By Shmuel Bergenfeld
Recently, there has been an argument presented by quite a few respected rabbis and their assistants in defense of the alleged Torah viewpoint of a <6000 year old universe. This argument, in a nutshell, states that all miracles, especially the Creation and the Flood, were irrational and beyond any human and scientific comprehension, and so they invalidate any scientific method of dating the age of the earth. Whether it be geological, radiocarbon, or starlight, each method is an illogical byproduct of the great miracles described in the Torah. Any attempt to use them as indicators of the world’s age, according to this claim, is arrogant “extrapolation” by rabid atheistic scientists, and is even “unscientific.”
Those well meaning Orthodox Jews, in making this claim, essentially have three goals:
A) To make a claim which is beyond any rational discussion, and is thereby irrefutable and even invincible, because what good is it to abide by my hashkafa if there are other valid hashkafas?
B) To show that one can fully disqualify valid scientific methods as illegitimate extrapolation and still be considered loyal to “real science” (whatever that means)
C) To affirm the existence of an Omnipresent Creator who can disrupt all of nature at His will, and so the more scientific evidence I snub, the more yiras shomayim I have.
I will now demonstrate that the aforementioned argument accomplishes NONE of those goals. Even worse, the argument completely undermines those goals. Instead of defending yiddishkeit from kefira, its claimants INADVERTENTLY SUPPORT KEFIRA AND PLAY RIGHT INTO THE HANDS OF ATHEISTS!
Claim A: Miracles are beyond rational discussion. Technically speaking, I cannot use science to argue against this claim. But I can use the same Torah that they derive this proof from as evidence that this “proof” is completely bogus and taken out of context.
Ostensibly, the source that the Flood disrupted nature is in Rosh Hashanah 11b-12a, which states that Hashem changed Maaseh Bereishis in response to a far away astronomical event. This proves, they claim, that such basic phenomenon as the Earth’s axis tilt was a result of the Flood, as is a whole slew of other phenomenon which this argument arbitrarily claims.
But what exactly was this disruption of nature? That very sugya, according to Rashi, states that all of the constellations appeared as they do today in their proper seasons, except that the Big Dipper appeared a bit too early, and so Hashem took away two stars from it and caused the Mabul. Well, how did the constellations appear as they did if the Earth’s axis didn’t tilt?
In fact, Tosafos even corrects an errant text that Rashi used BY CLAIMING THAT CURRENT ASTRONOMY CONTRADICTS THAT TEXT!!! So if anything, the Talmud verifies the fact that much of nature was the same before the flood as after. There is no license to start wildly stuffing all sort of scientific phenomenon into the realm of after-Flood effects.
And about miracles. Allegedly, miracles and their effects completely disrupt nature. Unfortunately for that claim, the texts indicate the exact opposite – that as soon as the miracle is over, everything goes back to normal!
For example, after the Flood subsided, Noach had to wait some time for the Earth to dry up. Certainly something which you would expect from perfectly ordinary water! In what way was this “irrational”?
Another example: After the Jews collected the Manna, did the leftover manna vanish in a fiery chariot? No – it simply melted like any other similar substance would and was drunk by the deer in the pasture. Once the miracle, no matter how great, is over, any effects revert completely back to normal.
And speaking about the mesora, the miracles and “science” (for lack of a better word) of the Torah are completely above contemporary science, not in place of it. Why has no one has raised any objection to the Periodic Table of Elements from the four elements (earth air fire water) of maaseh bereishis as described by the Rambam Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah (although with today’s klowns, you can never be sureL) See the Be’er HaGolah, Sixth Gate for an elaboration of this concept.
Come on, you guys! Do you really think that every Orthodox Jew who believes in miracles must subscribe to this pseudo-science babble? You are insulting your own intelligence, not that of the hundreds of Orthodox Jewish scientists who belief in both miracles AND an Old Earth.
I just read the book One People Two Worlds, which is a debate between an Orthodox (Yosef Reinman) and Reform rabbi (Ammiel Hirsch). As you would expect, every Talmudic source which Hirsch brings as “proof” of his position is shown by Reinman to be completely taken out of context.
Unfortunately, those on the opposite extreme do the exact same crime to the Talmud by distorting the very same mesora which they claim to be defending. If understanding statements in context is what differentiates the Orthodox from the Reform, according to Reinman, then I can’t help but wonder if the Young Earth creationists are somewhat closer to Reform Judaism than they are to Orthodox.
Claim B. Evolution is “extrapolation”. My dear friends, ALL of science is extrapolation. We see, with a telescope, stars trillions of miles away, and atoms, with a microscope, trillions of times smaller than ourselves. In fact, we are quite sure of many things such as black holes and certain subatomic particles which no one has actually seen but rather detected. And as relativity has shown, time is just another coordinate. From a scientific point of view, a billion years ago is almost as visible as a billion miles away.
To take the human senses as a benchmark for extrapolation shows not only an anti-scientific attitude but sheer insanity. Haven’t you ever seen a mirage or an illusion which you know does not exist? Tell me then, what is more reliable, human “testimony” or science?
Claim C. Invalidating scientific dating affirms belief in a Creator. This is the most dangerous and false claim, and even does the opposite, chas vesholom.
Why? Because each time a new method indicates an old age for the earth, one simply claims that the Creator interfered with that method. Is there a tree with more than 6000 rings? Hashem made it that way. Radiocarbon decay indicating billions of years old? No problem – Hashem changed the decay rate. Starlight billions of light years away? The heck with it – Hashem made those light rays on there own.
Gee wiz! These pathetic scientists are so important that G-D HIMSELF HAS TO INTERFERE WITH THEIR CALCULATIONS! Growing up in yeshiva, I always thought that explaining Hashem’s ways was the job of kabbalists and great rabbis. But no! Apparently, these heretical scientists see more of G-d’s handiwork than all of the gedolim combined!!!
Do we have a mesora for our pseudo-scientific explanations of the Flood and Creation? Of course not, but who cares?! Only Slifkin is a koifer for not following the “mesora” (whatever that means), but us ??!! Naaaa.
So in a sense, you are not helping Hashem, but reducing Him, keveyachol, to your PlayDough, to be retroactively interpreted at each whim of the scientists. This god who you are interpreting is not the real G-d, but a figment of your imagination. You demonstrate loud and clear, though inadvertently, that it is not G-d who controls you, but you who controls G-d, chas vesholom.
Indeed, the Talmud’s timeless statements ring true today as they did then – these are not the builders, but the destroyers.