Over the past weeks (in essays available at www.koltorah.org) we have been presenting Dr. Gerald Schroeder’s worthwhile approaches to resolving conflicts between Torah and science. While his is not the only or final word regarding this important issue, he presents interesting approaches in which he tries to demonstrate that science, if understood properly, actually supports the Torah, if understood properly. Last week we presented his resolution of the problems regarding the age of man and his response to those who utilize the Theory of Evolution to show that life could have been created without Hashem. This week we present his fascinating approach to the conflict between Torah and science regarding the age of the universe.
Harmonizing Six Days with Fifteen Billion Years
Certainly the most tantalizing and significant of Dr. Schroeder’s approaches is his innovative manner of resolving the conflict between the Torah and scientific views regarding the age of the universe. He argues that both are actually correct. We should note that Dr. Schroeder’s view might be somewhat challenging for some non-scientists to follow; a video available on YouTube (“6 Days=15 Billion Years”) is helpful as an introduction to grasping his assertions.
Dr. Schroeder rejects the common argument that the six days of Creation are not meant to be understood literally:
“The Talmud in Hagigah (12a), Rashi there, and Nahmanides (Gen. 1:3) all tell us that the word day means 24 hours, not [necessarily relating to] sunrise and sunset. The sun is not mentioned until day four, and these commentaries all relate to all six days, right from day one. But [Nahmanides] continues in Exodus and Leviticus, that the days are 24 hours each (again, not relating to sunrise and sunset, merely sets of 24 hours). There are six of them, and the duration is not longer than the six days of a work week, BUT they contain all the ages of the world. How can six 24 hour days contain all the ages of the world?”
To this he provides a stunning response:
“Today, we look back in time, and we see approximately 15 billion years of history. Looking forward from when the universe is very small - billions of times smaller - the Torah says six days. In truth, they both may be correct. What's exciting about the last few years in cosmology is we now have quantified the data to know the relationship of the "view of time" from the beginning of stable matter, the threshold energy of protons and neutrons (their nucleosynthesis), relative to the "view of time" today. It's not science fiction any longer. A dozen physics textbooks all bring the same number. The general relationship between nucleosynthesis, that time near the beginning at the threshold energy of protons and neutrons when matter formed, and time today is a million million (1012). That's a 1 with 12 zeros after it. So when a view from the beginning [of the universe] looking forward says "I'm sending you a pulse every second," would we see a pulse every second? No; we'd see it every million million seconds. Because that's the stretching effect of the expansion of the universe.
The Talmud tells us that the soul of Adam was created at five and a half days after the beginning of the six days. That is a half day before the termination of the sixth day. At that moment, the cosmic calendar ceases and an earth based calendar starts. How would we see those days stretched by a million million? Five and a half days times a million million, gives us five and a half million million days. Dividing that by 365 days in a year, that comes out to be 15 billion years. NASA gives a value of about 14 billion years. Considering the many approximations, and that the Bible works with only six periods of time, the agreement to within a few percent is extraordinary. The universe is billions of years old from one perspective and a mere six days old from another. And both are correct!
An Interesting Proof to Dr. Schroeder
In his talk at the Torah Academy of Bergen County, Dr. Schroeder offered an interesting proof from BeReishit Perek 1’s description of the days of creation that this Perek (at least until man is created) is written from the perspective of the beginning of Creation. Dr. Schroeder noted that the days of Creation are described as the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh days, but the first day is described (BeReishit 1:5) as “Yom Echad” (day one), not “Yom Rishon” (the first day).
Ramban (ad loc.) explains that since there was not yet a second day, the Torah cannot describe the first day of creation as Yom Rishon. Only after the second day is complete may one describe the days in relative terms such as the second and third day. However, day one must be presented using an absolute term. This is similar to the fact that only after World War II was the Great War referred to as World War I. Before the Second World War occurred, the relative term of the First World War would not be a coherent expression.
Accordingly, since we live many years after day one of Creation, why does the Torah not use the relative term of Yom Rishon, since many days have passed since day one until now? The answer is that the days of Creation are not written in terms of our current perception of time, but rather the perception of time at Creation. From the perspective of Creation it is logical to use the term “day one” since day two, from the perspective of Creation, did not yet occur. Thus, we see that the days of creation are terms utilizing the perspective of the beginning of Creation and not our current retrospective, “earth-based” vantage point.
