and passages from the
Zohar, one finds nothing in our world, from the age of the earth to the
fossil record, that contradicts the recent arrival of the year 5763 since
The Cobb County combatants are making yet another error: each side is
attempting to claim the expertise of the other. Science attempts to
determine how things happened naturally; Torah tells us why they
actually happened, even in ways that defy natural measurement.
Nothing could be more counter-productive than the attempt of "scientific
creationists" to invade the science classroom. Even were the natural age
of the earth not so well-established in the billions of years, one cannot
inject into science supernatural events which, by definition, defy
If scientific analysis is misinterpreted as to deny the possibility of
miracles or to assert absolute knowledge of the distant past, this is
similarly foolish -- it extrapolates beyond the limits of scientific
Concerning evolution in particular, there is no alternative scientific, or
natural, theory concerning how we might have arrived at this point. For
this reason, we do not see biologists flocking to alternative theories
when challenges are discovered. Whether geologists discover fossils in the
wrong strata, or theoretically we determine events to be fantastically
improbable, these are universally dismissed as the result of chance.
Uri Zohar, the Israeli entertainer-turned-religious-lecturer, found a
profound example of this in a textbook on the physiology of sight. The
authors recognized that without photon detectors (a primitive eye), an
optic nerve is useless, and that the reverse is true as well. There is
no reason to assume favorable natural selection for one without the other,
and all evidence indicates that both evolved at the same time.
How did such an impossible scenario come to pass? The authors' answer is
as confident as it is predictable: simple "trial and error" on the part
of natural selection. Their own words point to the conclusion they avoid,
for random events do not "try."
Clearly there is room for philosophical discussions of alternative origin
theories, in a way that promotes no particular religion. This should not
threaten the realm of science, any more than science can claim knowledge of
the unknowable. There is ample reason for a person to emerge from the
biology classroom exclaiming with yet greater fervor, "how great are your
works, oh G-d!" [Psalms 104:24]
Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Text Copyright © 2002 Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.