Why is everybody else so sure?
It is an unquestioned ikkar of science that the
universe is billions of years old. To deny it in scientific
and academic circles is tantamount to denying the law of
gravity. (Wait a minute. Quantum theory doesn't accommodate a
law of gravity! So let's say it's tantamount to denying the
necessity of cause followed by an effect. No, no — that
isn't good either. Quantum theory claims that nature does not
operate in a strict cause and effect relationship.) In any
event, you will undoubtedly be buried under a heap of scorn
and ridicule for being even ever-so-slightly skeptical of
this fundamental tenet of rational thought.
What makes everybody so sure?
We see a ratio of radioactive decay present now in igneous
rocks. We see tree rings, thin varves of lakes and ice cores
with layers upon layers. We measure starlight coming from
galaxies that are millions of light years away. These
cumulative processes — decay, layers, light travel
— all take time, a long time. The scientist asks
himself, "How long must this process have taken in order to
look the way it does now?"
It's simple logic. Measure how long it takes today to
form one ring, or a dozen. Measure how long it takes
today for a certain percentage of isotopes to decay.
Measure how fast starlight travels today.
Then you simply work backwards. You extrapolate from what you
currently consistently observe, to then assume that this
process has always taken place in the exact same way since it
started. Then you can calculate mathematically when it must
have started. That is what gives you ages that run into the
billions. It's as simple as that.
Fortunately, it is equally as simple to throw one big monkey
wrench into this perfectly logical construct. Just take away
the right to assume that what we see today is how things have
always been into the indefinite past.
"But waitaminute!" says the rational scientist. "I have a
right to extrapolate! By what authority can you take this
right away from me?"
And his complaint is quite valid. What logical basis do nice
frum Jews like us have to deprive the
dendrochronologist, geologist, physicist and cosmologist of
their scientific right to extrapolate?
"If you aren't willing to extrapolate back into the past,"
reasons the scientist, "then you shouldn't take any risks
about the future either!"
This means we shouldn't get on airplanes because we should
worry that the way things work today won't necessarily
be the same way they will work tomorrow and the plane
could crash unpredictably in mid-flight. If there was no
consistency in nature in the past, why should we expect
consistency in the immediate future? Aren't we undermining
the basic principles of experience that we ourselves take for
granted in our daily lives?
So we need a good reason to deprive the scientist of the
right to extrapolate and arrive at those billions of years of
pre-history and still support our own everyday
extrapolations. Do we have any?
Yes. Its called Ma'aseh Bereishis. Let's go step by
Opposing World Views
All things have a beginning. Even the scientific community
came around to this deep, subtle idea about fifty years ago
when the evidence for the expanding universe became
The truth is that science doesn't have a clue about how or
why the beginning "began." They all realize logically that we
have no human way to relate to a process of nonphysical
existence coming into physical existence. So they don't claim
to be able to describe that transition (yet).
The problem is that science is committed to the belief that
once that transition was finished, the result was an
underdeveloped state of matter whose development was
completely and utterly subject to the natural laws of
physics. It is this assumption of the natural formation
of the universe which allows unhindered extrapolation from
the way the universe works now, backwards.
How long did this developmental period last? Now from purely
hypothetical considerations (read: their imagination of what
the beginning of a physical universe should look like),
cosmologists have relegated the emerging of matter from
energy to a very, very, very small period of time. They
assert that the intense energy release subsequent to the
super-hot big bang, quickly faded into history, never to
tamper with the behavior of matter ever after.
This assumption conveniently eliminates the messiness of a
longer emergent period which, lacking the familiar forces of
nature, could easily wreak havoc with all their neat orderly
extrapolations which claim to arrive at reliable ages of
various natural processes.
Now I can sympathize with that. After all, the scientist
would rather claim he can know something about the origins of
the universe and try to describe its details instead of
remaining with a big question mark. He wants to have a job
that pays him to construct realistic mathematical models of
how the universe could have developed naturally from the very
beginning. Poor chap.
In our terminology, we would say that this guy "has to say a
shiur" on the formation of the universe within the
parameters of natural law. No mysterious periods allowed.
But as believing Jews, no such commitment to finding natural
ways for the universe to develop exists. We say this
mysterious transition from nonphysical to physical lasted for
six full days which resulted in a fully formed world.
Many midroshim tell us that this six day period obeyed
laws of quite a different nature than the physical ones that
the world obeys now. After that, we can basically assume
consistency in nature (with a few notable exceptions) just
like the scientist. Why?
"Ki vo shovas mikol melachto asher boro Elokim la'asos"
(See Ramban to Bereishis 2:3 and his droshoh to
Koheles on page 187 in Kisvei Ramban, Chavel
ed. Vol. I)
More explicitly, both the Rambam and Rabbi Shamshon Raphael
Hirsch, who are otherwise known as being quite "science
friendly," limit the parameters of theoretical scientific
investigations to the present and the future. Not the
First the Rambam: "The essence of the matter is what we have
mentioned: What is observed in a state of wholeness and
completion does not provide instruction about its state
before its completion." (Moreh Nevuchim II chap.17)
Over 600 years later, we have HaRav Hirsch echoing the same
concept in Collected Writings (Vol. VII page 265):
"Judaism is not frightened by the hundreds of thousands or
even millions of years which the geological theory of the
earth's development bandies about so freely. Judaism would
have nothing to fear from that theory even if it were based
on something more than a mere hypothesis, on the still
unproven assumption that the forces we see at work in our
world today are the same as those that were in existence with
the same degree of potency, when the world was first
But alas, those unnatural six days will ruin everything for
Isn't that a shame?