We should note that the idea of the Torah presenting multiple perspectives to an incident is very much in harmony with traditional interpretation of Tanach. It is a tool often used to resolve apparent contradictions in Tanach. For example, the Gemara uses this methodology (Ta’anit 29a) to resolve the contradiction between Sefer Melachim (II 25:8) and Yirmiyahu (52:12) as to whether the Beit HaMikdash was destroyed on the seventh or tenth of Av. The Gemara explains that both are correct, but each Sefer tells only one part of the story. Sefer Melachim refers to the beginning of the destruction on the seventh of Av, and Sefer Yirmiyahu refers to its conclusion on the tenth.
A more contemporary example is Rav Elchanan Samet’s resolution (Iyunim BeParashiyot HaShavu’a, Volume 1, Parashat Devarim) of the apparent contradictions between the manner in which the Torah presents the story of the Meraglim in Parashat Shelach and the way it presents it in Parashat Devarim. Rav Samet explains that each version presents only one aspect of or perspective on the event. One understands the entire story only by reading and combining both accounts.
Dr. Schroeder employs a similar methodology in resolving the apparent contradiction between the divinely authored Torah and information yielded from the world created by Hashem. The universe, as we perceive it, yields the story of Creation from one perspective and the Torah presents the perspective from the beginning of Creation.
While Dr. Schroeder’s approach is stunning and fascinating, it does leave one wondering what if in a few years, scientists prove or conclude that the world is twenty billion years. What if the revolutionary idea that time (along with space) stretches, assumed by Dr. Schroeder, is disproven? In other words, Dr. Schroeder’s conclusion depends on current scientific thinking, which is very much subject to change. Time will serve as the final arbiter of this particular issue. In this context, time refers to millennia, as sometimes it takes science a very long time to resolve certain issues, just as it took science from the third century BCE until 1965 to realize that the world had a beginning (as we discussed last week).
While Dr. Schroeder’s is not the sole authentic approach to resolving conflicts between the Torah and assertions by scientists, his writings (at the very least those which appear at www.geraldschroeder.com) should be read by anyone who dialogues with those who are bothered by these conflicts. It is certainly reassuring to hear and to share an approach that harmonizes current scientific thinking with Rashi and Ramban’s assertion that the six days of creation refer to six twenty four hour periods.
Postscript –The Big Bang Theory as a Boon to Believers
Dr. Schroeder strongly believes that the Big Bang Theory is a boon to believers. By resolving the discrepancy between the age of the universe as taught in the Torah and that which is espoused by the proponents of the Big Bang Theory, we might have eliminated the impediment to believers embracing this theory. We should emphasize that in addition to proving our belief in creation (as explained in the first part of this series), the Big Bang Theory is also powerful evidence to the belief in God, for as common sense as well as the Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 1:71) teach, if the world was created in time, it most certainly had a Creator who created it in time. For an elaboration on this point, see chapter three of Lawrence Kelemen’s excellent work “Permission to Believe.”
In addition, it is worth noting that in his 1992 book “Genesis and the Big Bang” (page 67), Dr. Schroeder explains that the energy released in the first moments of the Big Bang radiated at such high frequencies that it would have been invisible to the naked eye, and that only later did it cool sufficiently to produce visible light. According to Dr. Schroeder, BeReishit 1:3-4, which records that Hashem said, “Let there be light, and light came into existence…and Hashem separated between the light and the darkness,” might refer to this known physical process. “The parallel between the opinion of present-day cosmological theory and the biblical tradition that predates it”, writes Dr. Schroeder, “is striking and almost unnerving.”
Dr. Schroeder writes (ad loc. p. 89):
“As the thermal energy of the photons fell to 3000K, thus allowing electrons to bind in stable orbits around hydrogen and helium nuclei, not only did the photons break free from the matter of the universe (‘separated’ in the language of the Torah), but they became visible as well. Light was now light and darkness dark, both theologically and scientifically”.
Accordingly, Dr. Schroeder argues that the Big Bang Theory, far from being a threat to Torah belief, is actually a boon to believers. In Dr. Schroeder’s words “The Big Bang Theory is the best thing that has happened to religion since Moses brought the Torah down from Sinai.” What remains to be seen in the coming years and generations is whether scientists will sustain or discard the Big Bang Theory.
Editor’s note: For further reading on this subject by Dr. Gerald Schroeder, please visit www.geraldschroeder.com