“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, a.k.a. miracles.
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 Creation.
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 scientific investigation.
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 knowledge.
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.